Validation, Validation, Validation

April 14, 2019

“Just get over it” … “Buck up” … “It’s time to move on.” As you read those words, what thoughts came to mind? What emotions? So often, our emotions our dismissed, either by loved ones, friends and even by ourselves.

With the dismissal of emotions, we often get stuck not knowing our emotions or becoming judgmental about having our emotions, which in turn either intensifies our emotions or changes them.

Validation of emotion has an ability to reduce emotional intensity and strengthen relationships. So what’s the impact of invalidation, and how can we better validate ourselves and others?

Invalidation is often disguised as supporting remarks from others. Brene Brown is an American Researcher of Social Work, and she identified one disguise as “silver lining” remarks or “at least” statements. When someone comes to you looking for support with a struggle, sometimes you may dismiss the struggle with a positive.

Think of the example of an older woman looking for support regarding the death of her spouse, and someone saying in response, “at least you had 20 years” or “at least he’s in a better place now.” Neither of these responses acknowledge the individual’s pain, their emotions, or that the emotion makes sense.

Another disguise includes statements such as, “you’ve got be tough,” “boys don’t cry” or “big girls don’t cry,” and suggests that if we show our emotions, it somehow shows weakness. Follow-up emotions to these statements include self-judgments impacting our emotions such as, “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “I need to get over this.”

So by invalidating the person suffering, emotions get intensified, and instead of being addressed, resolved, or reduced, they are stuffed deep inside of us just waiting to come out.

I can vaguely recall when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980. Being here in Pocatello, that spring day, it began snowing ash that spring afternoon. The eruption was so massive it blew half the mountain off and blew ash all the way to Pocatello.

So, why was it so massive? The last time Mt. St Helens had erupted, prior to 1980, was in the 1850s, and it had developed a cap over the top of the volcano. When I was in my early 20s I was in New Zealand, Bay of Plenty. About 50 miles from the coast is a volcano called White Island, an active volcano.

I remember going to an outlook with a friend, seeing White Island blowing out smoke and steam and seeing the glow of the heat from the volcano. I can remember asking my friend, Gavin Mahake, if it made him nervous to live this close to an active volcano. My concern was two parts: one being that Gavin is paraplegic and has limited mobility; and two, was my limited understanding of volcanos. Gavin responded, “no, it’s an active volcano.”

Volcanos — how do they apply to validation? Good question. Self-validation is an important skill, it’s the first step of the active human volcano. When we feel an emotion, self-validation involves telling ourselves it’s OK that we feel the way we feel, it makes sense to feel that way, and that it’s okay to just feel the emotion, without judgment.

Validation of emotions allows the emotion to begin to de-escalate, the intensity to decline, and that active volcano to release some of its intensity. When we are self-invalidating, such as “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “I need to get over it,” we are stuffing our emotions, we are capping emotions, our Mt. St Helens, and eventually we emotionally vomit on those around us.

Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), addresses validation in the Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills, showing respect to others and showing respect to yourself.

Validation in relationships is hugely important. The relationship with your significant other, your children, your boss and even your cashier at the gas station, needs validation.

Validation of emotions involves awareness, vulnerability, and acknowledgment. It isn’t always being okay with a behavior; for instance, when my son says he is upset because he doesn’t want to take out the garbage, I can validate the emotion that he can be frustrated about having to take out the garbage, but he still has to take out the garbage.

Validation, validation, validation. As we validate ourselves, we will strengthen are own understanding of our emotions and effectively be able to express our emotions, not stuffing our emotions and blowing up like Mt. St. Helens.

As we validate our own and others’ emotions, we strengthen our relationships with others and their abilities to express their emotions, resulting in us all becoming active volcanos.

Jacob L. Comstock is an LCSW has grown up in Pocatello and worked in mental health and substance abuse for over 10 years. He currently provides behavioral health services at Heath West.