The Power of Self-Validation
Updated: May 7, 2021
As a counsellor, part of my job is to listen to the clients. As I’m doing that, I’m showing empathy, I’m asking relevant questions, and I’m validating. The idea behind validating is to express my understanding and acceptance of another person’s internal experience. In other words, if a client tells me that they are feeling hopeless and alone, it’s not my job to say, “No, you’re not!” or “That’s not true”. Validating is expressing my understanding indicating how tough it must be feeling this way. The whole point of validating is to make sure the client is feeling heard. Having them know that you understand and that you accept their thoughts and emotions is a powerful feeling for the client.
When I’m validating others, I see that the client appreciates being understood. It’s always easy to be there for others and show your support. However, it can be harder to be there for ourselves. When it comes to self-validation, we should be accepting our own internal experience, thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean you necessarily believe those thoughts or think those feelings are justified. There can be many times that you will have thoughts that surprise you or don’t reflect your values or what you know is true. There will always be times where you have feelings that you know aren’t justified. Sometimes we fight our thoughts and feelings or judge ourselves for having them.
“I can’t believe I said that; I’m such an idiot”
“Wow, that was the worst job interview ever; even I wouldn’t hire me”
Having those judgmental thoughts like the ones above tend to increase our own internal emotions and could negatively impact ourselves to a point where we miss out on important information about ourselves. Having the thought that you will never get that job because you said XYZ in the interview impacts us so much that it leads us to believe to be useless or a failure. Instead, we should be looking at what we learned from that experience.
“It sucks you said that, but you know you are more than qualified for that job; let’s take that comment you made and learn from it for next time”
Self-validating is not easy. However, noticing or being mindful of the thoughts you are having, and the feelings you are experiencing is necessary before you can self-validate. By mastering that mindfulness, the self-validation will help you accept and better understand yourself, which leads to you managing your emotions.
Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), defined six levels of validation:
Being present means to ground yourself. In other words. Listening to your thoughts and feeling that pain of sadness, hurt and fear. Avoiding emotions may cause negative consequences but accepting them allows emotions to pass and build resiliency. Being present validates that you matter and have the ability to feel.
For self-validation, accurate reflection means acknowledging your current state and properly labelling it. Reflecting on what triggered the emotion and when it occurred or reflecting on the ways you feel the emotion in your body as well as how you act. Reflecting means observing and describing. When reflecting, you don’t interpret, guess or make assumptions. You would tell yourself:
“I feel angry, and it started yesterday when my friend cancelled on me”
“I have this tightness in my stomach, so I must feel fear as well”
Then you could explore those reflections.
Guess Your Emotions:
Sometimes we are unsure about our emotions. Therefore, we would ask ourselves:
“Am I feeling angry?"
“If someone else were in this situation, they would probably feel angry/betrayed/rejected/etc.”
Emotions can be determined based on the actions you want to take. If you want to hide, perhaps you are feeling shame. If you are with others and you feel the need to walk away, perhaps you are feeling anger towards someone. These feelings could also lead to certain thoughts. You feel shame, so there are shameful thoughts. What about physicality? Anger, for example, may be felt in the face. You feel warmth or maybe a tingling sensation. By guessing your emotions, it will help you understand yourself more.
Remember the Past:
Sometimes your thoughts and feelings are connected to your past. Perhaps when you feel scared of rejection, it has triggered a past memory where your friends rejected you. Self-validation would allow you to think, “it’s understandable that I feel rejected because when I was young, I had difficulty meeting new friends and some actually rejected me.”
Normalize Your Feelings:
Intense feelings often make us think we are not normal. That is so far from the truth. Everyone has emotions. We all have bad days. We are not always happy. Of course, you feel sad for not getting that job; it’s something you really wanted.
For self-validation, being genuine means being true to yourself and not trying to be someone you are not. Rejecting who you are is one of the highest levels of invalidation. The way you behave is not necessarily who you are. By changing some of your behaviours, it can help alleviate some of your suffering.
With self-validation, we can learn to live with our intense emotions. Of course, with every new approach, learning to self-validate is not going to happen overnight. It takes practice and guidance.