What is Validation and how do I do it?
Conflict can be common in all relationships; Parent / Child, Partner or Spouse, Work colleagues, Teacher / Student, Friends etc and it is also all too common to 'fail' to make progress towards a resolution. It can lead to feeling exhausted and hopeless, and rather than promoting growth in a relationship, it can lead to severing relationships. No matter how much talking is done and how well intended it is to try to make the other party understand our point of view, attempts at discussing the issue can often make things worse and can cause further relationship damage.
In peaceful parenting we are introduced to the concept of connection before correction. This concept is no different in any relationship setting, however, I am unsure that the word ‘correction’ is so appropriate, maybe 'connection before issue communication’, but that may not be quite so easy to remember.
Where each party is persevering with their own point of view, each can become angry at the other for not listening and not seeming to care how each other feels. In conflict with children especially, the child can reach a level of physical overwhelm where they cannot hear anything that is said by the caregiver. If we understand the power that an 'adult' holds, in size, stature, posturing, volume, facial expressions and body language and the hardwiring of a child to want to please a caregiver, we can start to appreciate just how overwhelming that might be for the child. A child’s perceived meltdown can be a desperate attempt to try and convey their feelings, which can become muddled and confused.
When we can create some space in the deep need to communicate our point of view and instead, connect with our own feelings of anxiousness / anger / fear / shame etc, we can acknowledge that there is something going on within us. We can then reach out to understand the driver of the other party's point of view, asking what is going on for them. This is not giving up our point of view or our side of the argument. With children, this can mean physically putting ourselves on their level, adopting an open posture, nodding and looking into their eyes, being empathetic and delivering a simple: “I hear you” and; “we can talk when you are ready” and, a reassuring: “I love you; we can work this through”.
To understand validation is to understand that we don’t just 'give in' or compromise our own point of view. We don’t seek to manipulate the other party, agree with their point of view or resolve the argument. Validation can be one word, a sentence or even a facial expression, and in that moment a raging argument can change course entirely. It can end tears and tantrums and it can beckon in empathy and listening (although ending tears and tantrums is not our objective).
When the space is made to notice our own actions, we can then invite the other person to fully explain their position whilst listening and not engaging with a defence or alternate perspective, to truly hear the other party whilst maintaining eye contact.
“I hear you, I get it.....”, “I understand why you might feel that way.”
Once the person is heard and their feelings validated, no matter what they are or how different from ours their perspective is, in that moment of being validated the energy may shift; aggressive or defensive body postures may relax and, crying may stop. It is imperative that this validation is authentically delivered as the other party will have a sense if they are merely being placated in order to gain an inroad in to furthering an arguing point.
Once authentic validation has occurred it can allow the other party to step back from a defensive position and be more open to hear another perspective, maybe even inviting the other perspective. Being validated can mean the person is far more able to hear what the other person has to say, and imagine what the other person is feeling. Validation does not mean “Ah they have stopped arguing, now I can get my point across” and subsequently launch an attack.
As I said, to validate someone is not the same as agreeing with them. It’s only a way to say that their feelings are being understood. That moment of understanding has the power to change the course of the interaction, and can open up the possibility of a resolution.
How to Validate
Make space and connect with your own bodily feelings and sensations, notice that you are talking and not listening.
Adopt an open posture, retain eye contact, soften and listen rather than speaking. Hear what the other person is saying, and try to connect with the feelings driving it. Understand that the perspective given is from the other persons childhood programming, as is ours, and it may not seem rational, but it is their perspective that they are experiencing it through. We can find that the same experience is viewed entirely differently from different perspectives. In hearing and connecting the other perspective(s) we can understand the other person more deeply.
Try your to connect with the other persons feelings, whether you agree with it or not. When we actually listen and imagine the other person’s position, we are able to feel their upset, fear, frustration, irritation etc. Feeling others feelings for just one moment, the other person experiences a moment of validation. In that moment, the other person can feel heard and understood.
Say out loud to them that you understand why they would feel that way. This is not placating nor agreeing such as: “I feel the same way / I agree” or “you are right.” You only need to say that you get it, that you hear them.
Validation is such a powerful tool. It does not stop at our close relationships; we can validate a complete stranger. Those chance interactions when other people are inexplicably angry or helpless, a simple word of understanding can change the tone of their entire day. It helps humans connect and it helps differences dissolve and new information be communicated. When we feel validated we are far more open to the opinions of others.
If in your formative years you grew up with a lack of validation and parents used terms such as “you're alright”, “you are ok”, “what is wrong with you”, “why are you being like this” “ why are you talking to me like this” or, “there-there, you don’t need to cry” etc, it’s likely there will be no experience at all in understanding that another person needs validating. You may feel blocked and unable to validate others, especially during arguments or anger for fear of losing ground or being hurt.
When it comes to children it can be especially hard to validate their feelings. Asking a child how they feel or to share their perspective can be too much when they are in a dis-regulated state and can result in a denial of any feelings or any understanding. As caregivers it is our responsibility to navigate through what might have happened and what might need validating. For example, a child wanting a banana but none are left, it can be easy to see what requires validation “I know, you really wanted the banana and there are none left and you feel upset about it, I hear you, you seem really upset”. A recent experience with my daughter gave me a greater insight into validation. After a fun afternoon playing with friends at a playpark my daughter asked to go home, she fell asleep in the car. Sometime afterwards, she woke herself up with a cough and promptly started to cry, blaming me for waking her up, the difficulties continued with moving a blanket for her but no matter where I put it – it was in the wrong place. I could not think about anything that needed validating, I was stumped. After 30 mins of crying and a feeling of hopelessness hanging over me, I tried to think what it could be. “you had such a nice time at the playpark with your friend and then you fell asleep in the car and when you woke up you felt sad that you weren’t still there”. She stopped crying immediately, “yes, and I didn’t want to leave”. I replied “I can understand that, I had a lovely time too”. That was it, we moved on.
If validation is embraced as a tool (and it definitely becomes easier with practice) it has the power to turn negative cycles or relationships into more positive or connected ones.
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