Self-Validation: What Is It + Why Do I Need To Practice It?

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Why Accepting Your Feelings Is So Important

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

When it comes to friends and family, we’re great at validating. When a loved one tells us they’re having a stressful time at work courtesy of their overzealous boss, we let them vent and make it clear we’re on their side – ‘your boss sounds like a jerk – she’s so unreasonable!’ When friends vent to us about their relationship issues we show them that their feelings matter to us by listening with our undivided attention, asking the right questions, and sharing their hurt.

Are you as kind to yourself as you are to others?

Are you as kind to yourself as you are to others?

We’re great at offering support and validation to other people, so why is our own self-talk so invalidating? We tell ourselves we’re being ridiculous when we’re upset about feedback from our boss, or silly because we’re stressed about the number of jobs on our to-do list. Things we’d never dream of saying to a friend.

There’s a reason why we recognise and support the concerns and feelings of our loved ones – it’s helpful. When we validate the thoughts and feelings of others, it helps them to feel heard and understood. More than this though, it helps them to let go of whatever it is they’re struggling with. When we judge or criticise it has the oppose affect. It makes the other person feel bad for feeling the way they do and it keeps them stuck; they can’t let go of what they’re feeling because they feel the need to defend their reaction.

Invalidation – reacting critically, dismissively, or with judgment – is at the core of most relationship issues, just as it’s often at the core of many emotional issues like anxiety and depression. It’s also often our default when it comes to our self-talk. We forget to apply the validation skills we use so effortlessly with other people to our own thoughts and feelings, and end up feeling stuck as a result. But like with most things, change is possible with practice. Here’s 5 strategies for self-validation to get you started.

Step 1: Be Present

To be in a position to offer support to a friend, you have to first pay attention to what they’re saying. The same rule applies when it comes to self-validation. It’s impossible to validate thoughts and feelings unless you’re aware of them so be present and pay attention. Set aside time to reflect on how you’re feeing, and try to identify why you’re feeling this way.

Step 2: Accept, Don’t Judge

You won’t always like the way you react to a situation, and you won’t always think your thoughts and feelings are justified, but it’s important to accept your feelings for what they are. Being self-critical won’t help you to feel differently, in fact it’s more likely to keep you stuck. Practice accepting how you feel without judgment. You wouldn’t shame a friend for being honest about their feelings, so don’t be so hard on yourself.

Step 3: See Your Reaction in Context

One of the first things we do when we support the people close to us, is help them to understand their feelings in context. We say things like: ‘of course you snapped, you’ve had so much going on and you’re running on hardly any sleep, you’re not a bad mum, you’re a great mum’ or ‘you worked so hard on that project and gave up your weekends to try to get it across the line, it’s completely understandable that you’d feel upset it’s been dropped’. Look at the experiences, past and present, that might be influencing your reaction, then cut yourself some slack.

Step 4: Know You’re Normal

You’re human, not a robot. You’re going to have emotional reactions and not all of these reactions will be ‘right’ or ‘justified’, but you can’t control your initial reaction to a situation. If you’re finding it hard to accept your emotional reaction, step back and think about how someone else would react if they were in your shoes. Odds are if they shared your history and found themselves in the same situation, they’d react in exactly the way you are now. Keep this in mind and practice giving yourself permission, rightly or wrongly, to feel the way you feel.

Step 5: Change Your Self-Talk

As a general rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t dream of speaking to a friend the way you’re talking to yourself, you need to change your self-talk. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but practice trying to support yourself the way you’d support a friend. Your default will be to judge and be self-critical, but this will change in time with practice. The trick is catching yourself in the act and making a commitment to change.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families and has extensive experience working with anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


 

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