We’re back with another episode in our Relationships series and we’re talking about validation. Validation might just be the most valuable tool in our relationship toolbox, yet it’s not something that a lot of people have experience with—most people were not validated as children.
It can take practice to develop the skill, but that work is worth it. Every person wants to feel seen and heard, which in turn paves the way for smoother interactions, less conflict, and more learning about the important people in our lives.
We hope today’s episode sparks some fun insights for you and we invite you to dive deeper with our Episode Questions.
And find our courses, including Navigating Conflict, in our store at LivingJoyfullyShop.com
Let’s dig deep, challenge paradigms, choose connection, and live joyfully!
1. Do you feel the difference between sympathy and empathy? Think back to a challenging time you experienced and how others engaged with you. Did you feel a difference between sympathetic and empathetic responses?
2. Over the next couple of weeks, practice seeing moments through the eyes of your partner or a good friend. Not just ones where they’re upset, but also ones where they’re excited or happy. Can you see why they are expressing that emotion in that moment? If you put yourself in their shoes, would you feel the same emotions?
3. Do you find it hard to release your agenda around how someone else moves through their challenges and emotions? Try some different mantras or self-talk and see what helps you transition from seeing the path to your expected outcome to being curious about and supportive of their path to their outcome.
4. What feels good and validating to you when you’re experiencing a challenging situation? Let your partner or friend know and ask them to try that with you next time you’re frustrated or upset about something.
PAM: Hello, and welcome to the Living Joyfully Podcast. Navigating relationships can sometimes be challenging because people are so different. Thanks for joining us as we dive into tools, strategies, and paradigm shifts to help you decrease conflict and increase connection in your most important relationships.
If you’re new to the podcast, we encourage you to go back and listen from the beginning, particularly the episodes in our Foundations series. In them, we talk about our favorite fundamental relationship ideas and tools. If you hear us mentioning a concept over and over, chances are it has its own episode in the foundation series that you can check out to learn more.
And before we get started, we just wanted to let you know that we recently released a course titled Navigating Conflict. It will help guide you through different aspects of conflict and give you some concrete tools to help you more gracefully navigate conflicts in all your relationships. Because conflict isn’t a zero-sum game where one person wins and the other person loses in equal measure. Often we can find win-win paths through the situation. All of the course content is available in both text and audio formats, so you can dive into whichever works better for you. Maybe you’re listening on some days and reading on others. You’ll find the Navigating Conflict course in our store at livingjoyfullyshop.com. You’ll also find the link in the show notes. Check it out and see if it’s a good fit for you.
As for today’s episode, we’re diving into the art of validation as part of our relationships series. Okay, so let’s just take a moment to situate ourselves. In the sense that we’re talking about it, dictionary.com defines validation as the act of affirming a person or their ideas, feelings, actions, et cetera, as acceptable and worthy. And I think that’s a pretty good place for us to start.
It’s important to note that validation isn’t about praising the person. Praise is a judgment that we’re expressing. It makes the interaction about us and what we think, taking the focus away from the person we’re wanting to validate. Affirmations are nonjudgmental observations that we’re sharing. See the difference? How sharing an observation can help a person feel seen and how taking the time to notice and share can help them feel worthy of our attention and care?
For me, validation is about being in an authentic relationship with another human being. That’s it. It’s not at all about control or coercion or subtle manipulation. There is no ulterior motive. The only goal is connecting and learning more about each other as human beings.
ANNA: I’m so excited to be talking about validation, because I really believe it’s the most valuable tool in the toolbox. I say it so often, but every person wants to feel seen and heard, period. And understanding that paves the way for smoother interactions, avoiding conflict, and like you mentioned, learning more and truly understanding the person in front of us, all of which leads to deeper connections with those we love and easier exchanges with those in our lives for any reason.
And I feel like validation is not something that a lot of people have experience with. Most people were not validated as children. And it can take a bit of practice for it to be that first tool that you reach for, which I think is so often where it needs to be. Instead, a lot of times defensiveness is where we go first, and if we start there, things can derail. So, when we reach for validation, it allows that space for energy to calm, for the person to feel heard, for us to learn more about what actually is going on in the whole situation.
PAM: Yeah, it’s true. It can take a while to gain experience with moving through our reactive emotions to get to the space where we can actively listen to and validate the other person and to just get reasonably comfortable with how validation works, right?
So, I think it will help us to take a moment and look at how sympathy, empathy, and validation weave together in our relationships, because those are pretty common terms that we hear, but it can sometimes be hard to tease them apart. So, I think this will help us get a better sense of what we are talking about when we say validation.
So, sympathy acknowledges emotion in another person. We feel bad for them having to go through whatever challenge they’re experiencing. We wish things were better for them.
Now, empathy is about feeling WITH another person. Theresa Wiseman is a nursing scholar and she talks about four characteristics of empathy. Number one is seeing the world as the other person sees it through their eyes, not putting yourself in their shoes. Number two is being non-judgmental, recognizing that this is their truth. Three is understanding the other person’s feelings. And four is communicating your understanding through words or actions. So, as you just think about those right off the top of your head, at this point, you can see this is our processing work to do. So, I just want to quickly step through them in a little bit more detail.
