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To validate or not to validate – that is the question.

By Joanne Mainsbridge

We all want it, in fact we all crave it, but have you ever wondered why we want it so much? And have you spent time considering how we can give it to others? A quick google search will tell you that validation is about acceptance and approval; it gives us a sense of meaning and worth. 

However, recent trends from the self-help movement indicate we just need to self-validate instead of seeking this externally, despite the increasing amount of time being spent interacting with social media.

So why do we need it? Well, approximately 10,000 years ago numerous people started helping tend to the cattle and crops, early civilisations arose, and societies developed unifying characteristics. Being part of the group offered efficiency and safety, ultimately humans have evolved as social creatures and we continue to seek that sense of belonging. Self-esteem, belonging and safety (for anyone familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy) are the basic human needs required for a person to reach their full creative and humanitarian potential.  Validation leads to feeling more connected and strengthens relationships which satisfies our need to belong. It strengthens self-esteem by having our thoughts and feelings accepted and when validated by another, we receive social cues of safety. 

So, whilst the superficial “like” of a post or picture seems to provide brief and basic validation, offering true emotional validation to others should be invested in and practised regularly. In addition to accepting that we want validation, we should also consider being open to giving validation.  There are ways to provide true emotional validation that really offer a sense of belonging, are longer lasting and can also assist to ease someone’s distress.


“Before you look for validation in others, try and find it in yourself.” – Greg Behrendt

It is still extremely beneficial to self-validate. To do so we need to recognise our own thoughts and feelings, be curious as to why they exist and we need to befriend them, regardless of if they are inconvenient or even hurt.  This can be quite a process, learning to sit with our feelings and nurture them instead of trying to run from them or bury them when they are uncomfortable. Once we have considered why they exist and accepted they do exist, the intensity of any negative feelings starts to dissipate. 

Have you ever experienced that pit in your stomach after you became angry at someone? How often do you sit in this discomfort and ask yourself why you responded that way? When you do, have you ever tried moving past the feeling of remorse and critique to the acknowledgement of the stress and pressure you may have also been feeling? Acceptance and self-validation of your situation and your feelings can help you articulate your wants and needs more effectively and make changes so that you can reduce the likelihood of responding that way again next time.

Validating others

“Note that acceptance is different from approval. Acceptance is simply saying, ‘It is so’.” – Maggie Warrell

When considering validating another person, we all know the proverbial saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” and when someone is trusting us with sharing their inner thoughts and feelings, we can support their distress by giving them emotional validation.

Mindful listening

To do this one must sit with what is spoken and avoid jumping into problem solving. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person’s experience or think it is warranted and it doesn’t even have to make sense to you. What you do need to offer is reassurance that it is OK to have whatever feelings have been provoked and that you respect their perception of events at that moment. The aim is to help the other person feel heard, acknowledged, accepted and understood. A wise consumer once acknowledged “Painful feelings that are expressed, acknowledged and validated by a trusted listener will diminish. Painful feelings that are ignored will gain strength”. Validation might sometimes look like a nod of agreement, a gentle touch or just quiet listening but ideally you want to label the emotion and then offer a justification for feeling that emotion: “Given that happened to you, I totally understand why you…”. Or you might not know what is happening for that person and could say “I’m guessing you felt pretty upset over those comments”.

Show you understand

Sometimes you might get it wrong and that is ok too. For example, reflecting with someone that they must have been frustrated, only to have them say they weren’t frustrated but “royally pissed off” provides you with a deeper understanding of the strength of their emotion and can be further validated by saying “ok, now I appreciate your situation and am hearing you were really angry”.

Validating shows that someone is important to us, and it leads to feeling more connected and stronger relationships. We all want to know;

“Do you see me?”

“Do you hear me?”

“Do I mean something to you?”

“Do I matter?”

“Do I belong?”

“Am I accepted?”

Hey – how about a like or comment on this post, I am not going to deny it, the validation is appreciated.

About the author

Joanne Mainsbridge is a Team Leader and Clinical Lead at KEO. Jo started her career as an OT in mental health over 20 years ago. Jo has worked in various roles across Australia, NZ and the UK, including inpatient and community mental health roles, occupational rehabilitation and occupational health.

She has various special interest areas including trauma, substance use and ethics in healthcare, and has always been passionate about psychosocial disability, working in a client-centred manner and promoting recovery.

In her role as Team Leader and Clinical Lead at KEO, Jo’s priority is ensuring the team feels psychologically safe and empowered to support their participants to achieve their goals, whilst supporting them in their professional development and growth.⠀