Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Interpersonal Superpower of Validation

Let’s explore 6 validation skills for improving relationships.

Key points

  • Validation is often vital to building intimate, trusting, and supportive relationships.
  • DBT offers six ways to validate others, including paying attention and reflecting back.
  • Validation doesn't require agreement but understanding.

With over one million views, my most popular video on TikTok discusses interpersonal validation. I imagine the success of this video is due to the fact that relationships are hard. Fostering meaningful social connections is one of the most important influences on mental health and one of the most difficult things to do. Most people aren't taught how to effectively navigate conflict, assert their needs to others, or be a good listener.

While relationships don't come with an instruction manual, numerous evidence-based therapies offer concrete methods for improving relationships. I specialize in one such therapy: dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT offers dozens of interpersonal effectiveness skills, as well as skills for emotion regulation, mindfulness, and distress tolerance. But, one of my all-time favorite skills to teach is validation.

Validation and Why It Matters

In DBT's treatment manual [1], Marsha Linehan describes validation as communicating to someone that their emotions, responses, and experiences make sense. Humans like to feel heard, seen and understood. Validation offers that experience.

Validation can be a form of emotion regulation. It can de-escalate conflict. It allows you to support loved ones going through painful experiences. It's often key to building intimate, trusting, and safe relationships. This array of benefits is why I call it a "superpower" when teaching it to my clients.

Luckily, validation is a skill that you can learn, and DBT offers six concrete ways to validate others.

1. Pay Attention.

This first skill of validation asks you to be fully present with the other person. A key component to making someone feel seen and heard is to, well, see and hear them.

Put away your phone or turn off other technology. Don't multitask, but let the person know if you need to do something else while listening. Listen fully, and communicate you're listening through non-verbal body language (e.g., nodding) or small noises (e.g., "mm-hmm," "wow," etc.).

Giving someone your full attention validates them by communicating indirectly that what they're saying matters to you.

2. Reflect Back.

Repeating what someone has said demonstrates that you've been listening. With this skill, use the exact same words that the other person has been using.

Let's say your friend told you that she's been really stressed at work because of an ongoing conflict with her coworker. You could say something simple like, "Wow, that conflict sounds stressful." You could clarify her feelings through a question, "What about the conflict is most stressful for you?" Or, you could just repeat what she says, "You've been super stressed."

Speak in whatever way feels more comfortable for you and be genuine to the conversation while explicitly showing you've been listening.

3. "Read Minds."

With this technique, you want to guess what you think the person may be feeling, even if they haven't explicitly told you.

Imagine your friend's beloved grandmother is in the emergency room, and she's giving you details about her grandmother's tests and care but not mentioning how she's feeling. If you accurately guess she's feeling anxious and say, "Gosh, that's so scary," it may allow your friend to slow down, get vulnerable, and receive emotional support from you.

When trying to validate by "Reading Minds," you need to be careful. If you guess an incorrect emotion, it can feel invalidating to the other person and potentially make them feel worse. If you don't know the person well, or you're just not sure how they're feeling, suggest your guess in the form of a question. This allows the person to correct you and potentially talk about their emotions. For the example above, you could say, "Gosh, are you scared?"

4. Understand.

When you use this skill, you convey to another person that it makes perfect sense to you that they are feeling what they're feeling, given what you know about them, their history, or how they view their current situation.

If someone is feeling something, there's always a cause, reason, or trigger. Find that reason. Remember that many things can trigger emotions: events, thoughts, physical body sensations, behaviors, and other emotions.

Even if you don't think you would feel the same way or don't think most people would feel the same way in a similar situation, validating at this level communicates that the person's emotion is understandable. An example: "Of course, you feel nervous about going home for the holidays; your family has been really judgmental of you in the past."

5. Acknowledge the Valid.

While Understanding is saying, "Of course, you specifically feel that way because of what you've been through," acknowledging the valid is saying, "Of course, you feel that way because anyone would."

Describe how the person's emotion makes sense given the facts of the situation rather than the person's thoughts or current vulnerability factors. "Of course you're sad; you're going through a breakup."

Keep in mind: If you can validate by Acknowledging the Valid, you may want to avoid validating through Understanding, because it can feel invalidating. If you're 20 minutes late to dinner with a friend, she probably would not like to hear: "of course you're upset, you're PMSing." She's much more likely to feel understood and supported if you validate by saying "of course you're upset, I'm late for our date."

6. Show Equality.

This validation skill is all about treating the other person like an equal. Be genuine and react naturally to whatever they're sharing with you. Take their emotions seriously. Show them compassion without fragilizing them. Don't treat them, or yourself, as better or worse. Validate them while also validating yourself.

Some Final Words

Validation does not mean agreement. Even when you disagree with someone or feel differently about the same situation, it is still possible to validate them. (Consider skill 4, "Understand," for this case.) Of course, validating when you really don't understand the other person is tough. It takes practice.

If you want to learn more about the DBT skills for validation (and other interpersonal effectiveness areas), check out my DBT self-help workbook Self-Directed DBT Skills, Alan Fruzetti's book The High-Conflict Couple, and the original DBT skills handbook.


Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. Guilford Press.

More from Kiki Fehling Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today