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"We never know what strengths and revelations
might be on the other side of our fears
until we face them and feel them all the way through.
True positive thinking is the mental stance of surrender,
simply trusting the process.
We learn to accept what is."

Jacquelyn Small

People could feel stronger after a series of discouraging circumstances- just because a friend had listened and didn't try to make them feel better. We had been with a friend who'd just lost a job, listened to how painful a loss it was-without imposing our feelings or our solution-and it had helped. Family members gave hugs at the door as we left from visits with their loved one in hospice care. We had attended our children's special events, even though it conflicted with important meetings or work deadlines-and our children had noted how important that was to them. We had both decided to become helping professionals in order to give to others some of what we had received while growing up. We'd gone to graduations of people who'd made it in spite of incredible obstacles and felt a special joy, knowing the journey that had led to this moment. We witnessed the joy of a friend who'd recently learned to fly in spite of being paralyzed from the waist down.

Someone listened with acceptance and did not ask people
to alter their problems to fit our capacities to relate to them.

Someone pursued new directions
because of the recognition of their strengths, talents and courage.

Moments of celebration were witnessed,
especially by people who appreciated the difficult journey to get to that goal.

Things were accepted as being as bad or as good as they seemed.

Someone believed they were doing the best they could,
in spite of difficult circumstances.

There was gratitude for the opportunity to meet a challenge
and have the process witnessed.

Some Basic Ideas About Validation

The more someone is validated, the stronger they become in facing vulnerabilities and helplessness at any age. Validation makes possible those "little acts of courage" that characterize approaching rather than avoiding moments of truth, facing painful decisions or opening to the fullness of grief over a loss. Validation creates inner strength that acknowledges the reality and the fullness of common, universal human conditions such as joy, love, suffering, sorrow, curiosity, pain, helplessness, mastery, loneliness or solitude-in short, every consequence of living and dying. With validation, you can become more willing to take risks, to explore the "shadow" aspects of personality, to immerse in the vulnerabilities of love and loneliness throughout life than happens without it.

To validate does not necessarily require a verbal exchange but it must be communicated-through a look or a glance-one of admiration, love, compassion, or of knowing. It can be expressed with that hug or a touch on the hand given at just the right moment. Validation can be offered in the form of a tangible gift or reward for an effort well done. Sometimes it is presence-"just being there" at critical times or remembering significant days and sacred times, the acknowledging of moments of crisis, grief and success.

Because validation seems to be such a simple way of responding to obvious human need, some overlook its necessity or fail to take the time to experience it personally. Stressful life styles, people's needs for control or to be the focus of attention can additionally get in the way of validation. Some people rush from one activity to another, with no time to honor the moment through validation.

What Does It Take to Validate?

It is pretty apparent that validation requires knowing what it is from our own experience. Validation requires an optimistic view of the human condition- to be fully in your life experience and in so doing create something out of it. According to Simon in his book "Negative Criticism", validation is more than "verbal M&M's", i.e., comments that might nourish or distract for a moment but have no staying power. "Have a nice day," "I don't know what we'd do without you;" "I'll never forget what's her name" are examples of positively intended comments that lack the specificity and genuineness to make them validating.

Validation recognizes the uniqueness of a person or an experience.

  • Validation neither exaggerates nor minimizes what is being experienced. You accept things as they are. A simple idea but often hard to follow!
  • A comment that is validating stays with us, feels "right", in tune with who we are. It resonates with and brings out the "best self" in us. We'll remember it-even many years later/
  • The experience of being validated feels genuine. It can make people feel worthwhile. Often it takes us by surprise. Validating comments start people on their careers. Love relationships or friendships are often bonded by validating statements or expressions. "How did he/she see that in me when no one else did?" reflects the awe of validation.
  • There are times when we are unsure something happened because the intensity of our feeling was so great and so different from other times we wonder if it was a dream, a nightmare or something made up. Validation helps us accept what happened as real. When someone witnesses either the experience or the sharing of it, they are more likely to consider the experience genuine or valid. We may not know the truth of an experience, yet we can know it was real.