When I was young and naïve and untouched by the worries of the adult world, I remember that when I would walk into a room, I felt like all eyes in the room looked at me and were pleased by what they saw. And, unhealthy and misguided as this was, knowing that I was attractive to the general public was validating to me. I felt valued and appreciated by the mere response people gave me with just their eyes, knowing nothing about me as a person. But, after the bodily trauma of carrying 5 children (2 of them twins!) in my body, the spiritual trauma of a faith crisis/transition, and the emotional trauma of a failed/abusive marriage and the ensuing stress of single motherhood, I now tend to count myself lucky if, by some happy circumstance, I happen to slip into a room completely unnoticed. Physically, I am no longer the youthful beauty that I remember myself to have been; and yet, I feel like the “real me” has improved progressively as the “exterior me” has slowly faded away. At least, I hope I am continually improving on the inside regardless of what remains on the outside.
At any rate, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about validation…about how important it is to feel valued and heard and seen for who you are. About how the outside rarely truly reflects what’s inside us, and about how little I thought about that fact when I felt like my outside was adequate.
It’s so easy to validate others – to make people feel like they belong, like they matter, like you care. And yet, I find that so often, particularly when people are hurting or angry or sad, we have this automatic response that serves to INvalidate, to distance, and to shun.
I’ve recently felt overwhelmed by the many, many opportunities I’ve been given to either validate or seek validation. With each new occurrence of racially motivated violence, with the newly passed marriage equality laws, with the recent passing of the one year anniversary of Kate Kelly’s excommunication, and with some of my own personal life experiences, I feel like validation has been the theme of this season of my life. And I want to take just a moment to reflect upon what I’ve learned from this season. So, without further ado, I give you:
Validation in Three Easy Steps
- Acknowledge. Acknowledge emotions – pain, sadness, anger, confusion. Emotions are not inherently good or inherently bad. They are just emotions. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be confused at someone else’s anger or sadness. Emotions are just emotions. Acknowledge your right to have them, and acknowledge the rights of others to feel whatever they are feeling. Acknowledgement is Step 1.
- Resist the urge to be an asshole. Seriously. This is Step 2. All you have to do here is just NOT be an asshole. When you get the urge to tell someone why their anger or pain is unjustified…just…don’t. When the need to tell someone why another group is more oppressed than theirs bubbles up in your chest, when you feel yourself practically bursting with a desire to tell someone why you have it worse than them, when you absolutely must tell someone why you believe they are wholly in the wrong…just…keep your opinions to yourself. That’s it. That’s the entirety of Step 2. Don’t be an asshole.
- Validate respectfully. Respectful validating is really just the vocalization of Step 1 whilst muting your thoughts from Step 2. Verbally acknowledge the other person’s emotions, and ignore the little voice in your head that wants to make everything about YOU. Please note that this does not require that you agree. It looks something like this: “I can see that you’re angry. I want to acknowledge your feelings.” (Even though I don’t agree with or understand your anger)<–MUTE. NO TALKIE.
or like this: “I’m sorry you’re feeling sad about this. I want you to know that I care about you and I am here to listen.” (Even though I think you’re wrong.) <–I MEAN IT. SILENCE THIS VOICE. THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU.
or even like this: “Your feelings matter. You matter to me, and I love you even though I don’t always understand you.”<– AND THEN STOP TALKING. ANYTHING YOU SAY AFTER THIS ABOUT WHY YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND THEM WILL MAKE IT ABOUT YOU. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.
Validation is about building trust, fostering relationships, and generating good will. It’s about building a community where every person is valued for who and what they are. I want to reiterate: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO AGREE TO VALIDATE. Validating is simply acknowledging another person’s inherent worth regardless of whether or not you agree with their behavior. It is recognizing that we all have our own issues, but those issues need not keep us from being loved and included by our communities. Every person you meet has value. Sometimes that value isn’t immediately seen on the outside. Sometimes the outside is uncomfortable. Maybe it’s clothed in anger or wrapped in different color skin than yours. Maybe the outside reflects different life choices than you would make or is in some other way unattractive to you. But, no matter what someone looks like on the outside, remember that there is always more to a person than meets the eye.
If we look for ways to validate those around us, we give them permission to reveal their authentic selves. We find commonalities and build relationships founded on respect, love, and trust. Why don’t we do more of this??!! It’s so easy, and yet it’s even easier to invalidate and push others away. Maybe the next time you’re tempted to enter a race conversation where people are angry and hurting, you’ll opt to validate instead of talking over. Maybe if you happen upon a conversation about marriage equality and you’re tempted to be…less than thrilled…or you’re offended by those who are less than thrilled…instead of being an asshole, you could validate. I feel like I need to say this one more time, and then I’ll be done: VALIDATION DOES NOT MEAN YOU AGREE. It just means you recognize that people are complex, and that the person you are validating has inherent worth that transcends your differences. Validation. Try it.