Validation (or emotional validation) is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to emotional situations. It is complex and multi-stepped and it takes a lot of practice to master. On my Internet list, I talk a great deal about validation because it is essential to managing a relationship with someone with BPD. If you learn to master validation, you can see a marked change in the way your loved one with BPD interacts with you.
Validation is a tool that verifies that the other person’s feelings are valid, but doesn’t necessarily condone or agree with their behavior. Remember, the behaviors come from feelings, beliefs and “action impulses” so they can be separated from behaviors. You are not “giving into” the person with BPD if you learn to validate their feelings. And, if you master validation, you might eventually receive validation back from your BP, which is a remarkable improvement over IAAHF (“it’s all about his/her feelings”). Don’t expect it right way, but after some time, it can happen.
With validation, you are basically saying, “Your feelings matter. It is OK to feel that way. It is normal to feel that way.” The way in which you validate someone else’s feelings is important. Many people believe that saying “It’s OK. I love you” or “You are safe with me” is a form of validation, but it is not. Those statements are about your attitudes toward the other person, not about his/her feelings. Validation is always about the OTHER person’s feelings, not about our own feelings. In some ways, this can get frustrating for us, because everything always seems to be about the other person’s feelings – and in the beginning, that is true. There are other tools that get your feelings on the table, but for now we need to focus on the other person’s feelings and how to validate them.
Validation is not giving advice. In fact, if you do give advice when the other person is emotional, they are likely to get angry with you. People don’t like to feel that they are being told what to do about an emotional situation – that is quite invalidating. It feels like you are telling them how they should feel and they can’t control the emotions.
This is where things get interesting. You see, I believe that since BPD is a very relationship-oriented disorder, changing the way in which you interact with the person with BPD will in turn change them. Mostly, the point is to make your life easier. If you learn and apply emotional tools, you will have less raging, less acting out and more peace in your life.
Exercise in validation
I sometimes like to assign homework assignments for my list members. I don’t do it very often, but I think it’s easy to learn from one another’s experience if you are all having a very similar experience. One of the exercises we worked on last year was one to help us learn the benefits of validating another person. My suggestion to the group was to make a validating statement to someone with whom you have a temporary interaction. This person could be a server at a restaurant, a clerk at the grocery store or an acquaintance at work. Here is an example conversation that I had with a co-worker who I knew by sight, but with whom had never really had a conversation on an elevator. She was about 8 months pregnant and it was the middle of the summer. She looked hot and stressed. I said that it must be frustrating and painful to be pregnant in the height of the summer. She immediately brightened up and talked to me about her feelings and her family.
My suggestion to you is that your emotionally validate someone in your life today. Test it out on someone with whom you have a passing contact. Remember validation is about their feelings, not about you. Just validate and listen and see what happens. If you don’t know how to validate, you can read all about it in When Hope is Not Enough.