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Validation – The Key to Communication

shutterstock_232694104When one member of the family is suffering with any sort of mental health concern or crisis, the whole family is affected.  During these times, it is often hard for family members to know how to effectively communicate with that family member.  Do you say something? Do you ask how they are doing? Do you try to convince them that a solution is right? The questions swirl around, not seeming to land anywhere that feels right.  Starting an interaction off this way starts a whole other argument, derailing from the goal at hand, before you even start.

If someone you know is struggling with a mental health concern, chances are, you don’t get it. It’s hard to understand how they feel this way when you have known them to be, act or feel differently at other moments, on other days, in other situations or in other seasons.  The truth is, this situation is real, they do feel differently, and more importantly, you don’t really get it. How could you?

In these instances, the most effective communication tool you can acquire and learn to wield is validation.  As I teach Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills, this is a cornerstone for communication, and I feel everyone can benefit from it.  It is simple to do, yet it goes against what most of us know. Most people want to help solve, encourage, or help the other person “snap out of it.”  As most of us have experienced, our well-meaning efforts backfire, leaving us both frustrated and hurt. Validation gives us a nice bridge over this issue, to understanding each other as people.

Validation is not agreement. It’s not saying “its ok” or even giving permission. Validation is acknowledging the other person’s experience as they are experiencing it.  It is acknowledging that the other person’s experience is different than yours, and it may even be acknowledging that you don’t understand. What you CAN understand is their emotion.  You may not understand why they are emotionally responding as they are, but you can understand what it feels like to have that emotion. That is our very basic need.

Feeling heard keeps us more engaged.  Feeling heard and not told we are wrong is a necessity for healing. Collaboration is more likely to happen and progress is more likely to be made when the other person feels like they are being heard. It is imperative in any relationship to tap into these skills as often as possible, if this is a relationship you wish to keep intact.

I work with many families dealing with mental health concerns, and this is one of the first keys I hand them.  It unlocks many blocked avenues.  It is not the only answer, but it’s a good first step.  Without validation, it is hard to effectively implement any other skill.  When families come to a place of validation, the rest of the communication will flow easier. I welcome many families to come in and learn how to do this skill!

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