You may be familiar with the word validation. Or maybe not. It’s kind of a psychology word, one that therapists like me toss around. So let’s start out with a definition of what validation means. I think the best way to define validation is through examples of what it means to feel validated:
“You’re being heard.”
“I care about you.”
“You are appreciated.”
Make sense? To be validated is having someone else acknowledge your essential humanity.
Now, please allow me to explain more about validation, why you need it, how to ask for it, how to give it.
And some encouragement: When people feel validated, the world feels a whole lot better.
What Does It Feel Like When We Aren’t Being Validated?
Ever had the feeling you weren’t being validated? Here are a couple of examples of what that feeling is like. You may relate to what Abby and Tommy were experiencing.
Abby was talking about her day with her husband, Ben. She told him about how she had handled a difficult situation at work.
“I really took control here,” she said. And then she went on to describe a stress due to deadlines that needed to be met, and how she jumped in and helped organize the workflow to get the tasks completed on time. “I was the hero!” she exclaimed.
Ben listened as she talked, and then smiled and said, “You’re always work well under pressure. Glad to hear you did it again.”
And then Ben changed the subject. He had a couple of household finance concerns he wanted to discuss.
“By the way,” Abby said, “It’s my turn to cook tomorrow night and I’m making that meat loaf you love so much.”
“Please don’t,” Ben responded. “I really need to watch my weight.”
At this point, Abby felt totally deflated, and she wasn’t sure why.
The next morning, she called a friend during her break and told her about the conversation she had with Ben the night before. Her friend listened and then said:
“It sounds like you needed some validation,” her friend said. “And why not? You have so much on going on in your life. You work hard. You have a family to take care of. You have a bleeding disorder that you have to think about and often do something about. You’re trying to be a good mom. And some days are pretty rough for you, and you push ahead anyway. So why wouldn’t you want some validation for all of that once in awhile?”
Abby felt ashamed. “I know I’m appreciated by Ben and the kids, no doubt in my mind.”
“Sure,” her friend answered. “But some days we just need to hear it.”
Tommy’s seventeen and living with a bleeding disorder. He’s come a long way in taking better care of himself. He’s been infusing himself for years. But he and his parents have had some conflicts here and there, mainly his parents trying to set limits, not all that much different than other parents go through with their teens. Of course, Tommy’s bleeding disorder causes his parents to be even more cautious. Like any teen, Tommy wants to be independent. Naturally, some disagreements have resulted.
Tommy is taking good care of himself. He’s doing well in school. He’s being responsible, not taking risks with his health. And the disagreements with his parents aren’t happening nearly as often as they used to. Tommy is proud of himself for staying on the path, even when he didn’t feel like it.
Last week, Tommy brought home the best report card he has had in a long time. When he showed it to his mom, she took a look and said, “that’s great.” His father said something similar: “I knew you had it in you.”
Sure, his parents acknowledged his good grades. But that wasn’t what Tommy needed. What Tommy needed was for his parents to sit down with him and talk to him about the progress he has made. To tell him how proud they are that he is staying one step ahead of his bleeding disorder. Maybe give him some examples of the changes he’s made, and how when he takes care of himself, that helps them, too. And to go over his grades with him, what he’s doing to keep his grades up, even the subjects he struggles with. To offer their support.
Yes, in a word: validation. Tommy needed some validation from his parents.
Like Abby, Tommy knows his parents love and care about him. But still, some days he just needs to hear it.
Needing Validation is Normal. We All Need to Feel Validated!
What about you?
Like Abby, if you’re living with a chronic condition like a bleeding disorder, you have a lot on your plate. And, also like Abby, a lot of what’s on your plate is what you do for other people, at work, and at home. It’s only human to want an “attaboy” or an “attagirl” once in awhile. Hearing your efforts for toughing it out during a rough time were actually noticed. Maybe with some encouragement.
And like Tommy, if you’re going the extra mile to take good care of yourself, even on those days when that’s the last thing you feel like doing, it’s important to know that the people you care about recognize your efforts. Again, we all need some encouragement.
Now, as you read these two examples, you may also have thought about times when someone in your life could have benefited from some validation from you, and you missed the opportunity to provide it. Yep, validation works both ways.
We all need validation. On some days more than others. When you hit one of those days, here’s what you can do:
Remember that validation starts from within. Therapists spend a lot of time talking with their clients about validation. My approach is always to start with helping my client to understand the ways in which they can validate themselves. We all need to be able to validate ourselves. This is the root of self-empowerment.
