Reader Question: Why is it Important to Validate Feelings?

“Do you really have to always validate other people’s feelings? What if they are just plain wrong?” Natalie, Lafayette, CO

Validation (of feelings) is a buzz word used frequently in parenting books and relationship self help. But what does it actually mean to validate someone’s feelings and why is in important? Often time, validation is confused with agreeing with what the person is saying or their perspective. Validation is not about agreeing with the other person’s thoughts, but it is about understanding how someone might be feeling. It requires using empathy, or putting yourself in that other person’s shoes. If you have ever been in an argument with someone and you take the approach of trying to change their mind and convince them that their facts are wrong, you have most likely found yourself in a debate or a power struggle, where anger and defensiveness takes over, and where no one actually wins or feels better. This is also true when someone is very anxious and you try to fix the problem before you validate the feeling.

On the other hand, validating feelings diffuses the emotion of the situation by acknowledging the feelings first and not getting into the facts until both parties are calmer. This may sound something like this “Ok, I see how upset you are. I can understand that you are feeling overwhelmed and like you have no power in this situation.” When someone is upset, they are operating from their emotions and the rational part of their brain is offline, therefore, if you pause and help to address and validate their emotions first, then the rational part of the brain (pre-frontal lobe) is more easily accessed.

Next time you find yourself in a heated moment with someone, remember this mantra: Diffuse, don’t Debate.

Written by Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC