How validating can be a powerful way to show love
A devotional by Jessica Brodie
"You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.”
– Psalm 139:1 (NIV)
Have you ever struggled with that exact, perfect thing to say? Me, too! I’m a professional writer and still find myself tongue-tied on occasion, especially when someone l love is struggling with a situation or even difficult feelings.
I used to think listening was the answer, and it is in many ways. But there’s something else I’ve learned about recently, validation, that can be immensely helpful when used with listening.
Validating can be a powerful way to show love, and it’s not just the newest mental health buzz-word. The concept of validation is peppered throughout Scripture.
As Psalm 34:18 (NIV) tells us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted”. And James 1:19 tells us we should all be “quick to listen.”
In 1 John 3:20, we’re told, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
And Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
What is validating?
Validation is when we understand and accept someone else’s feelings as real, worthy, and of value. The opposite is invalidation, when we dismiss, reject, or judge those feelings as unimportant and without value.
God gives us validation—He hears us and accepts us, for He made us and He loves us. We are worthy, and He is with us always.
If we are loving in a God-inspired or God-led way, we try to do the same for others.
For example: If a toddler gets upset because you took away her toy, validation means accepting that she’s upset and understanding why—in her mind, that was special to her, and now it’s gone. Even if you know she’ll get that toy back or there was a good reason why it’s now gone, validation means you understand her feelings and frustration. You empathize with her. You know why she’s upset and acknowledge that.
Likewise, if a close friend is stung because her boss criticized her in a meeting, you don’t dismiss her feelings or tell her to “get over it.” You accept that she’s upset. Even if you don’t agree with her, or if you believe the criticism she received was justified, you accept her feelings. She’s “allowed” to feel them. More importantly, when she expresses those feelings to you, you make sure she knows you accept her perception of the situation. You help her feel heard and understood.
Validation doesn’t mean you agree with them or even would feel the same way if you were in their situation. It also doesn’t mean you listen and then jump in with helpful options to fix the problem. But it does mean you see they do have these feelings, recognize their feelings are worthy, and seek to understand why they feel this way.
How to validate
Here’s what validation can look like:
- Helping them identify or label their feelings
- Helping them understand why they feel this way (e.g. asking them “what is making you feel this way?”)
- Being there for them (allowing them to talk or just be with you in their emotional state)
- Being patient and accepting
- Saying affirming things as they vent (e.g. I hear you, I understand, yeah, mm-hm, that stinks, that’s so hard, that’s a lot to deal with)
When invalidation occurs within one relationship, invalidating might drive a wedge between you, and they may seek validation elsewhere. Your relationship might dissolve. That’s a short-term, relationship-specific issue.
But if a person consistently feels invalidated, long-term problems can develop—for instance, when a child is invalidated by her parents, or when there is repeated invalidation between spouses. Over time they might struggle with a sense of identity and develop low self-esteem, struggle to manage their emotions (because they get the impression having certain feelings is “wrong”), and even develop anxiety or depression.
Examples of invalidating
Besides “get over it,” other common things we can say when impatient and frustrated with someone else’s feelings might be the following:
- You’re too sensitive.
- Toughen up.
- Well, if you hadn’t done that this wouldn’t have happened.
- You’re upset about that? Please—my day was so much worse…
- You should feel grateful/blessed/lucky/happy/etc. instead.
You are worthy
I love Psalm 139, for it reminds us that God knows us, and we are worthy. Everything we do or feel might not be right, but it is heard by God, who knows us at our core.
As the psalmist tells God, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:1-6).
Let’s Pray: God, help me to love others in the accepting and loving way You love us all. Help me to listen to someone with a God-led heart, seeking to understand them and accepting their feelings as valid and not something to “get over” or tuck away. Help me to love others as You love me, seeing past all things to the heart within. In Your holy and perfect name I pray. Amen.
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden.
She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team.
Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com.