Validation for Healing and Personal Growth
People who have been abused, mistreated, hurt, or wronged in any other way almost universally seek validation. We talk to others, tell our stories, write about it, and express it in other ways.
Even perpetrators do it because, in their mind, they are the ones being wronged even though they are the ones harming others—but that’s a separate topic. Here, we will only talk about people who were actually wronged and we will exclude scenarios where a perpetrator seeks validation or actually receives enabling.
Everyone in their own mind wants to make sense out of their painful experiences and be validated that they are right. A commonly used way is to talk about it with others. The most productive scenario is probably to seek professional help, assuming that you can find a competent enough helper, be it a therapist, life coach, counselor, social worker, etc. But, depending on the situation, sometimes friends, family, or even strangers can do the trick.
Seeking Validation in the Wrong Places
Sadly, many people don’t have close, trusting, mature relationships. A lot of people have unsatisfying or unhealthy relationships. And so they seek validation, understanding, compassion, and support from people who are unable or unwilling to provide it.
So many people have heard phrases like, “Just get over it,” “It’s not a big deal,” “Don’t be a pussy,” “They’re your family,” “Don’t live in the past,” “How dare you blame your mother/father?” “They didn’t mean it,” “It made you stronger,” “You’re so negative,” “You swore for better or worse, together no matter what,” and so on.
Receiving such a response when you open up and share your pain can be devastating, even retraumatizing, especially coming from someone close or who is a professional. Here, people who don’t have a support system or are easily gaslighted experience confusion, self-blame, shame, and guilt. They simply wanted empathy and compassion for their pain, but encountered invalidation, minimization, dismissal, blaming, ridiculing, or guilt-tripping.
Way too often people seek validation, empathy, and compassion from the very people that hurt them. In many cases it is so because the aggrieved party is psychologically dependent on the perpetrator or even experience Stockholm syndrome. This is especially common in families where the adult-child is trying to make the caregiver accept parental responsibility and on an unconscious level desperately tries to gain love and acceptance from them.
This stepping on the same rake and repeatedly getting hurt and disappointed continues until the person accepts the perpetrator for who they are and becomes independent from them. This is the essence of repetition-compulsion in this kind of situation. Seeking compassion and support from the wrong people is futile and self-destructive. It is incredibly important to realistically estimate these encounters and accept that, perhaps, we are looking for empathy and validation in the wrong places. Only then can we actually heal, reclaim our life, and thrive.
People who seek external validation have difficulties accepting their painful experience and where they were wronged. They have difficulties resolving it. Some even struggle with recognizing that it happened. Or the scale and impact of it. Or even the fact that someone they trusted and who had power over them hurt them when they were small and vulnerable. They may even struggle to recognize their emotional reactions (anger, depression).
Wounded people want to know that they were not in the wrong and that they are not bad human beings, and many look for external sources for that confirmation. If they don’t receive it or if they are met with invalidation, they continue to feel that they deserved it, or that what happened to them was not wrong. For many, such programming is already set in our childhood where we are routinely hurt, invalidated, and raised to believe that it was our fault or that it wasn’t that bad. This cascade of reaction may be easily triggered and is generally confusing in and of itself.
However, after doing some self-work and becoming mentally stronger, we learn to validate ourselves. We learn how to evaluate our experiences realistically, without denial, minimization, or exaggeration. Then, we rarely look for others for validation. We learn to trust our memories. We learn to accept the pain and everything it brings up. We identify, understand, and resolve our emotions better. We no longer seek empathy and compassion from people who can’t give it to us.
We know how to empathize with ourselves and validate our hurts without needing approval or acceptance from others. We also recognize that, even if nobody accepts or even hears about our pain, it is real and valid. Even if nobody recognizes our hurts, or even supports the perpetrator, we are still right. We don’t have to prove or show it to others—it is important and just regardless.
Deep inside, we understand that others don’t define us. You define you. And you are who you are, not what others think you are, for better or worse. Embrace it.
What invalidating phrases have you heard? What helped you become more self-validating? Feel free to comment below or write about it in your journal.