Learn to accept your internal experience and build your identity.
Posted July 12, 2014 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
Validation means to express understanding and acceptance of another person's internal experience, whatever that might be. Validation does not mean you agree or approve. Validation builds relationships and helps ease upset feelings. Knowing that you are understood and that your emotions and thoughts are accepted by others is powerful. Validation is like relationship glue.
Self-validation is accepting your own internal experience, your thoughts, and your feelings. Self-validation doesn't mean that you believe your thoughts or think your feelings are justified. There are many times that you will have thoughts that surprise you or that don't reflect your values or what you know is true. You will also have feelings that you know aren't justified. If you fight the thoughts and feelings or judge yourself for having them, then you increase your emotional upset. You'll also miss out on important information about who you are as a person.
Validating your thoughts and emotions will help you calm yourself and manage them more effectively. Validating yourself will help you accept and better understand yourself, which leads to a stronger identity and better skills at managing intense emotions. Self-validation helps you find wisdom.
Learning to self-validate is not so easy. Notice that mindfulness and self-validation go hand in hand. Being mindful of the thoughts you are having and the feelings you are experiencing is necessary before you can validate that internal experience.
Marsha Linehan defined six levels of validation. But how do you apply these six levels of validation to self-validation?
1. Be Present
To be mindful of your emotions without pushing them away is consistent with Linehan’s first level of validation: being present. To be present also means to ground yourself and not dissociate, daydream, suppress, or numb your emotions. Being present means listening to yourself. Feeling the pain of sadness, hurt, and fear is challenging and difficult. At the same time, avoiding emotions often results in quite negative consequences, while accepting emotions allows them to pass and helps build resiliency. Being present for yourself validates that you matter and that you have the strength to feel. Being present with your internal experience means you experience the body sensations that are part of your emotional experience.
2. Accurate Reflection
To reflect means to make manifest or apparent. For self-validation, accurate reflection is acknowledging your internal state to yourself and labeling it accurately. Perhaps you reflect on what triggered the emotion and when the precipitating event occurred. Maybe you reflect on the ways you feel the emotion in your body and consider the actions that go with the emotion. Reflecting means observing and describing, components of mindfulness as Linehan defines it. When you observe and describe your internal experience, you do not interpret or guess or make assumptions. You would say, “I feel angry, and it started yesterday after my friend canceled lunch. I sense tightness in my stomach, so maybe there is fear as well.”
Saying, “I am a total loser, and no one wants to spend any time with me,” would not be stating the facts of your experience. Stating the facts of your experience is validating and helps build trust in your internal experience. Interpreting your experience in ways that you cannot observe to be true invalidates and leads to distrust in your internal experience and more
Sometimes you won’t be sure what you are feeling or thinking. In these situations, you may want to say something like, “If someone else were in this situation, they would probably feel sad. Am I sad?” You might also guess by looking at the actions you want to do. If you want to hide, maybe you are feeling shame. Maybe you are thinking shame thoughts. You can notice where you feel body sensations: fear, for example, is often felt in the throat. If you are feeling fear, maybe you are thinking scary thoughts. Guessing your emotions and thoughts based on the information you have will help you learn more about yourself.
4. Validating by History
Sometimes you will have thoughts and feelings that are based on events which have happened in your past. Maybe you are afraid when people argue, because, in the past, arguments led to your being hurt. Validating yourself by saying, “It’s acceptable and understandable that you are afraid of arguments, because when you were young, your parents would hurt each other during arguments."
Sometimes people who have intense emotions don’t see any of their emotional reactions as being normal. Everyone has emotions. No one is happy all the time. It’s normal to feel sad, angry, hurt, ashamed, or any other emotion. At the same time, it’s just as important to validate when others would feel the same way and accept that as well. If you are sad because you didn’t get a job you wanted, remember that others would be sad if that happened to them. Check out whether what you are feeling is what most other people would experience, and validate those feelings as normal, even if you don't like experiencing them.
6. Radical Genuineness
In terms of self-validation, this means being your real self and not lying to yourself. It means that you don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Rejecting who you are is one of the highest levels of invalidation. An important distinction is that who you are is different from what you do. You are not your behavior, yet changing some of your behaviors may alleviate some of your suffering.
Self-validation is one of the critical steps for living with intense emotions. It is part of forming relationships and thriving. Practice and more practice will help you self-validate more easily.