Validation – The Key to Successful Communication and Fulfilling Relationships

I was so hurt by what he said and how he treated me.

I knew I had to talk to him about it, but I felt intimidated and scared of his reaction.  I feared he wouldn’t understand me or—even worse—that he would think I was “being dramatic” or “trying to pick a fight”.  I thought about holding it all in to avoid confrontation, thinking I would get over it. But I couldn’t stop obsessing over it.

It was obvious that bottling my emotions wouldn’t lead to healing and conflict resolution.  On the contrary, if I let it build up, it would create greater pain and resentment. The thought kept circling in my head:  What’s the big deal about having a conversation with my boyfriend?  Since the beginning of our relationship, he had been profoundly loving, kind, and considerate.  I couldn’t understand why I was so intimidated by the thought of sharing my feelings with him. Committed to building a healthy and fulfilling relationship, I resolved to find the courage to speak up.

I found the right time to chat (he wasn’t holding the remote control or getting ready for bed) and I proceeded: …Baby, I felt this way when you did that and this is what I interpreted when you said x and y.  That made me feel so sad! But I know you probably didn’t mean to hurt me…

My boyfriend looked at me attentively as I thoroughly expressed my feelings, using all my favorite communication techniques.  

I looked him in the eye.

I avoided using “never” or “always.”

I used “I statements” to speak from the heart.

I was assertive.

I never put him down.  

I explained my feelings and thinking process.  I was so eloquent! I could tell from the look in his face that I was nailing it!  He seemed to feel bad for me and upset at himself.

I finished my discourse and was ready for his guaranteed apology.  He looked at me—confused—and continued, “Baby, are you crazy, or are all women crazy and they just don’t talk about it?”

My boyfriend invalidated my feelings despite my great efforts to communicate them lovingly and clearly.  No wonder I was so afraid to confront him.   

That’s what we are ALL afraid of: INVALIDATION.

Social beings need to fit in, be accepted, feel valued, loved and cared for.  We experience that through validation. When we validate someone, we put ourselves in that person’s shoes to accept, understand, and nurture his/her feelings.  We find ways of conveying: “your thoughts and emotions matter to me and they are valid.” We show compassion through validation and the person can’t help but feel loved and worthy.  Validation is the key for thriving communication and fulfilling relationships.

My boyfriend didn’t know how to validate me at the time because my feelings and interpretations were different to his.  “How can I validate you if I don’t agree with what you’re saying?” He confused validation with confirmation. He was right about one thing: I (and maybe all women) have a little crazy in me. But he forgot to include men in the mix!

We can all be irrational.  In fact, feelings are not rational by definition.  We also have a history of experiences, traumas, biases, and paradigms that clog the filter through which we interpret information.  So yes, we will inevitably come up with delusional conclusions once in a while. You don’t have to agree with our feelings to accept and understand how we feel. Attempt to see things from our lens and you’ll find that crazy makes sense.

I taught my boyfriend the importance of validation and took the time to guide him as he learned the skill that would transform his relationships.  I still remember the first time he attempted it. “I validate you,” he said. I laughed. “No, silly! You don’t say that!”

When you validate with words, try phrases like:

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“Wow, that must’ve been really hard”

“I didn’t intend to hurt you.”

You can also validate with your body language.  I wear my emotions on my sleeve and I make all kinds of expressions when I’m listening to the pain of my clients (that’s why I have so many wrinkles!). My clients feel validated without me saying a word because they see in my face that their feelings matter.

Some people—like my boyfriend at the time—struggle with validation because they are strong, confident individuals that may think they don’t need to be validated themselves. I explained to him that there’s a difference between failing to validate and invalidating.  He may not need validation to feel loved, but even he would feel un-loved if he was in-validated.

Invalidation occurs when a person’s thoughts and feelings are disregarded, rejected, or judged.  When my boyfriend said, “You’re trying to pick a fight,” “You’re being dramatic,” (maybe a little) or “Are you crazy? (Totally)” he unintentionally invalidated me.

We may not realize it, but invalidation is a form of disrespect.  It can lead to belittlement, emasculation, and even emotional abuse.  It also has the power to destroy confidence and make others feel unworthy.  The worst part is that, in most cases, invalidation is unintended. We think we are trying to toughen up a person, when what we are really doing is destroying him/her inside.  My boyfriend never meant to hurt me. He genuinely thought I was finding excuses to argue because he couldn’t understand how I could possibly feel the way I did. It still hurt me that he couldn’t make the effort to consider my feelings valid, regardless of how “crazy” and irrational they seemed to him.  

As with validation, invalidation does not require words.  Pretending that you’re playing the violin, rolling your eyes, frowning, and walking away are forms of invalidation.  We have all done it at some point—not realizing the power of our gestures.

Invalidation can do much more than hinder relationships.  It can lead to traumatic experiences. All of my clients that have endured sexual abuse as children for extended periods of time have one thing in common: they felt invalidated by their parents.  Invalidation blocked open communication and exacerbated fears. How could an abused child speak up and seek protection if they feared being blamed and shamed by the people that were supposed to love them the most?  What’s most excruciating in these instances, is that those parents didn’t realize how they contributed to the elongation of the abuse. What they’d give to go back and provide a safe place for their children to express their feelings freely!

It is our responsibility to exercise validation as we live our calling to love the people around us.  

In doing so, we can change their lives and transform our relationships. That’s what my boyfriend did.  He learned to honor my feelings and married me—crazy and all! He became a true testament of validation, which spreads to all his thriving relationships.  Now, I’m never afraid to share my thoughts and emotions. He, on the other hand, does fear being unable to shut me up!

 

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