So, the first step is seeing the world as the other person sees it. I think this piece can really trip us up, because it’s not about putting ourselves in their shoes so that we can take stock of the situation as it looks to us, asking ourselves what would we do in similar circumstances. Rather, it’s about looking at things through the other person’s eyes, understanding what they are seeing in this moment, what their needs and challenges actually are. This includes the context of their life from how their day is going, to how their unique personality is woven in, to what they find challenging and easy and frustrating. And it can even be how they prefer to process things. We just want to get into their head and see things through their eyes, to be them as best we can. And I think that’s the distinguishing difference.
Now the second step is the non-judgmental piece, which is really about recognizing that the way they’re seeing and feeling in this moment is their truth, full stop. Right now, this is the truth to them. It’s not that the way we see the moment is wrong, it’s that their perspective isn’t wrong either. We are different people and this is their truth.
The third step is understanding their feelings, which I think is pretty self-explanatory. Bringing together seeing through their eyes and recognizing that this is their truth, we are now more able to truly understand their feelings, how they got to this moment.
And this brings us to step four, which is where validation happens. It’s where we connect with them and communicate our understanding, so that as you say, they feel seen and heard.
ANNA: Oh my gosh. I love those steps. And that first step of seeing how the other person sees it is so critical. And it’s the hardest, I think, because we tend to think people see and experience the world in the same way that we do, and it takes a pause and some intention to instead view the situation through their eyes. We may not understand why someone is reacting the way that they are. Because maybe we don’t see it as a big deal at all, but trusting that it absolutely is a big deal to them, and being there to hear and reflect that can quickly dissipate any kind of charge energy that you’re experiencing. And then they don’t need to get louder and louder to convince us. And we are open and we’re listening.
When we’re validating, it can sometimes be helpful to offer words that dig down a bit deeper. For example, angry behavior is often an expression of another emotion. It could be frustration or hurt or loneliness. Digging into that can help the person move forward, and often we can uncover that underlying emotion. When we do that, it can remove any kind of block. And when you hit on the correct emotion, it really helps the person feel understood. And that alone can dissipate the anger. And then you’re able to move towards some kind of resolution or even a conversation to understand more. That really isn’t possible until the person feels heard.
And so, this is often the place arguments start or ruptures begin. That attack, defend, get louder, withdraw, repeat, come back, and just we keep going, going, going. We can start with something simple instead, “I can hear how frustrated you are and I really do want to understand,” there may be some more loud communication, but you’ll start to see more about what’s actually bothering them.
And then you can affirm like, “That makes sense. That is frustrating. I understand.” And, “That makes sense,” is an honest communication in that moment, even if it wouldn’t feel the same to you, because you can see that it makes sense to them.
And this is not the time to be defensive. So, if it’s coming at you directly, this is the time to lean in and try to understand. There will be time later to share your experience of the situation if that’s appropriate. Creating space and letting the big emotions just wash over you, tuning in and recognizing the struggle of the person in front of you, can soften you and then you’re in a position to genuinely say, “I want to understand,” and start reflecting back what you’re seeing.
PAM: Oh, yes, yes, yes. It can be so helpful to note too that reflecting back what we’re seeing doesn’t always mean repeating what they’re saying. Reflecting back the actual emotion they’re feeling versus the one they may be expressing can not only help them feel understood, it can help them better understand themselves.
So, another thing that’s important when it comes to validation is not having an agenda. We can’t, we really can’t. Validation is all about supporting the other person while an agenda is about us. So, that means no agenda around their process for moving through their emotions and no agenda around how quickly they move through that process.
if we’re harboring an underlying agenda, while we might be saying words that we think are validating, like, I can see you’re upset, our underlying energy, maybe even the cadence of our words, is more likely to be communicating something more judgmental and maybe condescending. Like, that’s such a small thing. Just get over it already. You can do that with tone.
So, for me, noticing that I have an agenda in mind, an end goal on the horizon is a clue that I need to dig a bit deeper. Even if I’ve done the work to understand the situation and circumstances, made the shift to empathy and seeing through their eyes, I’m still gazing to the future through my own eyes.
Now again, that doesn’t make me wrong, for me. Maybe I, as the unique butterfly I am, would have moved through it by now and beyond to something else. But again, this moment isn’t about me, is it? Absolutely not. Sometimes I found it helpful to remind myself that I don’t know how this will unfold for them, that I don’t know how long it may take.
Repeating this to myself a few times can just help me release my expectations, my agenda, and return to this moment with curiosity and love. I begin to wonder, hmm, how will this unfold? How might I help them feel loved and supported in this really hard moment for them?
ANNA: Right, because agendas can be so sneaky, right? They’re just right there and they definitely take us out of the moment that’s in front of us, and pretty much every person, no matter the age or relationship to us, will pick up on it. And it just creates more disconnection and keeps us stuck in that place of them feeling like they need to express themselves dramatically and us trying to figure out what’s going on.
And like you said, it is so unique to each person and it’s also so contextual. Something that typically would roll right past our partner can create a huge reaction when they are hungry or tired or overwhelmed with outside stressors. Even more reason to not make it about us and to offer empathy.
