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How do we turn INvalidation into VALIDATION?

Health and Wellness, Staff Perspectives

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Amy Lopata offers tips on validating each other’s emotions.

Consider the following interaction:

You: “I am just SO overwhelmed…there is so much to keep track of, so much to do and I’m just exhausted.”

Them: “You think you’ve got it bad? Let me tell you…”

Or… “It’s not really that bad, everyone is struggling.”

Or… “Same…welcome to my life!”

Or… “Well, at least you still have a job.”

Life has been hard the past year, and while it has been a situation that really everyone has been experiencing, it doesn’t mean that it’s the same for each person, nor does it mean we can just dismiss someone else’s feelings or experiences. This is something we refer to as invalidating.  What’s that mean?  When someone shares an experience and we respond with something that makes it seem as though they are exaggerating, that it didn’t happen that way (the term for that is gaslighting), or the person feels just plain not HEARD.

An invalidating environment is one in which there is little acceptance and/or appreciation of differences, and there are attempts to change or control a person. This happens through ignoring or not paying attention to them, being critical or judgmental, or just simply not expressing care and concern, even when it DOES exist. This type of environment hinders problem solving and coping, as it overall delegitimizes that person’s experiences, especially private ones like emotions, wants, desires, thoughts, beliefs and sensations. This is especially true when those experiences are not like our own.

It is SO easy to respond with these statements we may not even realize how harmful they can be. You know though, if you’ve been on the receiving end of them, especially time and time again.

So how do we turn INvalidation into VALIDATION?

First thing… slow down. Take a deep breath before you respond to someone, especially if they are expressing something pretty serious or they seem in distress. Many times when we invalidate it is because we REACTED instead of RESPONDED to someone… meaning, we didn’t take the time to HEAR them. Sometimes, we may not realize how big a deal is for someone because it doesn’t seem like it to us. Sometimes, it’s also that the person expressing concern might be emotional themselves, and having a hard time expressing WHAT is actually bothering them. This can also lead to a lack of understanding and invalidating responses.

What does it mean to validate? We are talking mostly about validating the underlying feelings someone is experiencing. Validation is about COMMUNICATING empathy… literally making sure that comes across (not just feeling/having it). When we respond with empathy, we feel WITH that person. It shows them that we are taking the time to listen, that we are taking them seriously, and are aware of how difficult this might be for them, even if we have not had those same experiences. It does not mean we are agreeing with their subjective reality (what they are saying they are experiencing)… it allows for their emotional state to have a space to exist safely.

Consider the same scenario above, with validating responses:

You: “I am just SO overwhelmed…there is so much to keep track of, so much to do and I’m just exhausted.”

Them: “That sounds like a lot.”

OR:

“Yeah, it’s hard, is there anything I can do to help?”

OR:

“Sounds like you could use a break.”

OR:

“It IS a lot… I appreciate everything you are trying to do”

Over time, validating responses create safety. Validation creates trust, soothes emotions, helps us get through conflicts more effectively because we can problem solve better when we are feeling heard and calm. Research has shown that even when stressful situations or stressors are still present, negative emotional arousal decreases in the presence of a validating environment (Shenk, Fruzetti 2011).

So I will leave you with this…

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Amy Lopata is Director of Behavior Support Services and a member of the The Arc of Monroe’s Trauma Informed Care Committee.

Reference: Shenk, C.E., & Fruzetti, A. E. (2011) The Impact of Validating and Invalidating Responses on Emotional Reactivity, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2011.30.2.163