Validate Someone's Feelings

Validating feelings involves recognizing someone's feelings and acknowledging them as important. It helps the other person feel that you care about and understand them. Validation can be a tremendously useful skill in resolving conflicts, helping people who have problems, and strengthening relationships.


Avoiding Non-Validating Responses

  1. Really listen to the speaker. When listening to a person's troubles, the first instinct is to respond with your advice, opinions or relevant stories in order to help. However, what most people really want is to just be heard and understood. Listen more closely to what they are saying, and empathizing first.
    • Listening does not mean be stonily silent. Saying things like, "uh-huh", "what did he say about that?" and "that's terrible!" show you are listening and facilitate talking.
    • After the person finishes, that is the time to ask if and how you can help.
    • If unsure whether the person needs advice or support, ask. Unsolicited help is rarely listened to, but if the person says they would like to hear what you have to say, that is typically listened to.
      • "Are you coming to me for advice, or would you just like to vent?"
      • "I had something like that happen to me. Would you like to hear about that?"
      • "I have some ideas that might help you. Do you want to hear about it?"
  2. Recognize that validation does not require lying or agreeing with them.[1] You can recognize that someone's feelings are valid without liking what they're doing.
  3. Don't try to fix their feelings. Sometimes people try to make their loved ones stop hurting simply because they don't want them to be upset. While well-intended, it usually doesn't help them feel better long-term, and they may feel like it is their fault for still being unhappy after your efforts.[2]
    • If you want to help, try listening to the whole story and validating their feelings along the way. Then ask how you can help or offer to brainstorm solutions.
  4. Don't try to "hoover" their feelings. Hoovering means vacuuming up any unpleasant feelings and pretending they aren't there.[3] Examples include:[4]
    • "Oh, it's not so bad."
    • "It's not a big deal."
    • "Let's stay positive."
    • "Just toughen up."
    • "Look on the bright side."
  5. Avoid judging them or blaming them for their emotions. Treating people badly for feeling bad is an easy way to get them to stop trusting or talking to you. If you catch yourself doing this, stop yourself and apologize, then focus on having empathy for the other person. Here are some things to avoid.
    • "Whining about the situation isn't going to make it any better. Man up and deal with it."
    • "You're overreacting."
    • "So you decided to be mad at your best friend. How's that working for you?"
    • "Well, maybe he wouldn't have treated you that way if you hadn't been wearing such a short skirt."
    • "Quit bellyaching -- it's not a big deal".

Using Validation Techniques

This section encompasses a variety of mostly verbal techniques. You do not need to use all these techniques in order to validate; instead, choose one or two that feel natural and fitting in a given situation.

  1. Be present. The most basic form of validation is to stay with them, even when their feelings are difficult or unpleasant. Put aside your own discomfort, and focus entirely on being there for them. Here are some ways to show you are listening:
    • Holding their hand
    • Sitting with them or rubbing their back
    • Saying "I'm here"
    • Nodding and using fillers such as "uh-huh" and "right" (be careful not to use these in a sarcastic way, though)
  2. Summarize their feelings to show understanding. Repeating their feelings back to them shows that you hear them and are paying attention. You might rephrase their words, or infer how they must be feeling. If you get it wrong, let them correct you, and try again.[5]
    • "So you're frustrated that the professor gave you so little warning."
    • "Wow, you seem really excited!"
    • "That must have been hard."
    • "Tell me if I've got this straight: you felt hurt when my brother mimicked your disability accent, and I didn't say anything."
  3. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and see the situation from his or her perspective. Place their feelings in personal context to validate them. If you are close to them and remember a past experience that's affecting them, you may choose to bring it up as a reason why you think their feelings are understandable.
    • "Given how Amy treated you, I totally understand why you'd want to take a break from dating. That's a lot to recover from."
    • "After that last roller coaster ride, I can see why you'd be hesitant about this one. Want to ride the merry-go-round instead?"
    • This technique can be tricky, especially if you are basing it on conjecture, or talking about a way that anyone would feel in that situation. If you're unsure, try using another validation technique.
  4. Place their feelings in general context. Stating that anyone would feel a similar way in a given situation can help them feel that their emotions are normal and justified.
    • "It's okay to be squeamish about your flu shot. Nobody likes those."
    • "Of course you're worried about asking your boss for a promotion. This sort of thing is scary for everyone."
    • "Well, no wonder you don't feel like going out today."
    • "I understand why you feel as if what Ryan said was demeaning to you. As I know from being called that before, calling anyone a 'big, fat loser' is very cruel, deprecating, and brings self-confidence way down".
  5. Share genuine empathy and sympathy. Give a "radically genuine" response[6] that shows complete identification with their feelings. This might mean sharing them (e.g. if you are experiencing something together) or saying that you personally can relate.
    • "That sounds difficult."
    • "I totally understand. I would have responded the same way."
    • "Yeah, I miss her too. It's more fun when she's here."

Providing Micro Validation

There are also tiny ways to make comments and use body language to show that you care and are paying attention.

  1. Use body language to show that you're listening. Look at them, and turn your head or entire body towards them while they speak. You may want to stop whatever else you are doing. Show that you are attentive and present.
    • If you are doing something else while you listen (e.g. folding laundry or cooking), then look periodically at the person and use other cues to show you're paying attention.
    • If your body language is affected by a disability, you can still show that you are listening. Try accommodating your needs (e.g. fidgeting with one hand while looking at their chin) or explaining outright that your body language is different, but you are still listening.
  2. Use mirroring to show you share their feelings. Mirroring is the practice of mimicking someone else's body language: smiling when they smile, leaning back when they lean back, or looking concerned when they look concerned. It is an easy way to visually demonstrate empathy.
    • You don't need to perfectly copy their body language or facial expression. A loose approximation will clearly communicate that you're empathizing.
  3. Give them utter patience. Some people's communication may be awkward, halting, or otherwise unusual, especially if expressing feelings or communicating in general is hard for them. You can show you care by continuing to listen, and not pressuring them to hurry up and finish what they are saying. This helps them relax and communicate better. It also helps them feel a bit better.
  4. Use small auditory signals to show you're paying attention. Cues like "uh huh" and "yeah," along with periodically nodding your head, show that you're paying close attention and caring about what they have to say.
  5. Show caring curiosity about their feelings. You can ask questions to help you learn more about the situation, and to encourage the person to keep talking and letting out their feelings.
    • "Then what did you do?"
    • "How so?"
    • "What bothered you the most about that?"
    • "Has this situation happened before?"

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Sources and Citations