Validation is an important social lubricant

When you think of validation, you might think that it involves simply agreeing with the other person no matter what but..

That would be a misunderstanding of what validation is, when in reality, to validate someone is to acknowledge them (their thoughts, emotions, and behavior) as legitimate and worthy of attention, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Validation is important because, in any relationship, it’s important to treat the other person as an equal. To treat others as equal involves understanding and valuing them as much as you do yourself. Consequently, invalidation involves not treating a person with the legitimacy and attention they deserve, and to ignore them or otherwise belittle their experience to the point where they feel alienated. Keep in mind that this also applies to one’s own self, as one can self-validate or self-invalidate. One should be aware of the different aspects involved in validation and invalidation, as they aren’t always self-explanatory.

Photo Credit: Peter McConnochie

The essential concepts behind the various levels of validation are understanding and communication.

One psychologist, Marsha Linehan, studied the concept of validation, and came up with six levels to describe the behavior. The first two levels involve paying attention to the other person (without being distracted) and being able to summarize the other person’s (or your own) thoughts and emotions, which is basically empathy distilled into its most basic actions.

The following two levels involve guessing the other person’s thoughts and emotions to show your understanding of them (whether or not you might be wrong in that instance) as well as keeping in mind a person’s past experiences and physical state when trying to validate a person’s reactions, both of which show a deeper connection to that person when acknowledging them.

Finally, the last two levels involve legitimizing a person’s thoughts and emotions by helping them to understand it as normal, as well as a true understanding of the other person, made easier by similar histories that both sides share, leading to similar thoughts and emotions. Taking all of this into account, one has to realize that the reason why validation is important is that it is a great tool for one to help another emotionally sensitive person manage their emotions and stabilize.

A person who feels overwhelmed by what they’re going through, and finds it difficult to do anything about it, will feel supported by another’s validation, which is the first step toward them processing their own emotional state. It also has the side benefit of building up one’s relationship with that person, because they feel understood and acknowledged as an equal worthy of attention, a fact that applies even if one is simply validating themselves. Plus, validation does not equal going along with the person if they’re wrong, but acknowledging them as important so that when you try to correct them, they recognize that you are trying to help. Validation can be a very helpful concept in socializing with others.

Now that validation has been discussed, one has to consider the consequences of invalidating someone. Invalidation is when someone ignores, condescends, or somehow makes the other person’s thoughts and emotions seem unimportant.

The obvious consequences of invalidation in a relationship are very destructive, since any healthy relationship should be based on the fact that both sides consider the other to be equal and worthy of attention.

Continuing to invalidate someone can harm the other person’s view of themselves and worsen their emotional state, which is made worse by the fact that it is all too easy to invalidate someone without knowing it. Methods of invalidating someone are not as easy to identify as one would think, which is why it is important to learn about them and recognize them should they occur. Some of the examples of emotional invalidation are likely sayings that someone has uttered at one time, such as telling someone that the situation isn’t a big deal and they need to get over it or simply telling the person to cheer up without acknowledging what they’re going through.

Sometimes, a person does not care about the other party and therefore dismisses them through these methods. Other times, the person wants to get the other person to feel happier, without really acknowledging what is actually causing them to be anything but. When told to just be happy, the other party is not given attention beyond the fact that they have a problem and they should be dealing with it, without solving the core issue behind their emotional issues. There are even more ways to invalidate someone, such as denying their thoughts and emotions by telling them that what they think they’re feeling is wrong and that they (the person denying them) knows better, or judging the other person by insulting their emotional response to what they’re going through.

It is unfortunate, but invalidation can occur even in the most minuscule of ways. That’s why social interaction can be so difficult, like going through a minefield, because making a tiny mistake, without being careful or knowledgeable, can cause terrible issues for any relationship. Invalidation should be addressed through educating oneself.

Validation is a key concept of social interaction and has often times been referred to as a social lubricant. It allows us to put others at ease by making them feel as though they are equal and significant.

Remember that even the slightest attention paid to someone can brighten their day.

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