So validate yourself first. This is what I always say to my clients. Sure, we need to know that we aren’t invisible to the people we care about. But we have to be able to give ourselves recognition. That starts in your own mind, and what you say to yourself. Self-talk is important to our mental health. Talk back to the critical voice. Make it a daily practice to give yourself the recognition you deserve: “Good work.” “You’re doing the best you can.” “You’ll make it happen. Just keep at it.” And do things that you enjoy, that keep you calm and centered, that enhance your well-being. Another great way to validate yourself.
Review your foundation. What is your foundation? Your foundation includes your education, your skills, your past successes, your emotional support network, your health self-empowerment, your values, your personal qualities that contribute to your overall well-being. Take some time and make a list of all the many qualities that make up who you are. This is your foundation, and no matter how shaky the day feels, it is rock solid. Review the list whenever you need some validation.
Give yourself permission to need validation from others. As I said, it’s human to need validation. But I talk to so many clients who feel they shouldn’t need validation. They have been told once too often that needing validation is being “whiny” or weak, or just plain needy. But it’s not. We all need to feel like the efforts we make in our daily lives are not just fading into the vapor, but that they are being noticed by others. And we want to hear they are noticing. A compliment and a little encouragement sure wouldn’t hurt either.
Ask yourself why you need validation and from whom. Be aware when you are feeling especially in need of validation. For example, is there something you did that was scary or difficult, and you want someone to acknowledge your success and what it took to achieve it? And is there a specific someone you most need to hear it from? Doing some self-exploration to understand this will mean that you are less likely to appear overly needy. In other words, get specific about who you need words of validation from.
Asking for Validation
As I stated previously, it is only human to need validation. And when you do need to feel validated, it’s also okay to ask for it.
Don’t beat around the bush. Ask. It’s always best to take the direct approach. If you have done your homework, so you know what you need and who you need it from, you will more likely to speak with confidence and clarity. It’s as simple as: “I accomplished something today that I’m really proud of. It would mean a lot to me if you let me know you see how I am working hard to push through. I just need to hear it from you.” Or, “I know this isn’t a big deal but I made an effort to do this for you. I didn’t do it so that you would thank me, or pat me on the back, but I have to say it would be nice if you did.”
Words, but also gestures. Just asking for a hug can be a great way to feel validated.
Giving Validation at Home
Living in a home where everybody feels validated is a home where everybody feels honored, cared for, respected. Here’s how to make your home a more validating place:
Have a conversation about validation. You might want to sit down with your partner and talk about how they can encourage you. Be straightforward about what you need to be validated for. This could be both what you do for yourself to manage your bleeding disorder and what you do for the people around you. If you have children, include them in these conversations, and let them know what you need from them. If you are living with your parents, let them know what they can do to encourage you and make you feel validated.
And keep in mind that your partner – and your children – may also need some validation. One of the things I often hear from the partners of individuals living with a chronic condition like a bleeding disorder is that they don’t feel very validated, either. They talk to me about how they do everything they can to be supportive but don’t always feel like their efforts are appreciated, or even noticed. Validation works both ways. And when you give it, you may also experience more validation coming your way. If you have children, include them in these conversations, ask them what they need from you to feel validated.
Create an environment of validation at home. Every day, tell your kids how much they mean to you. Give them encouragement not only for successes, but for making the effort. Listen to them! Do the same for your partner. Set an example for your partner, set an example for your children. Give everyone in the household a chance to weigh in on family decisions. Encourage expressions of opinion, even if you disagree. Share your feelings and encourage family members to do the same. And support your children in exploring their interests, hobbies, sense of personal style. Make it a daily practice to smile, share jokes, do acts of kindness, give hugs. Lots of hugs. Everybody is Special in their Own Way!
It’s only human to need validation. So be clear when you need to feel validated. Look for ways to validate your partner and your children. Honor the specialness in everybody in your home. Honor each other for just being there. That’s teamwork!
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and educator, specializing in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening health conditions, as well as their families and professional caregivers. He works with them to understand and cope with their emotions, to learn about their lifestyle and treatment options, to maintain compliance with medical regimens, to communicate effectively with each other and healthcare professionals, and to listen to their own inner voice as they make decisions about the future. His website is JustGotDiagnosed.com.