After a difficult work week it feels nice to get together with a buddy of mine for a meal or a couple of beers. I’m typically not particular on where we go because all I really want is to sit down and spill my guts out to him about how shitty everything is. I can get into this mode where I begin generalizing how I wish life was better at home or how I wish I didn’t study Food Science and went into the Arts instead.
It’s much easier to talk about my problems on a full stomach. Sometimes I would choose something healthier on the menu like a salad or a wrap and sometimes I would go all out with a plate of greasy nachos to myself.
After I’ve exhausted all that I had to say, I usually feel a lot better partly because my buddy was able to validate what I was going through. Validation…it’s such a powerful word. The Webster dictionary provides the following as one of the definitions of to validate: to recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of.
“Being heard, understood and validated can do miracles.”
Part of the problem when we have a bad day at work, an argument with our partners, feeling depressed, anxious or angry is that we don’t properly get the attention that we require. What I mean is that we often times say we “just need to vent” but what does that mean? We do need to vent our frustrations but it’s just as important to have the next step that follows after venting which is to be validated by someone. When we get validated, it tells us that our opinions and thoughts matter and that we are heard and not disregarded which is ultimately what our subconscious wants. Professional validation comes in the form of counseling (read: Finding a Counselor…) which I highly recommend because they are educated and trained to provide a deeper sense of attention, care and structure.
In an IMAGO couples therapy workshop I previously attended they emphasize the value of validation in a more scripted format, for example here’s a an over-simplified version of how the dialogue might look like:
Me: “I feel frustrated that you didn’t help take the garbage out again after I asked.”
Partner: “Let me get this right, you feel frustrated that I didn’t help take the garbage out. Is that correct? Is there more?”
Me: “I feel ignored when you’re sitting on the couch watching TV.”
Partner: “Let me get this right, you feel ignored when I’m sitting there watching TV, is that correct? Is there more?”
We continue and repeat this cycle until I’m done sharing how I feel.
Partner (Summary and Validation Step): “If I understand correctly, you’re feeling frustrated with me sometimes. That must make you feel ignored, insignificant and maybe even a little angry!”
This is one of many validation models but the important part to note is that we feel a sense of relief because our venting was actually acknowledged without judgment. It does not tell us whether we are right or wrong but it tells us that we are worthy enough to be heard. At the end of the day whether we are right or wrong is objectively insignificant during disagreements or venting sessions, it’s about being heard and regarded.
“Validation does not tell us if we are right or wrong. That is not the objective. The objective is to be reminded that we are important enough to be heard without judgment.”
Validation can bring so much relief to the person venting and a solution most of the time will present itself to them. Whether it’s your teen venting to you about feeling depressed, your wife venting about her job or your friend venting about family issues we all just need to have that safe space to share our thoughts and be heard. What does not work is when the listener gets frustrated in listening and offers their biased opinion in order to move on. Years ago when my son wasn’t talking to me for a period of 8 months, I wept on the bed one night staring at a photograph of he and I at Canada’s Wonderland. My girlfriend at the time crudely asked, “Why are you crying?! He’s just being a Jerk!”
“Offering solutions is sometimes not the answer to the problems.”
Needless to say there was no discussion, no intimacy nor trust built that night between her and I. Sharing our own biased opinions and judgments can disrupt communication because it sends out the message that they are not interested in listening to the problem but would rather move on with it. So be careful when offering solutions and biased opinions to whoever is venting. Most of the time people just want to be validated without trying to solve their problems unless they’re in a really tight pickle or specifically ask for it.
Try validating your friends or family members the next time they vent to you. Offer some validation that you genuinely hear them with as little judgment as possible. Empathize and be compassionate by sitting beside them and you will find a very pleasant and different outcome versus offering them a solution and trying to fix it.