Intimacy Builder: Validation
By: Nancy
March 9, 2015

validationValidation simply means acknowledging, and giving importance to, the worldview of another. Validation is a powerful tool in a therapist’s toolbag, and can disarm anxiety and depressive symptoms by giving hope, connection, and understanding. Why, though, does it work so well? Why is validation so incredibly important?

Where It All Begins

When we are little kiddos, we are complete and utter egomaniacs. Just observe any two year old for about 5 minutes and you will see their little self-focused ideologies rearing their ugly heads. It’s normal. We all did it, and…let’s be honest here… there are a lot of people out there who still do it in their adulthood! The problem with having an ego-run-amuck is that it creates an environment where connection is basically impossible. When there is only room for one person’s opinion, needs, and worldview; the other is unsafe and unheard, and no intimacy can exist in that kind of atmosphere.

Enter Validation

When we grow and nurture the humility in ourselves to be able to acknowledge, and even embrace, the world view and opinions of another, relational safety and intimacy can begin to grow.   Each person can have their ideas validated and acknowledged, and the ensuing drop in anxiety creates safety. Connection, even in the presence of disagreement, is not only possible, but also necessary if we can ever expect to have a successful long-term relationship. Sharing with and understanding the other, and accepting them even if you don’t agree, is the biggest hallmark of true intimacy.

closenessSometimes, though, when people are intimate and open with one another, they can hear things they don’t like, or even want to hear. They can hear about their partner’s dark side (and we all have one), they can hear about temptations that their partner struggles with, they can see weaknesses, and they can reveal shortcomings and transgressions that are painful for their partner to hear. This is also very scary and vulnerable for the person who is revealing their intimate thoughts, because they are opening themselves up to possible judgment and abandonment. This fear is what makes true intimacy so incredibly difficult.

Why It Is Necessary and Why It Works

In any healthy and mature relationship, this kind of intimacy is crucial. It creates and fuels the connection that all of us long for, and are born hard-wired needing. When clients come into my office, oftentimes what they are needing and craving more than anything else is for another human being to validate their worldview and experiences. We need to be understood much more than we need to have someone agree with us.

When we are having strong feelings and pain, validation is the important first step in moving through what is bothering us, rather than staying stuck and dwelling on it continually, too.  After we are allowed to feel our feelings, we can then release the pain and powerlessness and take responsibility for our part in the relationship or situation.  By validating our feelings instead of stuffing them down and trying to ignore them, we don’t abandon ourselves, and our heart begins to heal.

Oftentimes, the biggest pitfall or barrier to folks giving their partner validation is the fear that “if we don’t agree, then I’m not understood.” So we fight tooth and nail for the other person to agree with us, instead of allowing room for both worldviews simultaneously, even if they are conflicting. We can also make it unsafe, and shut them down when they are being open and vulnerable with us, because of the fears that are triggered when someone is completely honest with us.

An Example

For example, what if your partner tells you that they struggle with sexual addiction, and that their “drug” is that they notice and think about engaging sexually with someone besides you? Whoa. It’s pretty difficult to not take that personally, right? I mean, what does it say about you if your partner thinks about other men/women? Almost everyone would say that it means that they must not be good enough in some way to satisfy their partner. Ouch!!!

Addiction, however, is about what is going on inside the person who has it, and it is not a personal attack on the partner. It feels deeply personal and the effects can be exceedingly scary and difficult, (and even a deal breaker if acted upon), but sharing about the struggle that goes on for the person suffering from the addiction is actually very intimate. It takes a lot of strength to live non-codependently with someone who has an addiction, and listen to and validate their intimate struggles.  Ultimately, this kind of grace and compassion is one of the things that helps them move through their addiction to solid recovery.

A Caveat

One caveat with this whole idea of validation.  Validating someone who wants to be seen as a victim and not take responsibility for their own roles in painful circumstances can be very counter-productive.  One example of this would be listening to, and even agreeing with, “venting.”  It is quite possible to understand what a person is going through and even validate them to some degree, while not encouraging them to stay in a harmful victim mindset.

It is important to not rescue or “take on” too much, nor encourage a position of “stuck-ness”.  Knowing the difference can be difficult.  If someone wants to complain about someone else, encouraging them to take their grievance to the person they are upset with will help them more than anything, and will allow you to not become a human garbage dump for their anxiety as well. There is a difference between story-telling and venting, and the difference lies in the motives of the person doing the talking.

Why Bother?

holding handsTrue intimacy is not for the weak in spirit. Understanding and accepting the deep feelings and imperfections that people have is far beyond difficult. It takes a truckload of differentiation to regulate the emotions that come with it and to tolerate the fluctuations in closeness and distance. It requires tremendous courage and an unbelievable knowledge of self. It requires patience and humility by the gallon. Most partners, though, don’t really need or expect their partners to be perfect. We all know deep down that perfection isn’t achievable. What we really need from our partners is a promise that we will continuously strive to work on our weaknesses and places we hurt the other, and courageously and humbly admit to our shortcomings.

The payoff of all of this is worth all the work that has to be put in to get there, though. It is the cure for the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it creates an environment for true and unconditional love to exist.   When people feel accepted and understood, not judged, all kinds of wounds can be healed, too.

Can’t get there on your own? Guess what, I couldn’t either, and I still screw up once in awhile. I had the help of several amazing teachers along the way, though, and the peace in my heart now is utterly amazing. I know first-hand that this stuff is crazy-hard and it usually takes way more objectivity than we can achieve alone. I couldn’t do it alone. Kind of like rocks turning in a rock tumbler, the motion of the rocks bumping into each other smoothes their edges and gives them a beautiful and smooth polish. We need others to polish us just as much as they need us to polish them. Come one in, let’s talk.

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Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. E-Counseling is available for residents of Indiana. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038

© 2015 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW

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