Often, we don’t know the context, but just reminding ourselves that there is one can bring our energy down and help us connect with the upset of the person in front of us.
Being intentional about language can help so much, too. Using “I” statements and avoiding “you are” statements helps us have clear communication. We can only know for ourselves. With our closest relationships, we can work together to use “I” statements, and it just makes such a world of difference. You are attacking me versus I’m feeling attacked and I need a minute, holds a very different energy and can elicit a very different response than the other person.
And I like to remind myself that no one can make us feel anything. Only we have control over our feelings and actions. So, something happens, we have a feeling about it, and we take an action. The thing we can’t control is the thing that happened. Often that’s out of our control. From there, we get to decide though how we feel, and we may run through some feelings. We may have all different kinds of feelings at first, but giving some space and observing and then acknowledging them and not getting stuck there puts us in a better position to take action that’s in alignment with the person we want to be. So, it’s not that having feelings is bad or that there’s any particular bad feeling. We want to acknowledge all the feelings as they come up, but understanding that we don’t have to get stuck on the first feeling that comes up can just be really empowering.
And so, your partner could be coming at you with some angry energy about something you did or didn’t do, and you may be feeling attacked or hurt or defensive, but you can acknowledge and breathe through those feelings and move to a place of validation.
So, it might look like, okay, I understand why that’s super frustrating. You thought I was going to get the car fixed today and I didn’t get it done. And so, now we’re in this pinch needing the car. Keep validating until they’re able to move through their initial flush of emotions, and then you can both move to solving it together.
What do we want to do now that we’re in the pinch and the car isn’t ready? Together, you can figure out the next steps. But if you start defending, oh, but this happened, but that, but this, but that. Then they’re going to up the volume until they feel like they’re heard and that we understand how frustrated they are. And you don’t get to that stage of finding a solution together. Instead, now you have a rupture and, and not only do you have the initial problem, now you have this rupture to heal and solving the problem is so much harder when you’re not on the same page like that.
Because the thing is, we all make mistakes. We miss the mark sometimes, and that’s okay. Validation is just a great first step in understanding one another and moving back to the place of connection. And sometimes the big expression will actually have nothing to do with you, and it’s still a time for validation. And perhaps it’s easier in those situations to just give them as much time or space and validation around their experience and emotion. Again, without that agenda that we’re going to move through it quickly or at any kind of pace that are determining, but with a genuine desire to connect and understand what’s happening for them.
PAM: Yeah. For me, that’s what I need to get myself back to and remind myself of that genuine desire to connect and understand.
At the top of the episode, I spoke of validation as an art, and that’s because I don’t see it as a science, as a repeatable process. Of course, there are some principles involved that will consistently help us. That’s what we’ve been talking about. Talking about seeing things through the other person’s eyes, shifting from sympathy to empathy.
But beyond that, whenever the opportunity to validate someone arises our choice of words and actions in the moment need to weave together with our understanding of the person involved and the circumstances of this particular situation and the moment. So, to me, it kind of feels like an art. And when it doesn’t feel rote, doesn’t feel like a script of things we’re supposed to repeat every time, that also helps a person feel seen and heard in the moment. Because, that moment really is unique to them, right? It can be disconnecting if we say exactly the same thing, it’s like, you’re not seeing me. Right?
ANNA: Because we’re not present. We’re not present in that moment when that’s happening. And again, people pick up on those type of things, that agenda that you’re not really hearing me and then there we have the divide that we have to figure out how to cross.
PAM: Exactly. Exactly. So, here are some questions to ponder this week around the idea of validation. So, number one, do you feel the difference between sympathy and empathy? I use the word feel instead of think, because we want to focus in on our body. Embodying ourselves in the moment.
Think back to a challenging time you experienced and how others engaged with you. Did you feel the difference between sympathetic and empathetic responses?
Number two, over the next couple of weeks, practice seeing moments through the eyes of your partner or a good friend or your child, not just ones where they’re upset, but also ones where they’re excited or happy. Can you see why they are expressing that emotion in that moment? If you put yourself in their shoes, would you feel the same emotion? I’m just excited for people to play with those questions. Just because it really helps, I think, to separate and to understand how people are different.
ANNA: Anytime we can get to more understanding about how different we are and how different we see and experience the world, it just opens up this space for understanding.
PAM: It really does. It really does. Okay, number three, do you find it hard to release your agenda around how someone else moves through their challenges and emotions? Try some different mantras or self-talk and see what helps you transition from seeing the path to your expected outcome, to being curious about and supportive of their path to their outcome.
And lastly, what feels good and validating to you when you’re experiencing a challenging situation? How about letting your partner or friend know, and ask them to try that with you next time you’re frustrated or upset about something and see how that feels? What difference does that make?
ANNA: Yes, because again, we’re all so different and what feels good and validating will be different for each of us. So, open up these conversations, play with it, talk to the people in your life, and I think it’ll be really interesting.
PAM: Oh, I think so. I’m very excited. Thanks so much for listening, everyone, and we will see you next time. Bye.