Have you ever expressed yourself only to be dismissed? Or listened to someone tell a story and only listened to reflect it back to your own situation? My thirty-seven years on this earth have been engulfed with others telling me I shouldn’t feel the way I do, projecting their story onto my own, and negating my perspective. Experiences like these can lead to a lack of self-confidence, distrust in oneself, and maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. The solution is simple: validation.
So, what is validation? Validation is a central tennent in DBT. It is through the use of validation that people feel accepted, which ultimately allows relational change to take place. In DBT, we speak about using the “both and” versus “either or” statement. Essentially this means that we validate prior to adding in our own thoughts, feelings, reactions and opinions (e.g. I can see you are disappointed AND my hope is that next time I will be able to make the meeting). Communicating in this manner decreases the likelihood of a relationship rupture. Alan Fruzzetti defines validation as, “Identifying and communicating your understanding in a clear way.” An acronym of C.L.E.A.R. helps explain the golden nugget of validation in a concise manner.
Communicate what your understanding is of the conversation/situation. Ways to do so can include asking clarifying questions, summarizing what you have heard, and reflecting the other’s experience as you heard it.
Legitimize the facts, even when the facts come from the other person you are communicating with. In order to achieve this, you can reframe your thinking to better understand what the other person may be experiencing. Reflection of what that person is thinking, feeling, and wanting is a powerful way to legitimize.
Explain your understanding of the situation. In order to explain your perspective in a validating manner, it is crucial to remain in the active listener role while the other person is speaking. Conceptualizing his/her understanding of the situation, combined with your own understanding will result in a broader perspective of the situation while still having a compassionate heart.
Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and opinions of the situation. Normalizing the parts of the conversation that make sense allows the other person to feel feel heard and understood. An additional skill to use when normalizing is to show tolerance. This means having a genuine understanding that a person is not defined by one behavior explicitly and how that behavior may make sense in the context of his/her own life.
Respect the emotions, beliefs, and reactions of all involved parties, including your own. This element can be challenging for many due to the need to be right. The key to remember is there is no right or wrong when validating; validation is the willingness to understand another’s perspective and treating the individual as an equal.
Using this acronym can be a guide to lead you to become an active listener, where you are listening to understand rather than listening to respond. Not only does the person expressing themselves feel heard and understood, but the listener will gain a deeper understanding of the other party’s perspective. Using validation will create a decrease in emotional arousal and reactivity, an increase in self-respect, and a feeling of fairness for all included. Personally, validation has made high reactive situations, calm and effective without the explosive narrative that I was used to. I challenge you to practice any or all elements of validation and see how it transforms your relationships.