The Incredible Power of Validation and How To Do It

Couple Validating

What Does Validation Look Like?

Tim and Barbie sat slumped in their chairs feeling exhausted and hopeless. A full hour of talking had failed to make progress toward resolving their conflict. In fact, they were now much farther apart than they were when they started.

I see it all the time and everywhere. In families, marriages, friendships, politics, and the workplace. People going head-to-head and toe-to-toe, often with the best intentions to reach a resolution, only to find that their attempts to discuss it make things worse.

If all these people knew that there is a simple, almost magical thing they can do to reach through the conflict, connect with the other person, and forge forward, I’m sure that they would do it right away.

As she slumped in her chair, Barbie realized that she was perseverating on her own point of view. She became aware of how angry she was at Tim for not listening and not seeming to care how she felt. Then suddenly, a lightbulb went on in her head, and she said,” Tim, please tell me again why you refuse to spend the holiday weekend with my family.”

It’s Not About Giving In

Validation is not about compromising your own point of view. It’s not about giving in. It’s not about manipulation, or agreeing, or even resolving. Validation is something that can happen in one sentence, in one moment. It’s a blip that occurs in a conversation that can make all the difference in where that conversation goes.

“As I already explained multiple times, I cannot stand being around your brother that long,” Tim explained. “He is the most boorish, obnoxious, unpleasant person I have ever met. He will ruin the holidays for me, and I don’t want our children around him,” Tim repeated with exasperation.

Keep reading, because validation has not happened yet. Barbie is, however, listening intently to Tim’s words, looking directly into his eyes as he talks. This is something she did not do for the entire hour of their previous conversation.

“I get it,” Barbie said. “I totally understand why you feel that way.”

This was the moment of validation. If you were watching this conversation happen between Barbie and Tim, you would see Tim’s angry posture slightly relax as he took in Barbie’s words. At that moment, he feels unexpectedly heard and understood. He feels validated.

To validate someone is not at all the same as agreeing with them. It’s only a way to say that you understand their feelings. That one moment of understanding has the power to change the course of your interaction, sending you on the road to a resolution.

3 Steps to Validate Someone

  1. Change to a listening posture. Listen to what the person is saying, and try to grasp the feelings behind it. When Barbie did this, she realized that Tim finds her brother far more offensive than she does. She puts a realization together in her head: Tim didn’t grow up with her brother and doesn’t understand him as she does. Tim takes her brother’s behavior at face value and is greatly offended by it.

  2. Try your hardest to feel what the other person is feeling, especially if you don’t agree with it. When Barbie actually listens and imagines being Tim, she is able to feel his frustration and irritation. As she feels Tim’s feelings for just that moment, he experiences a moment of validation. In that moment, he finally feels heard and understood.
  3. Tell the other person you understand why they would feel that way. You don’t need to say, “I feel the same way,” “I agree,” or “You are right.” You only need to say that you get it.

The Takeaway

When you give someone a moment of validation, you are accomplishing several goals simultaneously. You are establishing a meeting-of-the-minds, you are connecting, and you are helping the other person open up to your point of view as well.

People who feel validated are far more open to the opinions of others. Now that Barbie has validated Tim’s feelings, he will be far more able to hear what she has to say, and imagine what she is feeling.

If you grew up with a lack of validation yourself (Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), you will likely have a hard time validating others, especially during times of conflict or anger. Yet validation has the power to turn a negative cycle into a positive one.

Growing up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can leave you devoid of many emotion skills like validation. To learn more, Take The Childhood Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn many more ways to improve your relationships with the people you care about, see my new book,  Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty No More. 


