Emotional validation involves understanding and showing acceptance for another person’s feelings. When people receive this type of validation, they feel that their emotions are not only seen and heard by others but that these feelings are also accepted.
If a person feels that their thoughts, feelings, and emotions are not heard and understood, they may be left feeling isolated and unsupported. In some cases, emotional invalidation may even contribute to the onset of psychological conditions including borderline personality disorder (BPD).
What Is Emotional Validation?
Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding, and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional experience. Emotional validation is distinguished from emotional invalidation, in which another person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged.
Validating an emotion does not mean that you agree with the other person or that you think their emotional response is warranted. Rather, you communicate to them that you understand what they are feeling without trying to talk them out of the feeling or shame them for the feeling.
Validation can come from other people, but it can also come from the individual themselves. Self-validation involves recognizing and accepting your own thoughts and feelings.
Why Validation Is Important
Emotional validation plays a number of important roles. Some of the benefits include:
- Communicating acceptance: When you validate someone’s emotions, you are showing that you care about and accept them for who they are.1
- Strengthening relationships: People who show each other acceptance are able to feel more connected and build stronger relationships.
- Showing value: When you validate someone’s emotions, you are showing them that they are important to you.
- Better emotional regulation: When people feel that others hear and understand them, it can help lessen the intensity of strong emotions. This can be particularly important when it comes to strong negative or distressing feelings. Some research suggests that offering people emotional validation may help them better regulate their emotions.2
Consequences of Emotional Invalidation
Emotional invalidation can have a number of negative consequences in terms of psychological, behavioral, and emotional health. Some of the damaging effects of this invalidation include:
- Problems with a person’s sense of identity: Emotional invalidation undermines the sense of self. When people feel that their personality characteristics, thoughts, and behaviors are not accepted, they may develop low self-esteem or a poor sense of self.
- Difficulty managing emotions: Invalidation tells people that what they are feeling or the way that they are expressing those feelings is wrong. It can lead people to feel that they cannot trust their emotions, which can make it hard to regulate those feelings.
- Mental health problems: Emotional invalidation may also contribute to mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. Invalidation can make people feel that their thoughts and feelings don’t matter to others. Invalidation, including self-invalidation, can also make it more difficult to recover from mental health disorders.
A few dominant psychological theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) assert that many people with BPD did not receive sufficient emotional validation over the course of their development (see also “emotionally invalidating environment”), which may be one factor in the development of the emotion dysregulation characteristic of the disorder33
Individuals with BPD can have very strong emotional responses to events that seem minor to outside observers. As a result, people with BPD frequently experience emotional invalidation, that is, others react to their emotions as if those emotions are not valid or reasonable.
How Do You Validate Emotions?
There are some things that you can do to make sure that you are validating the emotions of others effectively. Improving this skill can not only improve your relationships with others, it can also help you learn how to validate your own thoughts and feelings.
Identify and Acknowledge the Emotion
When you validate an emotional response, the first step is to acknowledge the emotion that the other person is having. This can be hard if the other person has not clearly communicated their feelings, so you may have to either ask them what they are feeling, or guess and then ask them if you are right.
Imagine that your loved one is angry with you. You come home from work, and they are behaving angrily (even if they are not explicitly stating it).
If your loved one has already communicated that they are feeling angry, for example, you can just acknowledge that they are feeling that way: “I understand you are angry.”
If they haven’t communicated this, but they seem angry, you might say, “You seem really angry. Is that what’s going on?”
Acknowledge the Source of the Emotion
The next step is to identify the situation or cue that triggered the emotion. Ask the person what it is that is causing their response. For example, you might say, “What is it that is making you feel that way?
Your loved one may or may not be able to communicate this clearly. They may not even understand what is going on, or they may be unwilling to articulate what triggered the emotion.
In this case, you may just need to acknowledge that something seems to be making them upset, and that you’d like to know what’s going on, but that it’s difficult to without a clear sense of the situation.
Validate the Emotion
Imagine that your loved one is able to communicate the source of their emotion: They respond that they are angry because you are 15 minutes late coming home from work.
Perhaps to you, their level of anger seems unwarranted given the situation. You can still validate their feelings by communicating that you accept what they are feeling (even if you don’t follow their reasoning).
For example, you might just say, “I know you are feeling angry because I was 15 minutes late coming home. It was not my intention to anger you; I was stuck in traffic. But I can see that waiting for me made you upset.”
You do not need to apologize for your behavior if you don’t feel you did anything wrong. By acknowledging the feelings your loved one is having, you may actually diffuse the situation.
- “I can see how you would feel that way.”
- “That must be really hard.”
- “I feel the same way.”
- “How frustrating!”
- “I bet you’re frustrated.”
- “I’m here for you.”
- “What’s the big deal?”
- “You should feel lucky.”
- “You are too sensitive.”
- “Don’t be such a wimp.”
- “If you hadn’t done that it wouldn’t have happened.”
- “I don’t want to hear it.”
There are also other things that you can do to help people feel comfortable sharing their emotions and more accepted when they do.
- Consider your body language: Make sure that your posture is open and comfortable. Turn to the other person and avoid body signals that might convey rejection, such as crossed-arms and avoiding eye contact.
- Express empathy: Even if the emotion isn’t something you necessarily understand, show that you care about what the other person is feeling.
- Ask questions: Follow up on what the other person has said by asking questions to clarify what they mean. Asking questions shows that you are listening and trying to understand what the other person is saying.
- Avoid blaming: Focus on showing support. Don’t try to look for external sources to blame for the other person’s emotions or blame them for the situation.
Things to Remember
Keep in mind that validating someone’s emotions does not mean that you resign yourself to be treated poorly. If your loved one is behaving inappropriately or aggressively, removing yourself from the situation is your best bet.
Tell them that you want to be able to talk with them about the situation, but that you can’t do that productively until they can communicate with you more calmly, so you’ll return later when it seems like the right time.
It is also important to keep in mind that validating your loved one’s emotion usually will not make the emotion go away. It may diffuse the situation, and it will rarely make the situation worse, but that doesn’t mean your loved one is going to feel better right away.
Encourage your loved one to reach out for professional help if they are struggling with emotional problems or if they are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.
Remember that it is not your job to make the feeling go away, although you may choose to be supportive. Rather, acknowledging and validating the person may help them to find their own way to regulate the emotion.