When someone is feeling down, it can be challenging to know what to say or do to help. Sometimes, they need a little validation — to know that their feelings are real and valid.
But what does validation actually mean? And how can you do it effectively?
According to experts, here are helpful ways to validate someone’s feelings, along with examples of how it can be done:
Yana Lechtman, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Choosing Therapy
We all want to feel seen and understood, and getting validation for our experiences is one way of feeling that. Validation is the recognition and affirmation of one’s experience, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and perception.
There are different ways to validate others; some can also be used to validate oneself.
According to Marsha Linehan’s Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) model, there are different ways to validate one another, with each deepening in the level of validation.
Adopting and adapting the DBT model, here are some examples of how you can validate your loved ones (or strangers) and make them feel more seen and worthy:
Actively listen and be fully present to them
Leave your phone or any other multi-tasking, and really listen and observe what is being communicated to you. If you want to validate their feelings, whether they’re your partner, child, parent, or friend, start by being fully present and attuned to what they are expressing.
Reiterate what was said and be open to readjusting your initial understanding
An accurate reflection of what was expressed can go a long way. Try to reiterate what was said; you can even use the same wording.
Saying something like: “I hear how difficult it is for you that X happened, and how that is making you feel ABC,” while filling in the blanks with your loved one’s own words can be extremely affirming.
You can also check for the accuracy of your understanding: “So I hear you are saying… did I get that right?” Be ready to stand corrected, and be open to readjusting your initial understanding of what is being expressed.
Articulate the unverbalized: Try to understand what is not being expressed explicitly
Make an attempt at being a “mind-reader.” Based on your previous knowledge of the person or the situation, try to understand what might be happening internally for your loved one, yet is not being expressed explicitly.
For example, you can comment on a facial expression such as “I see how sad/angry/scared this makes you feel” or comment on thoughts that may not have been articulated, “I can imagine you are also concerned about XYZ.” Again, be prepared to adjust your initial ideas.
Historical context: Previous experiences may have led to current events and feelings
Validate emotions and experience in terms of their cause.
Try to understand and reflect on your loved one how previous experiences have led to current events and feelings. Affirm how the context of the situation contributes to the current emotional experience.
For example: “It really makes sense that you are disappointed and angry that we can’t go on this trip, I know how much you were looking forward to getting some rest, yet you have to be on call again.”
Normalize the experience: Help them not to feel alone
Help your loved one not to feel alone in their experience.
Reflect with them that their emotions are normal and understandable: “Anyone would have reacted similarly in your situation…” or “I would also feel Y if I were in your shoes.”
Validating your loved ones will help support them in working through challenging experiences, and it is also a wonderful way to deepen your connections with them, leading to enhanced emotional well-being for all.
Sara Makin, M.S.Ed.,NCC,LPC
Founder & CEO, Makin Wellness
Reflective listening helps make a connection and convey attention and interest
Reflective listening is a great way to validate emotions — this is the practice of repeating what the person said to us — as it really helps make a connection and to help convey attention and interest.
When we repeat what someone has expressed to us, it shows the other person that we are considering their expression of emotion seriously.
For example, someone might say, “I felt hurt that you avoided me at the party.”
We can reflect that statement as, “I heard you say that you felt hurt,” to recognize the emotion expressed. This technique gives the person we are talking to a sense of safety because it shows they are being attended to.
In a world where our attention is constantly demanded, reflective listening assures that we are being heard and invited to talk about our feelings with someone. It places the emphasis back on their experience and lets them follow up.
Recognize feelings from non-verbal cues
Recognizing feelings from non-verbal cues is also a good way to validate emotions. If someone is sagging their shoulders, crying, or behaving in a reckless fashion, we can ask about their feelings. This shows curiosity and empathy.
“How are you feeling?” or “Is something upsetting you?” are simple ways to invite others to share their emotions and show recognition of their experience.
We don’t have to agree or disagree with someone’s emotional reaction to understand and validate their experience; the feelings are true regardless of what we think of their causes.
Be an active listener
The final step to validating feelings is to be an active listener.
