During a commencement speech at Harvard University, Oprah Winfrey said, “The single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people, was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience.
The common denominator is we want to be validated. We want to be understood.”
People long to be accepted and valued, to know that someone cares about their thoughts and feelings. As clinicians, we’ve heard from people who were wounded, sometimes profoundly, by lack of validation.
– Victims recounting a history of sexual abuse often say their perpetrators’ denial, and/or the disbelief of the person to whom the victim first reported the abuse, was as devastating as the trauma they experienced because it purposed to invalidate their experience.
– Parents callously damage their child’s intrinsic value and sense of belonging when they tell the child, or tell others in the child’s presence, that s/he was a mistake or is unwanted.
– Bosses invalidate their employees when they refuse to listen to employees’ problem-solving input, or when they take all the credit when goals are reached.
– A dad who always makes it to his son’s games but never his daughter’s recitals conveys the message that girls are less important than boys.
– Middle-aged workaholics continue the rat race despite disturbing health warnings because they keep hoping to hear an, “I’m proud of you,” from a parent who withholds those very words.
Here are some ways we can validate another’s being, abilities, experiences, thoughts, and feelings:
– Avoid ‘why’ questions; instead, say, “help me understand…”
– Become a human mirror by reflecting to others those qualities, traits, and gifts you see in him/her.
– Become familiar with scripture which provides evidence of our innate value even before we were born, and share it with others who don’t know.
– Own up to your hurtful behavior, even when it’s embarrassing, and then apologize and make amends.
– Freely share thoughts and feelings such as, “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “I need you,” so that others won’t have to wonder if those things are true.
– Frequently offer words of appreciation to your employees and co-workers and share the glory when things go well. Demonstrate confidence in their knowledge and abilities by soliciting their ideas.
If people around you are not validating, limit your exposure to them. It’s important for your mental health that you develop a network of supportive folks who are.
Stockton is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner of Inner Peace Coaching & Counseling located at 4030 Mount Carmel Tobasco Road in Cincinnati. For more information, please call 513.201.5949 or visit www.lindastockton.com.