The Power of Validation

Mental Health @ Home - The power of validating someone - image of two meerkats sitting together

Skinny Hobbit from Growing Into Myself recently did a post that contained this Youtube video.  The video is about supporting someone who is grieving, but it’s a powerful message about validation in general, which is what inspired this post.

Many of us have chosen to blog because there are difficult experiences that we’re dealing with.  There may be particular things that we want to get out of blogging, like self-expression, seeing we’re not alone, or connecting with others.

So, here we are in a community, with our various experiences and motivating factors.  How do we go about being supportive to others?

First let’s take a quick look at some relevant definitions, courtesy of Google:

  • Empathy: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”
  • Sympathy: “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune”
  • Pity: “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others” (note: the dictionary definition doesn’t have the negative connotations often associated with the word)
  • Compassion: “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”
  • Affirmation: “emotional support or encouragement
  • Validation: “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile”

Within the mental health blogging community, I think empathy is an important benefit for many of us.  Even though our experiences aren’t exactly the same, chances are fairly good that at least some people will be able to really “get it.”

While the dictionary definitions of sympathy, pity, and compassion are very similar, I’m going to talk about compassion since I think it’s the best fit here.  I suspect most of us don’t consider compassion in and of itself to be a major goal of blogging.  Compassion without empathy is fairly distant; if someone feels bad for our problems but doesn’t demonstrate any understanding of how those problems make us feel, that’s probably not going to be all that helpful.

Sometimes, compassion will manifest as advice-giving.  The advice-giver makes suggestions that they think will improve the other person’s situation or eliminate the problem(s) entirely.  This can be tricky, especially if the advice was not asked for.  There is the risk that advice will come across as minimizing or dismissing the problems that the person is experiencing.  This is particularly true if the advice-giver doesn’t have a strong empathetic understanding of how the person is feeling, or if they don’t know the blogger or the situation all that well.

Occasionally I’ll get comments from people who’ve never visited my blog before giving advice about what I should do in the situation I wrote about in the post.  The advice is totally unhelpful, but that’s not surprising given that they didn’t know me from a hole in the ground.  Quite a while back there was a blogger who kept telling me that I didn’t need meds, I needed a keto diet to fix my depression.  I got sufficiently annoyed that I blacklisted her from commenting.

When it comes to affirmation, I think the success of affirmations often depends on how they’re pitched in relation to where the person is currently at.  For some people, affirmations of any kind can be helpful, but not everyone reacts that way.  Affirmations pitched too high above someone’s present state can come across as dismissive or unrealistic.  If a blogger said “I hate myself” and I responded “you’re a wonderful person,” that’s a pretty big spread between where they are and where I’m aiming.  If instead I were to say “for what it’s worth, I think you’re a good person,” that narrows the gap and also shows I’m speaking for myself rather than assuming I know what the world in general thinks.

That brings us to validation.  Validation is not agreeing, nor is it encouraging someone to stay wherever they might be stuck.  It’s allowing them to feel however they happen to be feeling, and not making assumptions about what they should or should not be doing about that.  It’s sitting beside someone rather than trying to pull them in a particular direction.

We live in a society where we’re bombarded by shoulds, and there are a lot of “should nots” around emotional expression, especially when it’s men doing the expressing.  When someone asks us how we are, it’s expected that our response will be at least “fine”, although preferably more positive than that.

When this is what we face “in real life,” there can be huge value in coming to the blogosphere and letting it all out, knowing that it’s okay to not be okay.

Sometimes there will be mismatched approaches.  My sole “in real life” friend is a compassion-driven fixer.  I find fixing very invalidating, as it feels like it brushes aside whatever it is I happen to be feeling.  He’s made a lot of progress in being more validating; it’s still a bit awkward, but it’s working a lot better.

I think most of us in the blogosphere want to support each other as best we can.  Yes, there will be some mismatches, and that’s okay.  But if we can try to appreciate one another’s good intentions and recognize that others won’t necessarily interpret our messages in the way we intended them, then I think we can all manage to muddle through somehow.

Is there a particular type of support that you tend to be looking for the most within the blogging community?

 

Mental Health @ Home Store: Embrace Acceptance: A Guided Journal

 

 

This FREE guided journal to help you Embrace Acceptance is based on acceptance and commitment therapy.  It’s available on the MH@H Store.

Share this:

24 thoughts on “The Power of Validation

  1. Meg says:

    That’s a beautiful post, and thanks for trying to enlighten me about this! I need to wrap my brain around it! If I ever get too Pollyanna-ish, send me the link to this post so I can reread it! (No, really. It should be kept on the internet’s version of speed-dial.)

