The Art of Emotional Validation: Understanding and Supporting the Feelings of Others

Has anyone ever made you feel like your emotions are truly valid? What did it feel like? Most likely, it made you feel understood, accepted and safe to process your feelings to their fullest. 

Being able to give someone emotional validation is one of the strongest communication tools you can have in your arsenal when building relationships. Whether at home, in school or even in the workplace—validating language fosters mutual respect and empathy.

However, just like any other communication tool, knowing how to properly validate someone's feelings is a skill. And it takes time and intentional practice before comforting someone will become second nature.

 

Why emotional validation is an important skill in relationships

Emotional validation is all about recognising, understanding and expressing acceptance of another person’s feelings. By doing this, you’re creating space for that person to experience these emotions and process things without fear of judgement or rejection. You make them feel like their feelings matter. 

Why is this so important? Because it’s beneficial for both the person you’re emotionally validating and the relationship you share!

Using higher levels of validating language has been found to help decrease experiences of negative emotions within relationships and improve mental health. Whereas, its counterpart—emotional invalidation—has been linked to detrimental consequences, especially in children.

Research has found that children who experience higher levels of emotional invalidation while growing up, have higher levels of emotional stress as adults. Often, this stress presents itself as:

  • Difficulties with emotional regulation
  • Lower levels of self compassion and self worth
  • Higher experiences of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. 
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Navigating Emotions With Your Child

Learn more about how to help your child talk about and manage their emotions during tough times.

Read The Article

 

Knee-jerk responses to avoid when comforting others

Sometimes when we’re confronted with another person's emotional experiences, our knee-jerk reaction is to respond in ways that minimise or side-step the issue. 

Often we say these things because we’re uncertain how we want to approach the situation, but we feel like we need to say something. Although coming from a good place, this can actually do more harm than good. 

Some common responses that fall into this category, include:

  • “It could be worse”
  • “Don’t think too much about it”
  • “Well, I would feel like/think of it like this”
  • “Just move on”
  • “Let’s talk about something else”
  • "Try to put this in perspective"
  • "You're taking X too seriously"
  • "You could have avoided this if you did X"

By trying to advise, distract or make light of someone’s experiences too soon, we run the risk of making that person feel invalidated, unheard or even embarrassed for voicing their emotions in the first place.  

 

How to validate emotion: your step-by-step guide

1. Give your full attention

Whether in-person, over the phone or on screen, giving someone your undivided attention is a simple but effective way to make them really feel heard. Put away any distractions, make eye contact and if possible, move to a quiet place to have the discussion.

2. Let them talk 

Sometimes, when having emotional conversations, we’re quick to jump in with our comments, unsolicited advice or reactions. This, however, can distract and even detract from the other person’s internal experience that they’re trying to communicate.

Instead, try to stay silent and listen until the person has finished expressing their initial thoughts. Active listening shows respect and gives you the chance to completely understand the situation which will help you to better validate their emotions and offer the right kind of support.

3. Ask questions

Properly validating another person's feelings also means showing investment. Even if you don’t completely agree with a person’s reaction, it’s important to show that you care not only about the what but the why as well. 

Ask questions to try to prompt the other person to:

  1. Name how they’re feeling (naming emotions is central to acknowledging the feeling)
  2. Identify what caused those emotions

From here, the discussion can adopt a more actionable direction (if appropriate). Try asking questions such as:

  • “I want to totally understand this—can you explain to me how that made you feel?”
  • “What part of this situation made you feel most frustrated?”
  • “That would have upset me. Do you feel upset at this situation?”
  • “At what point of the situation did you start to feel like this?”

4. Acknowledging, reflecting and accepting

Once you’ve both identified how the person is feeling, you can help cultivate a space in which that person feels safe to reflect on these emotions. To express empathy and understanding, you can incorporate validating statements like:

  • “I can understand why you feel that way”
  • “I can tell this is really important to you”
  • “What a frustrating/upsetting situation”
  • “I want to make sure I’m understanding correctly. What I’m hearing is…”
  • “I can see your efforts here”
  • “I appreciate your honesty here” 
  • "What you're saying makes sense"
  • "That must have been a horrible feeling"

Validating a person's emotional experience doesn’t always mean you're in agreement or have the same beliefs as the other person. It means, you’re acknowledging their emotional response and giving them a safe space to just feel their feelings. This form of empathetic communication will help you build stronger, more emotionally safe relationships. 

Implementing this communication tool at home with your child is also a great way to facilitate emotional awareness and intelligence development—a critical part of childhood development. Through the Smiling Mind Resilient Families Program you can begin the journey of implementing key tools at home to support your child’s emotional development. 

Discover the Free Program

Smiling Mind

Written by Smiling Mind

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