Instead of taking a defensive or judgmental position, which can often cause others to feel invalidated, we can express curiosity and interest in the causes of the feeling.
By following along with their story and making eye contact or facing them physically, we can help them feel heard. The body language of the listener is so important in feeling validated, as it can show interest and compassion or boredom and disgust.
Bethany Webb, LCSW-C
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Grounded Roots Therapy and Consulting, LLC
Can you think back to a time that you felt someone understood and cared about how you felt? Like:
- What happened or did not happen?
- What did that person say or not say?
- How did they speak to you?
- How did you feel after the interaction?
Having your feelings validated can be a very safe and comforting experience. I am sure we can all think back to a time when our feelings were not validated and how terrible that can feel.
So if you are looking to validate someone’s feelings, you want to ensure that the validation is effectively communicated. So what do you do, and how do you do it?
Let’s start with what not to do:
Talking about yourself
When someone shares something with us, we might tap into our own experiences with something similar to access empathy for the person sharing with us, and that is great!
When this becomes unhelpful, the conversation goes from their experience to you saying, “You know, this reminds me of that one time I…” Now the focus has left the person sharing their feelings and is directed at you and your story.
“Minimizing”: It will leave the person feeling misunderstood
Another failed attempt at helping someone who is sharing their feelings with you might be to minimize. You might say, “Oh, that’s not that bad.” “I thought you had a real problem.” “It will blow over, don’t even worry about it.”
These phrases might be used as an attempt to reassure someone. However, it will most likely leave that person feeling misunderstood, lonely, and unheard.
Trying to stop the feeling
Have you ever heard someone say to a hurt child, “Don’t cry; you’re okay”? This is often an attempt at soothing a child by a parent or caregiver; the problem is that this phrase tells the child not to believe their own feelings and sensations.
Maybe they do not feel okay and need to cry but are now confused by this difference of instruction from an adult. The same can also happen when adults are sharing their feelings.
You might find yourself saying:
- “Don’t be angry with me.”
- “Don’t be sad; he was a loser anyways.”
- “Don’t be scared. Haunted houses are so fun.”
Again, all of these phrases are meant to soothe, but rather instruct the person who is sharing their feelings with you that it is not safe to share with you, or they should be feeling differently than they are.
So what should you do to validate someone’s feelings?
Repeat back what they have shared with you in your own words
You want the person that is sharing with you to know that you have heard them and are attempting to understand them correctly.
Repeating back what they have shared with you in your own words shows you have understood or are attempting to understand and gives them a chance to correct you if you have misunderstood.
An example of this might be: “I hear you saying that you felt left out when you weren’t invited to dinner.”
Normalize: Let the person know that their feelings make sense to you
People do not want to feel like their feelings don’t make sense or that they do not have the right to feel the way they do.
After confirming you understand the feelings they have conveyed to you, a great next step is to let the person know that their feelings make sense to you: “It makes sense that you would feel left out.” “You have every right to feel left out.”
Connect with this person in their feelings
Now that you have confirmed that you understand the feelings being shared with you and have normalized this person’s experience, this is your opportunity to help or simply connect with this person in their feelings.
An example of how you might do this is: “What does support look like from me?”
Put the steps all together
So now that we have broken down feelings validation into three steps, let’s put it all together into one:
“I hear you saying you felt left out when you weren’t invited to dinner. It makes sense that you would feel left out. You have every right to feel the way you do. What does support look like from me right now?”
And that is it! Three simple steps to helping those around you feel validated, safe, and understood.
Nicole Kleiman-Reck, MA, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Relationship Specialist, Choosing Therapy
Validating someone’s feelings is one of the best skills to conquer if you want a thriving relationship.
Express empathy: Paraphrase what someone has shared with you
Validating comes down to opening up your heart to really hear another person’s inner experience without judging them. It allows a person to feel safe opening up and being vulnerable. As you can see, it is a skill worth conquering.
Validating someone’s feelings starts with expressing empathy. This is paraphrasing what someone has shared with you and can be as simple as saying, “So you were feeling…” or “I can see that was a difficult experience.”
