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Pain, Suffering, and Validation

Who needs validation anyway?

A previous post described how pain becomes suffering when we fail to act on its natural motivation to heal, correct, or improve. A common way of turning turn pain into suffering is to perceive a need for validation, which substitutes the approval of others for the empowering motivation to heal and improve oneself.

If you think that validation is what you need, you will try to get someone to confirm that your pain is justified. This keeps you hyper-focused on the pain and the reasons for it. We know that mental focus amplifies and magnifies the object of the focus; the greater the focus on pain, the more intense and more generalized it grows. If someone hesitates to validate your pain, you are likely to make greater effort to express and justify it and thereby increase its intensity and duration.

Failure of others to validate the hurt of those who think they need validation feels like the cruelest kind of abuse. The impulse to retaliate becomes irresistible: "You're cold, inconsiderate, selfish, heartless, narcissistic, immoral, abusive, etc."

However warranted it may seem, retaliation makes people defensive and reduces their capacity for validation. Their response to your need for validation will be, "What about my pain?"

In its most tragic form, the increasing need for validation from those with decreasing capacity to give it keeps people locked in bad and abusive relationships. The parties feel like they can't be okay until their partners "get" how bad they feel. But their partners can't get how bad they feel, because the guilt and shame of recognizing the harm inflicted on loved ones would be overwhelming.

Who Needs Validation Anyway?
The notion that pain needs to be validated is bizarre, when you consider its function as the organism's primary alarm system. It did not evolve to be validated; it evolved to motivate corrective action. You don't validate or justify the smoke alarm. You see if there's a fire, and if so, you put it out or leave the burning building.

We never need to justify hurt or turn it into suffering via a perceived need for validation. We only need to act on its motivation heal, correct, and improve.

We heal emotional pain by engaging our innate ability to create value and meaning in our lives.


More from Steven Stosny, Ph.D.
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