Mastering Validation: A Key Skill in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Have you ever encountered an interaction with someone where you opened up to them about a struggle you were experiencing, but rather than receiving compassion, understating, and validation, you left feeling dismissed, not understood, or even judged. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), validation is a critical skill when it comes to relationships. This blogpost will further explore what validation is, why it is important, and how to validate someone.

What does validation entail?

Validation is about focusing on the kernel of truth that exists in another person’s perspective or situation. When we validate an individual’s experience, we are verifying the facts of the situation. For example, if you are out with a friend and she shares with you that she is experiencing a headache, you can sympathize with her, or offer her help (perhaps offer to end the date so she could go home and relax, or offer her to take something for her headache). Further, when we validate, we communicate to the other that we understand their perspective. Validation is about admitting that an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all have causes, even if we do not understand what those causes are. For example, if Mark ignores Jacob’s text, Jacob can acknowledge that it may have been an accident and not deliberate. Or if John wakes up with mild pain in his leg and decides not to go to school, his mother may validate how uncomfortable the pain may feel, but invalidate the belief that he must stay home to get better. Validation does not equal that you necessarily agree with what the other person is saying, feeling, or behaving. You are trying to understand where the person is coming from. For example, a friend goes to a bar and has a couple of drinks. She decides to socialize longer with others, delaying her drive back home. A few hours after, she decides she is ready to drive herself. She gets in the car and is pulled over. As her friend, you most likely won’t agree with the fact that she was driving under such circumstances. However, you can still validate her and try to understand where she was coming from. You may say “I am so sorry you got pulled over. I can understand why you thought even if you waited several hours before getting back into the car, you would be fine.” Further validation doesn’t mean making something that is invalid valid. Think of the following example- you make plans to go out with a friend and have a reservation at a restaurant, but the restaurant is running late. Your friend becomes very upset and blames you. You can validate your friend’s feelings that she is upset because the plan didn’t g exactly how she expected. However, you will not validate that is was your problem and take the blame. Finally, no one feels good when they are invalidated. It is hurtful and leads to all sorts of negative feelings and thoughts about themselves.

Why is it important to validate?

Validation improves our relationship with others by showing them that we listen and understand them. It also reduces pressure to prove who is right in the situation, negative reactions from the individual who is sharing, and anger. Validating someone makes them more interested and receptive to what we have to share, thus positively impacting the ability to problem solve and support. Ask yourself the following which may spark some creativity and thought: have there been moments in your life where you felt invalidated? Why? Have there been moments in your life where you did feel validated? What felt better to you and why? Did it impact your behavior? Next time you feel like invalidating someone, simply remember the benefits you most likely felt when you were validated compared to when you were not.

How do I validate?

Validating can sometimes feel hard to do, or simply you haven’t been taught the skills. It is important that when we validate another, we pay close and careful attention (even when we do not agree with them). Stay awake and listen when someone is sharing something with you. When doing so, try to keep your nonverbal reactions under control. For example, don’t roll your eyes or avoid eye contact when you are offering validation. It defeats the purpose and can come across as inauthentic and rude. Don’t ignore the individual or be dismissive since that hurts and communicates to the other that their experience is not important to us. Additionally, it helps to reflect back what the other person is telling you without any judgement, or subjective interpretations. When you paraphrase to someone what they have told you, they feel understood and heard. For example, your friend tells you how one of her close friends posted a picture of her on Instagram when they were out to dinner together. Your friend tells you how she felt insecure about the post and felt that she didn’t feel put together. As her friend, you may respond by saying, “So you were feeling insecure and not put together when your friend had posted a picture of you on her account…” (you would make sure not to say, “you’re overreacting, you are beautiful and being silly.”) Another aspect of validation is called “read minds.” This refers to trying to figure out what is going on with a person without them telling you in words. To do this, we pay attention to their tone of voice, body language, and behavior while also sharing what you believe they are thinking and feeling. This requires being open to feedback and correction since we are humans and not actual mind readers. It can be helpful to use tentative language when conveying so such as “I am sensing… I am guessing that…Is it possible if…” It is also imperative that when you validate you communicate an understanding of the cause, even if you do not necessarily agree with the individual. When we consider the causes, we are able to realize that ultimately people don’t behave just because. Usually, there is a backstory for their behaviors. Causes include learning history, a previous event, or a mental or physical disorder. Further, when you validate another person, make sure to not come across as condescending or patronizing. Treat them with the same respect that you would want to be treated with, and act as if you are equals and not superior to them in any way.

In summary, validation is critical to all relationships. Validating someone requires skill especially if you never learned how to validate. The more you practice how to validate, the more natural and easier it will feel over time to do. Eventually, you will notice the positive impact it will create to your interpersonal relationships. Feel free to try this skill out. If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out for additional support.

Dr. Aryeh Berlin is a New Jersey licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Aspire Psychological Group. Dr. Berlin has vast clinical training experiences including a residential adolescent addiction treatment center in Israel, community mental health centers, and youth detention centers. Dr. Berlin has lectured on parenting children with emotional and behavioral difficulties, child development, helping children with school-related challenges and trauma. Audiences included attorneys, mental health professionals, parents, and educators.

Mastering Validation: A Key Skill in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy