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Yes, You Matter

Okay, so you want acknowledgement. That's fine. But no one can tell you how you should feel, especially you.

Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission
Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission

Everyone wants to feel validated. Who doesn't want to be seen and heard? Yet, much of the time, you may well feel just the opposite—you may feel judged, denied, or completely ignored. You want to matter. Of course, validation does not mean that every person will agree with what you have to say; it just means that you are being acknowledged and you are accepted, regardless of your point of view. Looking for validation can certainly go too far, perhaps in the form of approval-seeking or people-pleasing. However, it all starts with self-validation. To accept yourself, you cannot push feelings away or negate yourself. You are who you are. And that is OK.

Validation Starts With You

Accept your internal experience and build your identity.

By Karyn Hall, Ph.D.

Validation is the expression of honest understanding. It’s the acknowledgment of others, of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. And to do a better job of validation, you must start with yourself. Such self-validation is understanding your internal experience and your actions.

This doesn’t mean that whatever you think or feel is justified. There are many times when you will have thoughts that surprise you, that don’t reflect your values or fit what you know to be true. Validation doesn’t mean approval, it’s about understanding. If you fight your thoughts and feelings, or judge yourself for having them, then you may well become emotionally distressed. You’ll also fail to learn about yourself.

Validating your thoughts and emotions will help you stay calm and manage yourself more effectively. Validating yourself will help you accept yourself, which will lead you to a stronger identity and better skills at regulating intense emotions.

Self-validation also helps you find wisdom. If you accept that you are feeling envy and you understand the reason, there is an opportunity to learn from your experience. What is it that you envy? What does it mean for you?

Psychologist Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy and a professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle, defined six levels of validation. The steps below are based on her ideas.

Be Here Now

Mindfulness and self-validation go hand in hand. Be mindful of your emotions without pushing them away; this means grounding yourself and not dissociating, daydreaming, suppressing, or numbing your emotions. Being present means listening to yourself, even if feeling the pain of sadness, hurt, and fear is challenging.

Avoiding emotions can result in negative consequences, while accepting emotions allows them to pass, and allows you to build resilience. Being present validates that you matter, that you have the strength to feel, that you can experience the physical sensations that are part of your emotional terrain.

Engage in Honest Reflection

Accurate reflection means acknowledging your internal state and labeling it accurately. When you observe and describe your interior experience accurately, you don’t make interpretations—you stick to the facts. What emotions are you experiencing? What triggered the thoughts and emotions you are having? Where do you feel sensations in your body and what actions do you want to take? Labeling your experience with accurate reflection can help you regulate your emotions.

This thought, I’m a loser, and no one wants to spend time with me, does not state the observable facts of your experience. Instead, observe and describe your experience: I feel angry and disappointed. It started yesterday when my friend canceled lunch again. I sense tightness in my stomach, so maybe there is fear as well.

Guess Your Emotions

Sometimes you won’t be sure what you are feeling or thinking. In these situations, ask yourself: Am I feeling _____? If someone else were in this situation, they would probably feel ____.

You might also guess your emotions by looking at the actions you want to take. If you want to hide, perhaps you are feeling shame. Maybe you are thinking shameful thoughts. Where are your physical sensations? Fear, for example, is often felt in the throat. Guessing your emotions and thoughts based on the information you have will help you learn more about yourself.

Remember the Past

Sometimes you will have thoughts and feelings that are based on events that happened in your past. Maybe you’re afraid when people argue, because past arguments scared you. You could validate yourself with this thought: I t’s understandable that I am afraid of arguments because when I was young my parents hurt each other during conflict.

Normalize Your Feelings

Sometimes people who have intense emotions don’t see themselves as normal. Everyone has emotions. No one is happy all the time. It’s normal to feel painful emotions. You feel sad when you didn’t get that job you wanted, and this is commonly felt by others as well. It’s normal. Instead, self-validate: Of course I feel sad. I really wanted that job.

Be Genuine

Do not lie to yourself. Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Rejecting who you are is high-level invalidation and can be damaging. An important distinction: Who you are is different from what you do. You are not your behavior. Changing some behaviors that are invalid may alleviate some suffering that you experience.
Self-validation is critical for living with intense emotions. It is part of forming relationships and thriving. Practice and more practice will help you self-validate more naturally.

Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission
Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission

Please Follow Me

Does validation on social media tell you what type of person you are?

By Martin Graff, Ph.D.

If you use social media, do you consider these statements to be accurate about you, or are you unconcerned or uninfluenced by others online?

The attention I get from social media is important to me. I consider someone to be popular based on the number of likes they get. I wish I could gain more likes online.