It’s important to remember that even if you disagree with someone’s viewpoint, you can still seek to understand it from their viewpoint. This allows you to stay true to yourself while also validating another person’s experience.
Be open-minded by putting your personal agenda aside
Another way to validate someone’s feelings is to be open-minded by putting your personal agenda aside. It can be tempting to want to defend your viewpoint, but this is one of the biggest ways to invalidate a person’s feelings.
An exercise that I recommend is to pretend you are a journalist with no personal relationship with the person in front of you.
If you take yourself out of the equation, you are less likely to get defensive and more likely to ask great questions to learn more about your partner’s perspective, which in turn, is extremely validating.
Be calm; it allows you to understand another person’s viewpoint
Remember to self-soothe. Yes, you are human and have emotions based on what you hear, but sometimes a deep breath (or two) can calm the nervous system to allow you to really seek to understand another person’s viewpoint.
Do what you need to listen and not let tension overwhelm you. Remember, taking a short break is never a bad thing, especially if you are able to better validate a person when you return.
If you can learn not to personalize another person’s experience, that will help you to validate another more easily.
Don’t look for a winner and a loser in the conversation
Remember, if you are trying to validate a person you care about, don’t look for a winner and a loser in the conversation. Getting into the habit of thinking, “Both viewpoints are valid, even if different,” will serve you both individually and in your relationship for the long haul.
Dr. Beth Ribarsky
Validating people’s feelings is important in making a person feel valued and respected. It is a crucial part of providing a form of social support to others.
Don’t dismiss their feelings by sharing your own experiences
Too often, though, we might inadvertently dismiss a person’s feelings by sharing our own experiences. This sharing is often done with good intentions — attempting to show the other person empathy.
For example, if your friend says, “I’m feeling really stressed about my upcoming presentation,” you might be tempted to respond by saying, “I know exactly how you feel. I was so stressed the last time my boss asked me to present.”
You may think this is a way of showing you understand, but what you’ve actually done is turned the focus back to yourself, becoming a monopolizing listener. This might help your friend know they’re not alone, but you’ve dismissed their current experience.
Additionally, you’ve assumed you know how your friend is really feeling, but we all have different lived experiences, and you might be off-base in your perceptions.
Instead, give them the room to talk about what they’re going through. You might rather say, “I’m sorry you’re feeling stressed,” which becomes a form of acknowledgment.
Provide room for them to talk by asking questions
Then, you can provide room for them to talk by stating, “Would you like to talk more about it?” This is important as it doesn’t force the other into disclosure. If they agree, you might say, “What is making you feel stressed?” This opens the floor for the conversation.
By asking questions, we make the person feel as though we are completely focused on them and interested in knowing more.
Last but not least, offer a form of reassurance or further support by saying:
- “I know you’ve got this! I have so much faith in your abilities.“
- “What can I do to help you out? Would you like to practice in front of me?”
Ginelle Krummey, MA, LCMHC, NCC
Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Founder, Growth Point Collaborative Counseling and Group Facilitation, PLLC
How to validate a person’s feelings comes down to one practice: Believe them. The opposite option, to invalidate them, simply states that what the person is feeling is not real or legitimate and communicates that you want them and their reality to go away.
It is very possible that a person’s feelings are not convenient for another or that a person is misreading an interaction or situation. It is also possible that you feel differently or didn’t even mean to cause a person’s feelings.
Despite these likelihoods, it still harms people to tell them their feelings are false, wrong, unnecessary, or an overreaction.
Reflect if you’ve heard them correctly, with no sarcasm
Before going into any additional explanations or curious questions for the person, the first step in validation is the reflection to verify that you’ve heard the person’s emotional claim correctly, with no sarcasm.
- “So you’re saying you’re hurt that I didn’t stir the pasta while you were out of the room, is that right?”
- “Sounds like you’re pretty mad your parents aren’t giving your brother a chance, is that right?”
- “Huh! You feel both relieved and devastated that your dad died, is that it?”
In these examples, the speaking person checks with the feeling person whether they’ve got the feeling right. That lends openness to feedback for the listener and the opportunity to correct the interpretation for the feeler.
Let them hear an affirmation
Another way to validate a person’s feelings is with an affirmation.
