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Good Emotional Health: Don’t Defend, Validate Instead

We all have some stress in our lives. Sadness, anger, fear–all can overwhelm the brain depriving it of oxygen, which totally shuts down our ability to think. When this emotional flooding occurs, we literally cannot think straight.

When we experience fear, our attention becomes fixated and this forces the mind to obsess and plan on how to handle it. As a result, we ignore anything and everything else going on for the time being. The task of worrying is to come up with a plan for solutions. Yet, actions that originate in this way are not always in our best interest, but they carry a particularly powerful sense of certainty. This certainty is a result of an exaggerated, simplified way of looking at things

Emotions are much like investments. They are both worth holding onto when they produce dividends or lead to growth in the long run. However, to continue to hold onto them after they have become a liability, and are hurting us rather than helping us, is not only foolish, but down-right self-destructive.

Emotions may be helpful as a short-term investment. Yet, their value decreases sharply the longer that they are held onto. Painful emotions like anger, worry or sorrow are warnings, that lets us know, we are being wronged, hurt, or threatened. As such, they can be useful.

Emotions help us become aware that something is wrong. They open our eyes to the situation around us. Emotions bring things to the surface, rather than allowing them to smolder unnoticed. However, staying emotional for a long time is not productive. Emotions directed at ourselves or others, requires us to spend energy to stay emotional.

We only get some much energy a day and like time, energy cannot be saved for another day. Good emotional health involves conserving our emotional energies and using them where they are most productive.

If we can accept the idea that each emotion exists for a reason, then we can find the value in every feeling. Finding this value may allow us to understand our emotions and express them in more adaptive ways. The expression of anger does not have to involve yelling or violence, sadness does not have to involve crying, fear does not have to involve hiding or avoiding. If we listen to our emotions, understand what our emotions mean, then we can validate them and their intensity will fade. But if we ignore what our  emotions tell us, our feelings build up and may result in a display of destructive behavior.

We can help reduce anger by changing our thoughts of fear or sadness, to optimism, gratitude and tolerance. We can change our feelings that we are right. We can practice understanding without agreement and facilitate cooperation by negotiating our differences to foster mutually beneficial outcomes.

We can say:
“That sounds hard to deal with.”

“I can tell you feel really strongly about this”

“I could see how that could hurt.”

“I never thought of it like that.”

We can ask:
“What happened to make you so angry?”

“What angered you the most when that happened?”

“What is the worst part about it?”

We can dig a little deeper:
“Did you feel like I was judging you?”

“It’s not fair, is it?

“Did you feel like you weren’t good enough?”

“When else have you felt this way?”

“Could it be that you expect things to be perfect at all times?”

“Does that make sense?”

Good Emotional Health: Don’t Defend, Validate Instead

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2017). Good Emotional Health: Don’t Defend, Validate Instead. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 13, 2018, from


Last updated: 27 Mar 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Mar 2017
Published on All rights reserved.