In a study my colleagues and I conducted, we hypothesized that personality and self-esteem affect how people use social media. We asked participants to respond to statements that showed how they appreciate being valued online.

We received responses from 332 people between the ages of 18 and 78; a third were men and two-thirds were women. Seventy percent of our responders reported posting online one to five times daily on up to 10 types of social media.

Our survey measured self-esteem and the personality characteristics of extraversion (sociable, outgoing), agreeableness (warm, sympathetic), conscientiousness (organized, disciplined), neuroticism (irritable, moody), and openness (imaginative, unconventional).

We found several ways in which types of validation in social media were related to self-esteem and personality:

Effort in Social Media:

Characterized by asking for likes or even paying to get more validation, this effort was related to low levels of agreeableness, trust, warmth, and modesty.

Taking Action:

This included deleting a post that did not receive many likes and was related to low levels of self-esteem, low conscientiousness, and low openness.

Honest Posting:

These people always presented themselves accurately online. Unconcerned with getting likes, they seemed to be more extraverted, sociable, and outgoing.

Blindness in Social Media:

Examples: Accepting friend requests from people they didn’t know or posting information inconsistent with their beliefs just to gain likes. This was related to low levels of conscientiousness, as well as impulsiveness, and being disorganized.

Positive Posting:

I always post positive things about myself. This was related to self-esteem, having confidence in one’s abilities, and low levels of neuroticism.

Finally, we found that none of the personality or self-esteem measures were related to whether receiving likes and validation improved one's mood or self-esteem.

Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission
Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission

Don’t Feel Grateful? That’s Okay

Forced Gratitude can make you feel worse.

By Sarah Epstein

There is a lot of pressure to feel grateful for health and well-being right now. After all, so many others are in terrible pain. Gratitude can increase our level of satisfaction, help us see beyond a crisis, and train the mind to look for positives. Yet the pressure to feel grateful can turn gratitude from a source of relief into a source of self-torment. Gratitude is great, but not when it’s guilt-ridden.

What does guilty gratitude sound like?

I should feel grateful...
because others have it so much worse
because I have a roof over my head
because I don’t have cancer
because I have so much support
because I made it this far

Yet forcing gratitude during a crisis does not work. People who try to guilt themselves into a grateful state by comparing their pain to others’ may unintentionally delegitimize their feelings and worsen rather than improve their mental health. They may feel responsible for feeling grateful rather than anxious, stuck, hurt, or overwhelmed. The attempt to feel grateful becomes a way to dismiss or reject uncomfortable feelings without honoring or addressing them. Gratitude becomes the weapon of choice against the self.

Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission
Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission

Signs That You Are Misusing Gratitude

Your tone is accusatory; gratitude becomes a rebuke. You yell at yourself: Feel grateful! You feel as if you've failed when you struggle to find that gratitude. You probably use the word should to tell yourself how to feel.

You decide you don’t deserve to feel pain. You compare your lot to others and conclude that your situation does not warrant painful feelings. Introducing gratitude becomes an exercise in ranking pain.

You try to replace your painful feelings with forced gratitude. Gratitude becomes a way to tell yourself that you’re not entitled to your feelings.

None of this is to say that gratitude should not be cultivated as a practice—it can be life-changing when done well and particularly helpful during a crisis.

Here are rules for using gratitude when everything feels overwhelming.

Allow yourself to feel your feelings: The first rule of gratitude is to allow yourself to be in pain, even if things could be worse, even if others have it worse, even if you’ve felt worse in the past. Allow yourself to feel and move through those feelings instead of immediately throwing gratitude at them to make them go away. You cannot successfully shame yourself out of your feelings by telling yourself to be grateful. Instead, gratitude can supplement those things and perhaps gently replace them over time, though not through force.

Validate your feelings: Before you invite in gratitude, validate your own feelings. Tell yourself that your feelings are OK. Notice them, notice where you feel them in your body, and welcome them. There can be no true gratitude without validation. If you try to force gratitude on yourself before reaching this point, you may end up feeling bullied into feeling something different. It will backfire.

Make room for both difficult feelings and gratitude: Gently allow yourself to see if you feel the capacity for gratitude alongside your other difficult feelings. Perhaps it sounds like: I feel so overwhelmed. I also feel really grateful that I have support to help me through it. Or perhaps it sounds like: This is so hard. I’m glad I have the safety net to get me through this tough stretch while I figure things out.

Try again later: Maybe in a moment of overwhelming hurt, you cannot access gratitude. That’s OK. When the crisis subsides and things feel calmer, try again to access it in a more healthy way.