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Clark - April 14, 2021 Reply

VS and Shane raise good points about your therapy example. I, too, felt it was wanting. It likely wasn’t the case that their deep relationship rifts were caused/beached upon a holiday disagreement. As Shane points out, validation alone won’t be healing them. It might even come off as patronizing. HR professionals are despised for using validation as a freestanding tool to defuse and then disregard. “Oh, you understand why I feel angry at being passed up for promotion by a new hire who’s sleeping with the boss? Thank you SO much!” I know it’s just an example in a promo email for your books—I’ve read them both, they’re excellent—but this is a good example of how these articles have gotten rather formulaic lately. You’re THE pioneer of CEN. You’re literally all we’ve got to tell the world and therapists about CEN. (We tend not to complain enough for anyone to study, so, until you, they haven’t.)

    Jonice - April 18, 2021 Reply

    Well, Clark, I’d like to say once again that the point was not that the validation fixed the problem! It was that it helped the couple get back on solid ground so that they could then hear each other. When two people are polarized, there’s only one way forward: one person makes the effort to see/feel the other person’s perceptions and feelings and opens their mind. Once the other feels that happening, they open their heart and mind as well. Then a solution may be found. Also, I assure you I do not write my blogs as a promotion for my book! In fact, I am hurt by that assumption. I write them from my heart in an effort to reach as many people as possible and help them become aware of CEN.

Stephen - April 13, 2021 Reply

My dad would do the opposite of validation. Often mocking my feelings, I should or shouldnt feel things, telling me I don’t understand things because my brain isn’t developed yet, he would say I should have selective hearing on everything he says to me and to not get hurt by his hurtful words but when he says jump we say ‘how high’. Every problem I brought to his attention made things worse and I felt worse afterwards. I literally taught him the word empathy a month ago. I feel he is blind and refuses to open his eyes to any other human experience. He has no friends and all close family runs away from him. I can litterally say ‘I don’t like this or that,’ a thousand times and he will say ‘yes you do.’… will he ever understand anything or should i give up hope for my dad to ever see my perspective?

Joanna - April 12, 2021 Reply

I find it natural to be able to empathise and validate other people (less so myself). Much of my relationship issues seem to be down to many family members refusing to validate how I feel about toxic behaviours. Either they can’t or won’t see them and it’s their defensiveness and cruel behaviour of turning everything back on me that leads to immense hurt and me cutting myself off after repeated attempts at explaining myself. A good article but many BPD sufferers only stand up for themselves, not lash out, after months or years of trying to resolve conflicts where the other person won’t even meet you half way.

    Jonice - April 13, 2021 Reply

    Dear Joanna, the article does not actually address BPD (borderline personality disorder). That is a special case that’s not covered.

Anne - April 12, 2021 Reply

I find CEN so effective in helping my patients understand why they feel so disconnected and empty as adults when everything appears to be good. I’m so grateful for this framework that helps so many understand how they came to feel these feelings without being a bad person or having bad parents. Thank you Jonice.

    Jonice - April 12, 2021 Reply

    Dear Anne, thanks for your message and for putting my work to such good use!

Tim - April 11, 2021 Reply

Thank you again for another amazing article.

It has opened my eyes and heart to how I can validate other people’s feelings.

I feel so sad my adopters weren’t able to do that for me.

    Jonice - April 12, 2021 Reply

    I’m sad about that too, Tim. But you really can now validate your own.

Richard - April 11, 2021 Reply

Thank you so much Dr Webb for your deeply deeply sensible point of view and advice. I think it really needs to be taken on by political and business leaders. Here in the UK I think we have a real problem in that many of our Prime Ministers and political leaders were sent away at a young age to posh boarding schools where they had a great sense of entitlement but their emotions and emotional point of view were not taken seriously. As such they don’t understand other people’s point of view – especially where other people are emotionally coming from. This is not only undesirable. It is positively dangerous. This is why I think your basic techniques need to be taught as part of a school curriculum so people can learn about it and apply it as they grow up. What is important for our macho political culture to understand is that understanding someone’s emotional point of view is not weak or soppy – it is a very healthy and positive form of strength.

    Jonice - April 12, 2021 Reply

    Very perceptive observation about political and business leaders, Richard! We have similar situations here in the US. It’s unfortunate, and I also wish this could be taught in schools everywhere.