    The keto diet? I researched it, and what I learned scared me. Your body goes into ketoacidosis, which seems to be quite extreme and awful; and you can’t eat even a bite of the wrong foods without messing it all up. But anyway! 😀 I’m committed to having more compassion and empathy at all times!!

  2. kachaiweb says:

    I love those reaction or ‘inspired by’ posts, like when they form a chain. I have an idea – totally different than this post but still on validation 🙂
    I look mostly for normalisation, I feel that that gives me the most calm and power. To know that what I’m feeling or going through is shared by other people. That I am not that crazy as my head makes it out to be. I don’t know if that’s validation but it also validates my feelings of course. Wonderful post!

    • ashleyleia says:

      Normalization is interesting, though, in that can go either way. It’s good when it’s when conveying the messaged that certain experiences are a normal part of illness, but bad when illnress experiences are normal experiences that everybody has that have nothing to do with illness.

      • kachaiweb says:

        Yes you’re right, it started with all the symptoms being not as weird as I thought, so that was a relief!! And sometimes I find out that people are just funny and a little weird because of who they are. I learn that’s it’s ok to be not perfect. That has nothing to do with the illness but with my character. Both help me a lot but I feel the difference.

  3. LovingSummer says:

    I set out blogging to keep a record more than anything else, but was happily surprised to find people describing exactly what I was experiencing and suddenly it didn’t seem so abnormal or isolating.
    You gave me a massive leg-up yesterday. So it’s almost like an online therapy session some days! And I hope I didn’t invalidate your experience the other day about the guinea pigs running a mile…
    One day I’d love to be in a position to giving back as much as I’ve gained from here.

  4. Genevieve says:

    I really appreciate empathy on this platform. Just the act of writing a post helps me sort out my thoughts, but then posting it feels good because I know that other bloggers/readers truly understand because they’re coming from similar experiences. In the reverse, it’s also nice to offer empathy in a receiver-less way just by posting things and imagining that someone reading it will think “Dang. Me, too! They put that feeling into words.” I know that’s what I think when I read something that really resonates with me. Makes me feel less alone.

  5. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    Ashley, this was an outstanding posts with a number of points that are relative to what is happening all around the blogosphere.
    I too was receiving advice from bloggers that had no idea what my “Story” i life was like. I know their intentions were not malicious, but at the same time it bothered me as well.
    Unless the blogger knows the other blogger extremely well and the circumstances, it’s best for those who don’t know to just read, like or not like and move on.
    Fantastic post!!! 💗

  6. drgettingsober says:

    Thanks for this Ashley – you’ve put it so well! Lack of validation is an under recognised problem I think and a factor in many mental health issues. We can’t help others without first validating their experiences as they experience them and too often as professionals we jump to the advice and the ‘shoulds’ – we have to support people to find their own way – as you say alongside not pulling! X

  7. skinnyhobbit says:

    I absolutely love, love, love that you wrote this post. Personally, I want validation and empathy, and “realistic” affirmations from people with some “history” with me, or have had similar experiences… which is very individual of course.

    About affirmations, I definitely agree on people being in different places at different times. Everyone has their own path, their own needs, which affects what’s helpful for them, or the kind of compassion they can receive.

    For what it’s worth, I greatly value your posts, and your comments. I know you have your own struggles and stressors, and yet you offer so much kindness to so many others. I also learn a great deal from your writing and am really glad we’ve this wordpress community!

    • ashleyleia says:

      Thank you. ❤️ Yeah, having some history makes a difference, since it gives more context to the problems and a better awareness of what the person needs.

  8. wediditptsd says:

    This post felt very insightful and important. Thanks for it. We definitely blog to feel real. Our experiences are scary and we isolate. Blogging allows us to share with less shame. Turns out it’s people’s comments that feel the best. You are a very supportive person so that we interpret your intent as positive. We are obsessed with intent. To mean well is helpful for putting Love into the world.

    We are a much better “listener” and responder in writing. In person, we feel so much urgency to be perfect. We are the annoying fixer often face-to-face.

    Punisher has threatened to shut down our voicebox, which would probably make us more effective in delivering our message. Maybe we could think in ways that deescalate and allow us to use our plaintive “writing mind” in face-to-face situations.

    • ashleyleia says:

      Being able to connect this way is so valuable. I wish I could bring writing mind into face-to-face situations a little more effectively. It’s harder when there’s not that space to formulate responses,

Leave a Reply