Gratitude is gentle, positive, and welcoming; it should not bludgeon a person or induce shame. As we work our way through this moment in time, you may notice the pressure to feel grateful for whatever blessings you have access to. As you hear those messages and perhaps try to internalize them, notice whether gratitude has become an ally or another source of pain.

Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission
Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission

Affirmation Or Validation?

Why validation may be the key to communication.

By Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D.

When affirming something, you are offering support, or asserting something as fact. There is usually a positive connotation to this, in which one partner agrees with the other regarding their assertion. A husband affirming his wife’s belief that they need to spend more time together as a couple would be agreeing with her statement and holding it as true.

Often, I hear people using the words affirmation and validation interchangeably. Validation, unlike affirmation, does not mean that one person agrees with the other. Rather, to validate someone is to acknowledge and accept their feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Marsha Linehan notes that validation involves the expression of understanding, legitimacy, and acceptance of another’s experience. Validation does not attempt to alter a person’s experience, but rather accepts it as is.

In one study, college students were exposed to mental math problems and then assigned conditioned responses, either validating ones (I too would feel upset if I were the one completing the task) or invalidating ones (I don’t understand why you would feel that way). The researchers found that validating responses led to better emotion regulation.

For the husband mentioned, he might instead acknowledge and validate his wife’s belief that they need to spend time together. However, it does not necessarily mean that he agrees. Instead, he may feel that spending time apart is more important for their marriage and individual identities. But he has acknowledged and heard her. In this case, validating her with: “I understand that you want us to spend more time together.”

It's important to realize that not all discussions will reach a mutually agreed upon consensus; however, in the interest of open communication, both partners should be able to express their views.

Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission
Jennifer Tapias Derch, used with permission

The Need For Approval

So, we have to like everything about you?

By Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D.

A friend once told me, “No matter what you do, some people won’t like you.” That helped me let go of the need to be liked by everyone. Our concerns about approval are part of being human. We don’t want to go around being hostile, selfish, and disrespectful. Here are some simple techniques you can use to overcome the need for approval.

1. Identify the situation.

This can be the trigger for your concern about what people think. Perhaps you are thinking of making a request of someone that he change his behavior, but you immediately start feeling anxious because of your underlying thoughts and feelings.

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of needing approval?

This is the motivational piece for you to examine your assumption that you need approval. What are the costs to you? It may make it difficult for you to be honest; it may make it hard for you to get your needs met; you may worry about what might happen; and you might let people take advantage of you.

3. What negative automatic thoughts are you having?

These can include: She will think I am unfair or mean. She won’t like me. He thinks I am obnoxious. It’s awful when someone doesn’t like me. I can’t stand arguments.

4. What do these thoughts mean to you?

You might think: If she doesn’t like me, then I am wrong. Or I am a bad person. Or you might think: People will talk about me, and I won’t have any friends. These implications may be driving the need for approval.

5. Examine the evidence and the logic of your thoughts.

Are you really a bad person, or wrong, if a person disagrees with you? Perhaps you simply have different information, interpretations, or ideas. Perhaps you are right? If you think people will be upset with you, ask yourself if you have ever disagreed with anyone who still remained a friend.

6. Use the double-standard technique.

If people disagree with you, do you always get extremely upset? Do you write them off? Try to think of yourself as a supportive friend: If your friends don’t like something you say, what advice would you give them? Would you conclude that they are bad? Why would you be more tolerant of other people than you are of yourself?

7. What would you do if they didn’t like you?

To let problems go, put life in perspective. Perhaps you are skillful and respectful in asserting yourself with someone, but now that person doesn’t like what you say. Can you still be with your partner, your family, your friends, and your co-workers? Can you engage in all the activities that you engaged in before? You can do everything you did before. If this particular person doesn’t like what you say, or dislikes you, what difference does it make?

8. How will you feel about this in the future?

We often get upset about something happening in the moment, but we fail to realize that all of our emotions are open to change. Have you had the experience that you were unhappy with an interaction—say, three months ago—but now you can’t even remember it? That’s because other experiences have taken over, you have put it in perspective, and you have let it go.

9. Normalize disapproval.

We often get upset about things that happen to everyone. Who has the approval of every person they meet? We all experience disapproval—and still survive and thrive. Why should you be the one person who has to have universal approval?

10. Practice being assertive.

If you are concerned about disapproval, go to a store and request a 50 percent discount on something you have no intention of purchasing. The clerk will look at you as if you are crazy. You might say, “I thought I could get a bargain today.” By purposefully collecting harmless disapproval, you will come to realize that nothing important changes, except that now you are able to assert yourself.

You can be diplomatically assertive and sensitive to others and still do things some people won’t like. The only way to get through life is to tolerate some disapproval.

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