Michael - April 11, 2021 Reply

“Perservating”? I love it. But seriously if I need anything I need training in validation both of others and self. I’m all ears. MikeinMinnesota

Jill - April 11, 2021 Reply

Hello Jonice and thanks again for your post.

A validation is like the sun coming out … but when the same validation is with held at a later date, it is utterly crushing and inexplicable. Why do people do that? It seems so cruel.

    Jonice - April 11, 2021 Reply

    Dear Jill, many situations can be complex and can be colored by feelings in-the-moment. Later validation may not be withheld intentionally but can be difficult to achieve. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who would do that in a purposeful and cruel way, as that is possible too.

VS - April 11, 2021 Reply

“I totally understand”, but “you will spend holidays where I want and with people who I want to spend holidays with”.
So much worth in that validation…

    Jonice - April 11, 2021 Reply

    Dear VS, there is nothing in the validation that says, “you will spend holidays where I want and with people who I want to spend holidays with.” The validation takes place when Barbie feels and shows Tim she understands his position. The solution to the actual problem can then be resolved together.

    Shane - April 13, 2021 Reply

    The story doesn’t say that after validation, Barbie bulldozed her agenda through and demanded Tim do what he didn’t want to do all weekend. It doesn’t say what outcome happened. But it strongly implies that the improved understanding opened doors for compromised. If Tim’s (legitimate) beef isn’t the trip itself, but in particular Barbie’s brother’s apparent attitude, there are possibilities. Maybe they compromise and just go for a dinner but not the whole weekend. Maybe Barbie has stories that show her brother shows caring via sarcasm which changes Tim’s attitude somewhat making the brother more tolerable. Maybe Barbie shares that her brother was a war vet who has PTSD which is why his attitude seems off and that makes Tim more understanding. We don’t know. Maybe Tim learns all this and says “I still can’t stand being around him”, so they visit when the brother will be somewhere else as a compromise. The point being, once we know Tim’s particular reason for being against weekend visits, compromise solutions become possible. Without hearing that, it just looks like Tim is being disagreeable for no known reason.

Sue F - December 24, 2017 Reply

This is such an important lesson to learn. So often all we do is just yell at each other to get our point across instead of really listening and absorbing what the other person is saying. It does take practice but is so worth the effort.

Karen - December 17, 2017 Reply

Thanks Dr Webb
Your blogs are very informative. Is this information available in your books?

    Jonice Webb PhD - December 17, 2017 Reply

    Thank you Karen! My books delve more deeply into the causes and effects of emotional neglect and exactly how to heal it. My second book is about how CEN affects your relationships, and how recognizing its effects and addressing them can deepen and strengthen your connections to others. Thanks for your question.

    Nicole H. - December 19, 2017 Reply

    Thank you Dr. Webb. Over the last couple months I have used your articles during my therapy sessions and it has done be a great deal of good to realize that I suffered from CEN. It has allowed me to validate myself! If I am able to understand where I’ve come from and why, then I can move to forgive myself. In doing so, I can break the cycle! For seven months I was involved in an abusive relationship, mentally and emotionally, which has been identified through my therapist, and some of your articles have also helped explained why I have repeated these patterns in my life so I can stop them! As for this article, the abuser mentioned above accused me of not listening and hung up on me when I tried to validate his feelings. I tried to interject during a major argument something like, I get it, this is how I felt then, so I can understand and he accused me of not listening and hung up on me several times. Now I know that was just part of his SEVERAL occurrences of gas lighting and manipulation. I explained to him later, but to no eval (and that’s fine I was better off with him out of my life) that I didn’t want to listen in silence that I wanted him to know I was trying to not only listen to him, but understand him and relate it in a way so he knew that was what I was trying to do.

      Jonice Webb PhD - December 19, 2017 Reply

      Dear Nicole, I applaud you for learning how to validate yourself and others. That’s a great accomplishment! Now you can find someone who deserves your validation. Keep up the great work you’re doing, and thank you for sharing your experience with us!

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