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It is essential to give and receive validation. 

Karyn D Hall, Ph.D therapist, author and blogger says that “validation means to express understanding and acceptance of another person's internal experience, whatever that might be. Validation does not mean you agree or approve. Validation builds relationships and helps ease upset feelings. Knowing that you are understood and that your emotions and thoughts are accepted by others is powerful. Validation is like relationship glue.” (1)

In terms of our own sense of validation what seems to matter is who we get it from and whether our sense of identity is biased to external and/or internal validation. 

I think that both matter. The degree to which external validation makes or breaks you is  complex. Different studies have shown that resilience in relationship to validation is influenced by a range of factors including gender, race, birth place.

It can be totally uplifting when external validation is there and devastating and debilitating when it’s not.  Hence why I recommend we all need to work on internal and self-validation. 

When a baby or child smiles at us, we usually feel a sense of pleasantness or happiness and maybe even feel validated. A dog or animal’s affection can produce the same feeling and vice versa.  Certainly, it’s not just humans that can give external validation and many types of nature can be validating - if you let it be. 

The fact that humans are wired with a brain distinct from non-mammals and other animals gives humans the capacity for more cognitive thought and cerebral activity, due largely to the prefrontal cortex, the outer portion of the brain.  This is largely a wonderful thing but can be tricky in navigating life at the same time. 

I read a great basic description from a writer named Dan Lrene about external validation:

“External validation means a person needs or wants something outside of themselves to validate that they are good, smart, have done a good job, look good, etc.  I remember teaching at a school and I had children that as they worked, they ask me if every little thing they did  was ok. They had learned that they needed external validation or approval to do things. I would ask them what they thought of their paper and you could see that they were so unsure of themselves, that they could not answer.”

Dan Lrene goes on to say “Internal validation means that we recognize for ourselves when we have done a good job and are proud of ourselves. We do not need anyone else to do it for us. But, I believe it takes being brought up that way for people to learn it or it is a lesson we learn late in life when the light bulb goes off and we realise that we can choose to see this for ourselves.” (2)

Basically, I am one of those ‘late in life’ people who is still working on strengthening my internal validation as the need for external validation has been in the driver’s seat for so long.  Yet, I’m at the stage of awareness and trying to accept where I am now. Luckily we can learn this and skill ourselves up in promoting internal and self-validation. 

Karen Hall, PhD says that “self-validation is accepting your own internal experience, your thoughts and feelings.

Self-validation doesn't mean that you believe your ideas are always right or think your intense feelings are more important than others, but you will accept your right to think and feel them and not push them away.

If you fight your thoughts and feelings, or judge yourself for having them, then you increase your emotional upset. You'll also miss out on important information about who you are as a person and ways to help self soothe or self-promote in your near future.

Validating your thoughts and emotions will help you calm yourself and manage your emotions more effectively. Validating yourself will help you accept and better understand yourself, which leads to a stronger identity and better skills at managing intense emotions. Self-validation helps you find wisdom.” (3)

Hall relates psychologist Marsha Linehan's levels of validation to self-validation.

"Level 1 Be Present

To be mindful of your emotions without pushing them away is consistent with Linehan’s first level of validation:  Being Present. To be present also means to ground yourself and not dissociate, daydream, suppress or numb your emotions. Being present means listening to yourself. Feeling the pain of sadness, hurt, and fear is challenging and difficult. At the same time avoiding emotions often results in quite negative consequences, while accepting allows emotions to pass and helps build resiliency. Being present for yourself validates that you matter and that you have the strength to feel. Being present with your internal experience means you experience the body sensations that are part of your emotional experience.

Level 2 Accurate Reflection

Reflect means to make manifest or apparent. For self-validation, accurate reflection is acknowledging your internal state to yourself and labeling it accurately. Perhaps you reflect on what triggered the emotion and when the precipitating event occurred. Maybe you reflect on the ways you feel the emotion in your body and consider the actions that go with the emotion. Reflecting means observing and describing, components of mindfulness as Linehan defines it. When you observe and describe your internal experience, you do not interpret or guess or make assumptions. You would say, “I feel angry and it started yesterday after my friend cancelled lunch. I sense tightness in my stomach, so maybe there is fear as well.

Saying, “I am a total loser and no one wants to spend any time with me,” would not be stating the facts of your experience. Stating the facts of your experience is validating and helps build trust in your internal experience. Interpreting your experience in ways that you cannot observe to be true invalidates and leads to distrust in your internal experience and more

Level 3 Guessing

 Sometimes you won’t be sure what you are feeling or thinking. In these situations, you may want to say something like, “If someone else were in this situation they would probably feel sad. Am I sad?” You might also guess by looking at the actions you want to do. If you want to hide, maybe you are feeling shame. Maybe you are thinking shame thoughts. You can notice where you feel body sensations, such as fear is often felt in the throat. If you are feeling fear, maybe you are thinking scary thoughts. Guessing your emotions and thoughts based on the information you have will help you learn more about yourself and your needs.

Level 4 Validating by History

Sometimes you will have thoughts and feelings that are based on events that have happened in your past. Maybe you are afraid when people argue because in the past arguments led to your being hurt. Validating yourself by saying, “It’s acceptable and understandable that you are afraid of arguments because when you were young, your parents would hurt each other during arguments."

Level 5 Normalizing

Sometimes people who have intense emotions don’t see any of their emotional reactions as being normal. Everyone has emotions. No one is happy all the time.  It’s normal to feel sad, angry, hurt, ashamed, or any other emotion. At the same time, it’s just as important to validate when others would feel the same way and accept that as well. If you are sad because you didn’t get a job you wanted, remember that others would be sad if that happened to them. Check out whether what you are feeling is what most other people would experience and validate those feelings as normal, even if you don't like experiencing them.

Level 6 Radical Genuineness

In terms of self-validation, this means being your real self and not lying to yourself. It means that you don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Rejecting who you are is one of the highest levels of invalidation. An important distinction is that who you are is different from what you do. You are not your behaviour, yet changing some of your behaviours may alleviate some of your suffering." (3)

Self-validation is one of the critical steps for living with intense emotions. It is part of forming relationships and thriving.

Practice and more practice of the six-steps above will help you self-validate more easily, which should help you to be more resilient in the tough times, and also help you be kinder to yourself.

Basically, the work we need to do to self-validate is a patient but deliberate process and being compassionate to ourselves through that evolution and development is fundamental. 

Reflection:  Where are you on the spectrum of internal and external validation and how can you come to a balance which makes your life more satisfying and fulfilling?

With kindness,

Dr Deb Roberts is a passionate advocate for public health and personal well-being. She, provides professional development services in the area of self-care and well-being for schools, corporates and individuals. Her vision and mission is to normalise discussions about mental health to support optimum well-being.

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Note:  you might like to check out this book: The Power of Validation: Arming Your Child Against Bullying, Peer Pressure, Addiction, Self-Harm, and Out-of-Control Emotions by Karyn Hall and Melissa Cook





Deb Roberts