- “It makes sense that you would be afraid of the grocery store parking lot after having had an accident there.”
- “Of course, you’re upset with your boss for leading you on about the raise!”
- “Wow, I can really see how happy you are about this weather.”
In these examples, the listener has identified the emotions and offered the person a witnessing that their emotion has landed.
Often, just adding sentences like these before it’s time to add your contribution will help people move forward in the discussion rather than continuing to attempt to feel heard by talking in circles.
Believe the feelings of others
One big key is worth repeating: Believe the feelings of others.
It’s okay to feel differently from other people, and it’s work you can do within yourself to uncover why you might feel drawn to invalidate another person’s experience. Nobody chooses emotions, so there’s no sense in blaming people for them just because you don’t personally want to go there.
Dating Coach and Founder, Coaching Hearts Consulting
Validating someone’s feelings can take a surprising amount of self-control. You need to provide opportunity, space, and support.
Opportunity: Wait to have a quiet, uninterrupted moment to ask them questions
Obviously, you want to make sure that you are giving the person the opportunity and time they need to talk through their feelings.
For example, instead of asking a person a personal or sensitive question while they are multitasking and overly stressed, try waiting for them to have a quiet, uninterrupted moment to ask them questions so they can respond unencumbered and be honest.
Space: Let them feel safe when you ask questions
Once the other person has the opportunity to talk about their feelings, the best way to validate them is to simply let them talk in a safe space.
It can be surprisingly hard not to interrupt or want to share a similar anecdote story. You can encourage them to engage more with statements such as “How did you feel after that” or “Why do you think that happened.”
These types of open-ended questions help the person feel safe and validated in how they feel and can continue to share with you.
Support: It makes them feel heard
Once the person has the opportunity and space to share, then you will want to show them support. Even if you don’t agree or understand, it’s still how they feel, which is valid for them.
Use statements like the following:
- “I hear you, and that sounds hard.”
- “I am sorry you are going through this.”
- “I hear your frustration and want to help.”
Communicating your support allows the other person to feel heard and validated. Giving someone a feeling of validation can be extremely powerful and exactly what they might need.
Elena Duong, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist, Blooming Wellness Psychotherapy, Inc.
Validating someone’s feelings involves identifying, understanding, and accepting their point of view regarding their emotional experience. Validating a person’s feelings is a way people can show support for one another. We can validate another’s experience without dismissing our own.
Observe and identify the feelings
Observe the person’s facial expression and body language for clues on what emotions are coming up. If you are unsure what emotions are coming up for the person, feel free to ask them.
For example: “It looks like you are going through something. Are you feeling stressed?”
Practice active listening
Active listening encompasses being fully present, asking open-ended questions, and rephrasing back what the person shared with you. The point of active listening is to try to understand their perspective of what is going on.
For example: “You said you are feeling stressed about work. Can you tell me what is stressing you out at work?”
Avoid criticizing or blaming
A key part of validating a person’s emotional experience is not criticizing or blaming them for their experience, including their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.
Instead of criticizing or blaming, try taking on their perspective to see why they reacted or felt the way they did. Leaning into empathy is a much more constructive path forward.
For example: “I can see why you feel that way… that’s such a stressful work environment to be in. If I were you, I probably would feel the same way.”
Do not discount the significance of emotional support and validation. Feeling validated and supported emotionally can serve as an emotional buffer when we are struggling. Remembering that we are not alone in the world is helpful, especially when emotionally distressed.
Kevin Mimms, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Choosing Therapy
Ask about what they are feeling
Try first to understand what they are feeling. Even if you think you already know, ask anyways! Try not to assume or to fill in the ends of their sentences.
Relate to them first
You may be reminded of a time in your life you felt that way. Resist the urge to relate their feeling to themselves and try to keep this feeling in the context the other person has brought to this conversation.
Don’t take on their feelings as your own
Empathy is a powerful experience, and hearing about someone else’s pain can hurt us too. Remember that this feeling belongs to them, and your reaction only mirrors their feelings.
If this is challenging for you, there may be an unexplored context for you!
