Recall a recent time when you shared about a personal problem with a friend or loved one. How did they respond? Did they make you feel heard, supported, and understood? Or did their response leave you feeling misunderstood and regretful of sharing in the first place? 

I am in the process of planning my wedding, and as is the case for so many, I am happening upon obstacle after obstacle after obstacle when it comes to planning this event in the midst of Covid-19. Last weekend, I noticed sad thoughts and feelings coming to mind, as I realized the planning process for me has not been anything like the exciting and celebratory whirlwind I always imagined it to be. I reached out to a loved one to share and talk through these disappointed feelings and grief, and was met with, “Well have you tried calling your venue?”, “Why can’t you just keep planning? Who cares that it’s different than what you thought it would be” and “It’s not that big a deal”.  

I’m always inclined to believe that people have the best of intentions when it comes to offering feedback or problem solving. The trouble is that we often get swept up in efforts to problem solve, or “fix” the issue (in this case, my loved one was trying to “fix” my sad feelings for me by telling me not to worry about it), rather than noticing and honoring the emotions that are already here, right now, in the midst of the issue. 

Fortunately, I was able to use my DEAR-GIVE skills to gently let the person know that I appreciate their efforts to help me problem solve, and in this moment I’m actually just needing validation about my feelings while I am feeling sad.  

This brings me to the broader question – how do we validate, and validate with sincerity and genuineness? DBT offers us 6 Levels of Validation that hold the key: 

  1. Pay Attention: Look interested in the other person instead of bored (no multitasking). If speaking on the phone, you can offer verbal cues (i.e. saying things like “mhmm”, “yes”, “I hear you”) to show someone that you are actively listening to them. 
  1. Reflect Back: Say back what you heard the other person say or do, to be sure you understand exactly what the person is saying. Avoid using judgmental language or tone of voice. 
    1. Example: my friend could reflect back to me by saying, “I hear that you’re feeling really sad and disappointed about how your wedding planning process has been playing out lately.” 
  1. ‘Read Minds’: Be sensitive to what is not being said by the other person. Pay attention to facial expressions, body language, what is happening, and what you know about the person already. Show you understand in words or by your actions. Check it out and make sure you are right. Let go if you are not.
    1. Example: “I’m guessing this must feel like such a big loss…does that resonate with you?” 
  1. Understand: See if what the other person is feeling, thinking, or doing makes sense, based on the person’s past experiences, present situation, and/or current state of mind or physical condition (i.e. the causes)
    1. Example: “I know you’ve been looking forward to planning your wedding for so long, and now that it’s here, the process isn’t anything like you thought it would be. That is so difficult.”
  1. Acknowledge the Valid: Look for how the person’s feelings, thinking, or actions are valid responses because they fit the current facts, or are understandable because they are a logical response to the current facts. 
    1. Example: “Feeling sad and disappointed makes complete sense! Anyone would feel the same way under these circumstances.”
  1. Show Equality: Be yourself! Don’t “one-up” or “one-down” the other person. Treat the other as an equal, not as fragile or incompetent. 
    1. DON’T say: “Well I had to cancel some of my plans and vacations too that I was planning way longer than you’ve been wedding planning, so it could be worse.”

These 6 Levels of Validation can be found on page 129 of your DBT workbook. 

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