Validating our feelings and emotions is a simple yet effective method of managing highly intense emotions. Instead of repressing or invalidating how we feel, which can subsequently heighten our current emotions, validation can serve to soothe intense feelings and make them more manageable. Validation can be used on one’s own emotions or in relationships.
During times of intense distressing emotions or experiences, identify and acknowledge what you are feeling and try to accept and understand your emotions by identifying some causes and explanations for them.
When experiencing intense emotion(s):
- Try to identify the emotion.
- If you have trouble identifying the emotion- practice various mindfulness techniques including the Emotional Awareness Meditation.
- If helping another person, you can say, “you seem to be saying that you feel (emotion), is that correct?”. Or, “You appear (emotion), is that correct?”.
- If you are unable to identify the emotion and just know that you feel a muddier, more general upset feeling, that is okay as well.
- See if you can work with accepting whatever you are feeling as a part of your current experience and acknowledge that this emotion is what is present right now for you.
- Try to find the source of your emotion by thinking about what makes the most sense as to why you are feeling that way.
- For example, if your child is upset and crying because their toy was taken by another child, you would validate their experience by reminding them that it is frustrating when a toy is taken and it is okay that they are feeling upset. Another example would be if you or a friend were very nervous before a presentation, simply reminding yourself or friend that it makes sense to feel nervous before public speaking and that the majority of people feel this way so you/your friend are not alone.
Emotional validation is widely used by many psychologists, social workers, caregivers and teachers. Some even consider it a natural component of interpersonal communication. Dr. Marsha Linehan, a leading psychologist and creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), uses emotional validation as a central tool for her treatment and has done significant work to promote and enhance it in the field of psychotherapy.
It is important to note that emotional validation does not mean you are agreeing with or supporting your own or another’s emotional response (especially if the emotions are very destructive or irrational). Validating means that we are acknowledging and working towards understanding why we (or another person) feel a certain way and accepting that that emotion is here and real for us right now.
One way to get a better idea of validation is to think of its opposite, which is invalidation. Invalidating someone else’s (or your own) emotions would include expressions such as, “Stop being a baby”, or “Get over it”. On the contrast, validating expressions convey understanding, such as, “It makes sense why you feel this way” or “Wow, that sounds really difficult”. Validation can also be conveyed to others through facial expressions and body language such as nodding.