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Friday, 03 July 2020 05:33

Intention vs. Impact – What is Validation and why is it critical for relationships and parenting?

Written by Dr Priya Fafat
Intention vs. Impact – What is Validation and why is it critical for relationships and parenting?
Despite your best intentions to help your child, spouse or friend, and you offering your best advice and listening ear, do you often get “ You just don’t understand” or “ I know what you are going to say, and that’s not going to help” or “You will never understand” or “ I don’t want to discuss this with you” or “you are not even trying to understand me”? This shut door or allegation can be very painful to hear especially when you see your loved one suffering or sad and earnestly reach out to help. These allegations hurt you and land up infuriating and frustating you, given that you had the person’s best interest in mind. A vicious cycle kicks in and it blows up into a yelling match.

The impact is a complete opposite of what you intended…leaving you feel hurt, guilty and anxious. Instead of coming closer and making the person feel supported, it leaves both of you lonely, frustrated & feeling distanced. Sounds familiar?

Very often this is because we fail to validate each other’s feelings. Validation is not necessarily agreeing with someone’s behaviour or point of view but simply allowing and accepting what the other is feeling. Letting the person know that he/she is been heard and seen. Feelings. emotions or experiences are never right or wrong. They just are. All one needs is a safe place to express them as they are, without being judged for them. A safe place to be held.
Do we do that? Do we give them that open, non biased space?

Or do we invalidate their feelings, brush them away, reject or deny them what they are feeling?
It may be very subtle and well intentioned as we don’t want the loved one to suffer or misbehave.
So in order to have them either move on/ give them comfort/maybe perhaps give them strength/stop them from misbehaving, do we often say things like -
“Atleast you have ….” Or
“This could have been worse, count your blessings “ or
we show tough love by saying
“You are much stronger than this, get over it” or “ Boys /men don’t cry” or
“ You should not feel like this” or “What the big deal? Stop being so touchy!” or
“Get your act together” “ This discussion is over” “ This is not acceptable” “This has to stop!”.

Often our way of showing care is to give advice, problem solve and/or discipline. In the process, we inadvertenty invalidate their feelings and make them feel even worse, or more small or insignificant. If invalidation becomes a habit, it can often leave the other person emotionally confused and feel guilty about what he/she is feeling. It indrectly tells them that their emotional experience is wrong, worthless and unacceptable. And that is when we get a shut door.

And then we wonder what went wrong? We were only trying to help. We had the best intentions for them. Then we go on to explain and defend our intentions to help the other feel better and see a different view point and feel differently – feel an emotion that we feel is accurate and valid – in the process further invalidating what he/she felt or was feeling. The cycle continues. Leaving the person in self doubt and emotionally injured and unfufilled.

So inspite of our best intentions, the impact is completely opposite. Because really, often all that is needed is someone to hear and listen to what he/she is feeling or experiencing, someone to say that “All the you are feeling is valid and right. In your situation, many others are likely to feel like this” Or
“ I see whay may have caused you to feel like this”. It does not mean that you agree with their reaction/behaviour or what they perceive, but its giving space to their emotional experience without judgements.

In any relationship, validation is an extremely important and effective communication tool to express love and acceptance. Acceptance of the person as a whole – their positive feeings and negative feelings, their strengths and failings. It is the basic foundation of any relationship. Be it a child, spouse or friend. Thus validation is considered one of the most the imperative and critical pillars of mindful parenting to nurture healthy psychological development in children. (The Power of Validation, by Karyn D. Hall, Ph.D., and Melissa H. Cook, LPC). The same is needed in other relationships too.

Some pointers to tackle invalidation :

1) To safeguard from inadvertantly invalidating someone, one good strategy is to remind yourself in the heated moment that “My primary intention here is make my child or loved one feel supported. Not to win this argument or prove my point. Can I just be a listener for now?”.

2) And when you notice that some folks intentionally/unintentionally invalidate your emotions, for whatever reason – ignorance or spite or lack of empathy and compassion and not knowing how to express better – give yourself a hug, give yourself space, don’t doubt yourself, know that the other has his/her own issues and therefore fails to understand you. Find another loved one to share. Meditation to tend towards your difficult and challenging emotions can help a lot too – see next post.
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