14 thoughts on “Understanding the Levels of Validation

  • February 5, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I am a heterosexual woman who has been close friends with Karla now for 30 yrs. We no longer live in the same town and we are not in any way romantically inclined. Recently I opened up to her, was vulnerable and told her how much I love who she is, she is like a sister to me and our friendship is not just ‘what she does for me’. My intentions were to convey my sincere appreciation for her. Her response is always a bit coy, so I suspect that this vunerability makes her uncomfortable. I know she cares about me and loves me, but I’ve noticed that she can never say The same thing back to me. At these moments I feel sensitive and vulnerable. She went through a long year period where she didn’t return my phone call or text or anything for like five mos. at a time. I felt pretty rejected. Once she finally contacted me, she assured me it wasn’t bc of me but bc of depression from her divorce ( and I do believe this to be the truth)at that point if she didn’t want to be friends with me…I would think she would’ve cut me off but she didn’t. Even today she said, “What would we do without our friends?” I guess, that when I’m being so vunerable, it helps to have that reflected back but there’s no guarantee a loved one can do that for us. It’s what I feel I needed…but she can’t do that, and I have to accept that. So, what now? I was left feeling very vunerable, and awkward after saying this. Should I just simply pull back and avoid saying this again, sense it makes her uncomfortable? Any suggestions? Thanks.

    • February 6, 2012 at 8:47 am

      Julianne, Taking the risk to be vulnerable about your feelings is one of the keys to close relationships. It’s great that you had the courage to do that. And you are so right that sometimes the people we care about are not able to do the same or do it in the same way. That can feel like you are out there in vulnerability land by yourself. While that feels awkward in the short run, it means you are living authentically and doing what you think is right. There is no way to know what is making her uncomfortable unless she tells you. I am guessing that you may have some doubts about her caring about you and that is what makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you are a person who bonds at least partially through direct statements of caring. She sounds like she is not that type ofperson. She could be uncomfortable with her own difficulty in expressing emotion, if that is true about her. the same time, perhaps her statements like “What would we do without our friends?” are ways she lets you know that you are important to her and that she cares about you. The length of your relationship is also confirmation that she values your friendship. I hope you can be proud that you had the courage to express yourself (that’s a gift to you and to her), and be compassionate with yourself that it’s difficult to not have a direct statement of her caring for you. Validate yourself that you were open, authentic, and caring. At the same time, I think you are right about acceptance. Acceptance of those we care about means we accept who they are. As for the future, one option is to validate her statements. For example, “You are so right, friends are the best, aren’t they?” Another option is to mirror her language. When the opportunity arises, make statements like “Only a really good friend could understand that.” Perhaps you could find other ways of expressing your caring for her or noticing other ways that the two of you show your caring for each other. Finally, maybe you could change your expectations. Sometimes the awkwardness comes because both people know that one person is expecting a certain response. If that expectation is gone, then the awkwardness might be too.

  • February 6, 2012 at 10:05 am

    This is very helpful. Thank you. I am going to take time to re-read this a few times.

    • February 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Thank you Stephanie. I am glad that you found it helpful and appreciate your letting me know.

  • February 20, 2012 at 3:13 am

    I do appreciate your article. It’s helpful to see validation described. Any thoughts on how to get a husband to read and understand it?

    • February 20, 2012 at 7:12 am

      Thank you! By your question I am assuming your husband is not inclined to read articles like this. If that is true, you might try validating him. by saying, “I know that you do not enjoy reading psychology articles and they do not interest you. (Say whatever the truth is about his not reading them, in a supportive way.)”
      Then make a request and state how reading it would be helpful to him, something he cares about, such as validation is helpful in busness or you think it would help you feel closer to him or it could decrease the misunderstandings you have. Another possibility is to print it out and write him a loving note about reading it. Then put it where he would find it. Sometimes people try practicing validation for a while and the other person notices. Then they explain what they are doing and the reason (eg, to have a better relationship, feel closer). Good luck to you.

  • February 3, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Dr. Hall,

    I am a clinical psychology postdoctoral student on the mood disorders and suicidality rotation at the San Diego VA in CA. I came across your blog here and was curious if I could cite you and use this blog as one handout in an Interpersonal Skills group that I am creating as my project. I will be integrating DBT and CBASP for a population of Veterans suffering from anxiety and mood disorders as well as axis II traits.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Laura Testerman, Ph.D.

    • February 3, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      You are welcome to use it. Thank you for asking.

  • March 8, 2013 at 8:51 am

    I would think social workers, therapist, and psychiatrists treat some people who they believe are not being truthful. Is it possible to validate someone you believe is being manipulative or lying?

    • March 8, 2013 at 9:01 am

      Yes. While you never, ever validate the invalid, there is truth to validate even when you believe someone is lying. You can validate the emotion they are expereincing or their fears that may be motivating them to lie.

  • October 18, 2016 at 9:50 am

    My husband has recently been diagnosed with BPD. It is so exhausting constantly validating someone with no validation in return. Any ideas? I got frustrated with him last night and yelled triggering him to rage.
    How can I fix this, without invalidating the point I was trying too make?

  • December 24, 2016 at 4:19 am

    This was fascinating. I have tended to not dwell on my children’s worries/anxieties for fear of making them worse. I feel, having read this article, that this may have been inappropriate. My children are now teenagers – have I done ‘damage’. Is it too to try to change?

  • July 15, 2018 at 4:03 am

    This is so well written and Id like to share it with your permission, of course giving you the credit. I work in the mental health field and validation is a key point in all stages of growth. I am also a DBTer .
    thank you for writing this.

  • December 27, 2018 at 2:44 am

    I caution anyone before using “Level Six is radical genuineness. Radical genuiness is when you understand the emotion someone is feeling on a very deep level. Maybe you have had a similar experience. Radical genuineness is sharing that experience as equals.”

    You should NOT try to validate someone by saying you had the same or similar experience. In most cases this will come off as you’re trying to change the subject, and focus on yourself, rather than actually listening. We do live in a narcissistic culture. I suggest being present above all else and using active listening techniques. If you can’t fight the urge to relate (it is a natural urge of course), preface it by saying, “I think I can understand what you feel like. Would you like me to share a story with you about something I experienced?” and then only proceed if they say yes.


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