What Is Emotional Validation?

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What Is Emotional Validation?

Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding, and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional experience. Emotional validation is distinguished from emotional invalidation, when a person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged.

Validating an emotion doesn't mean that you agree with the other person or that you think their emotional response is warranted. Rather, you demonstrate that you understand what they are feeling without trying to talk them out of or shame them for it.

Emotional validation is acknowledging and accepting a person's inner experience, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as valid.

Signs of Emotional Validation

An emotionally validated person feels that others not only see and hear their emotions but also accept the existence of those feelings. A person who feels that their emotions are not "wrong" or inappropriate is more apt to have a solid sense of identity and worth and can manage emotions more effectively. Furthermore, emotional validation helps open the door to self-compassion: Feeling that our emotions are valid helps us avoid shame and self-blame, so we can respond to them with confidence.

Validation can come from other people or from within. Self-validation involves recognizing and accepting your own thoughts and feelings.

How to Practice Emotional Validation

Emotional validation is a skill that requires practice. Improving it can bolster your relationships with others and help you validate your own thoughts and feelings. Here are a few key strategies.

Identify and Acknowledge the Emotion

Acknowledge the emotion that the person is having. This can be hard if they have not clearly communicated their feelings, so you might have to ask them, or guess and then ask if you're on target.

For example, imagine that your loved one is behaving angrily toward you. If they have already communicated that they are feeling angry, simply demonstrate that you've heard them: "I understand you are angry." If they haven’t communicated their feelings, you might say, "You seem really angry. Is that what’s going on?"

Acknowledge the Source of the Emotion

The next step is to identify the situation or cue that triggered the emotion. Ask the person what is causing their response. You might say, "What is it that's making you feel that way?" Bear in mind, however, that your loved one might not be able to communicate this clearly or understand what is going on. In this case, state that something seems to be making them upset, you’d like to know what it is, but you can't without a clear sense of the situation.

Validate the Emotion

Imagine that the person is able to communicate the source of the anger. In this example, they're angry because you are 15 minutes late coming home from work. To you, their anger seems unwarranted or disproportionate to the offense. You can still validate their feelings, however, by communicating that you accept what they are feeling, even if you don’t follow their reasoning.

You might say, "I know you are feeling angry because I was 15 minutes late coming home. It was not my intention to anger you; I was stuck in traffic. But I can see that waiting for me made you upset." You don't need to apologize for your behavior if you don’t feel you did anything wrong. You might actually defuse the situation simply by acknowledging the person's feelings.

Validating Statements
  • "I can see how you would feel that way."

  • "That must be really hard."

  • "I feel the same way."

  • "How frustrating!"

  • "I bet you're frustrated."

  • "I'm here for you."

Invalidating Statements
  • "What's the big deal?"

  • "You should feel lucky."

  • "You are too sensitive."

  • "Don't be such a wimp."

  • "If you hadn't done that it wouldn't have happened."

  • "I don't want to hear it."

Special Considerations

Here are a few other ways to help people feel comfortable and accepted when they're sharing emotions:

  • Consider your body language: Keep your posture open and comfortable. Turn to the other person and avoid body signals that might convey rejection, such as crossing your arms and avoiding eye contact.
  • Express empathy: Even if the emotion isn't something you understand, show that you care about the fact that the person feels it.
  • Ask questions: Follow up by asking questions to clarify what the person means. This shows that you are listening and trying to understand.
  • Avoid blaming: Focus on showing support. Don't lay blame on either external sources or the person.

Impact of Emotional Validation

When you emotionally validate someone, you:

  • Communicate acceptance: You demonstrate that you care about and accept the person for who they are.
  • Strengthen the relationship: People who show each other acceptance feel more connected and build stronger bonds.
  • Show value: The person feels they are important to you.
  • Foster better emotional regulation: Research suggests that offering people emotional validation can help them better regulate their emotions. This can be particularly important with strong negative or distressing feelings.

Tips for Being Emotionally Validating

You don't have to resign yourself to being treated poorly. If your loved one is behaving inappropriately or aggressively, removing yourself from the situation is your best option. Tell them that you want to talk with them, but you can’t do that productively until they can communicate with you calmly, so you’ll return later when it seems like the right time.

Keep in mind that validating your loved one’s emotion can help defuse the situation, but it won't make the emotion go away or instantly help the person feel better. In any case, it probably won't make the situation worse.

If the person is experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, encourage them to reach out for professional help.

Consequences of Emotional Invalidation

Some of the damaging psychological, behavioral, and emotional effects of invalidation include:

  • Problems with a person's sense of identity: Emotional invalidation can undermine a person's sense of self. When people feel that their personality characteristics, thoughts, and behaviors are not accepted, they may develop low self-esteem or a poor sense of self.
  • Difficulty managing emotions: Invalidation tells people that what they are feeling or the way that they are expressing those feelings is wrong. It can lead people to feel that they cannot trust their emotions, which can make it hard to regulate those feelings.
  • Poor mental health: Emotional invalidation may also contribute to mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. Invalidation can make people feel that their thoughts and feelings don't matter to others. Invalidation, including self-invalidation, can also make it more difficult to recover from mental health disorders.

A few dominant psychological theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) assert that many people with BPD did not receive sufficient emotional validation over the course of their development. This may be one factor in the development of the emotional dysregulation characteristic of the disorder.

People with BPD typically have very strong emotional responses to events that seem minor to observers. As a result, people with BPD frequently experience emotional invalidation—that is, others react to their emotions as if those emotions are not valid or reasonable.

Remember: It is not your job to make the person's feeling go away, although you can choose to be supportive. Rather, acknowledging and validating the person's feelings can help them find their own way to regulate the emotion.

A Word From Verywell

Emotional validation is an important tool that can improve your interpersonal communication and relationships. Fortunately, it is a skill you can learn and work to improve with practice.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do people want emotional validation?

    People need to feel that their feelings matter and that others truly hear what they're saying. Emotional validation makes us feel accepted. An emotionally validated person typically can regulate their own emotions appropriately and self-soothe when feelings threaten to overwhelm.

  • How can you give emotional validation?

    Listen to, acknowledge, and rephrase what the person is saying. The point is to help them feel seen and heard, not to change or minimize their emotions.

  • What can you do when emotional validation doesn't work?

    If you reach an impasse, the person responds inappropriately, or you feel uncomfortable, leave the situation. Say something like, "I want to talk with you, but I see you're upset. Let's come back to this later."

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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