Believe them; don’t contest them or challenge them
Your friend’s feelings are legitimate, no matter how accurate their conclusions are. Don’t contest them or challenge them when you are trying to validate them. Those moments can come after, but do not rush to them.
Wait and be still; they came to you because they hoped you would listen
You are helping by listening. Don’t fix this for them — be with them. They came to you because they hoped you would listen (even if later they ask you to fix it for them). Wait. Be still.
Be calmer than they are because otherwise, they may think that they’re supposed to help you.
Ana De la Cruz, LMFT
Relationship Expert | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Choosing Therapy
The ability to self-soothe as needed and empathize with our partners is vital
In order to be patient, a person needs to have control over their emotions. To control our emotions, we have to be aware of what we are feeling and where it is coming from.
For example, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I being impatient because of an underlying emotion or need, such as hunger, lack of sleep, or fear?”
Often, we have no patience towards our partners due to our anxiety and ideas of how and when things need to be done. Once we understand that our own feelings predict our reactions to others’ situations, we can make better choices.
The ability to self-soothe as needed and empathize with our partners is vital in every relationship.
Patience requires a deep understanding of the individual’s own path and the ability to empathize with their process. Empathy means being able to really see how we would feel if we were in their shoes.
For example, if a spouse would like their partner to lose weight, an understanding of their emotional needs, medical profile, and motivation is required in order to be supportive.
Foremost, we need to check ourselves and gather information, and then we would be able to be patient and walk at their pace.
Nonetheless, most couples get frustrated with each other, wanting the other to join their own path. But the beauty of a relationship is sharing our unique experiences and the happiness that we gain from walking our own paths.
As long as our partner’s behavior does not hurt us as individuals (such as aggressive behavior, destruction of goods, or infidelity), we can all be patient towards their growth. Our partners don’t have to be at the same level of understanding or development in order to love them and show them grace.
Kate Nichols, LCSW
Psychotherapist, Cycle Breakers Therapy
Do a combination of active and reflective listening
One of the best ways to validate someone’s feelings is by showing that you understand what they’re saying. You can do this through a combination of active and reflective listening.
With active listening, you are not just hearing what the person is saying and waiting to respond but also conveying that you are listening to and hearing them via eye contact, body language, and your own tone of voice.
Then, you can use reflective listening, which is responding to the person by reflecting back on what you’ve heard.
For example, someone is crying and telling you how they feel frustrated and overwhelmed with work. You actively listen by making gentle eye contact, meeting their eyes from time to time, and allowing them to break eye contact with you.
You also might make sure your arms are not crossed, conveying open body language and lowering your head slightly or towards them to show interest and connection. You also may notice your own face dropping towards a frown as you reflect their own sadness. Then, you might repeat back a bit of what they said.
It’s okay to directly quote or paraphrase based on your understanding, “It sounds like you’re feeling really overwhelmed and frustrated right now.” And you can add something like, “I think anyone would feel that way under all this pressure,” which normalizes the way they are feeling.
This also helps you to get on the same page and make sure you understand, giving the other person the opportunity to clarify.
By listening and responding in this way, and without direct input, feedback, or challenge, you are conveying the message that someone’s feelings are valid and making sure they feel heard and understood.
Have an open mind
In order to validate someone else’s feelings, it’s also important to have an open mind. Just because we might not feel the same way doesn’t mean the other person’s feelings are wrong or bad.
Feelings themselves are spontaneous responses to our experiences, and they really can’t be good or bad.
This is different from what we do with our feelings. Of course, we don’t want to do anything to endanger ourselves or others, but the feelings themselves are just feelings.
Having an open mind can help you to better validate someone’s feelings.
Amber Weiss, M.A., NCC, LMHC
Licensed Psychotherapist | Founder, Transformative Mindset
Recognize their feelings through verbal and nonverbal responses and reflection
The validation of one’s feelings is an act of acknowledgment. By acknowledging one’s feelings, you are communicating that you recognize their emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and experiences that have led them to this point.
Validation should reflect empathy and the understanding of another individual’s perspective. Validation can be given through verbal responses, nonverbal responses, and reflection.
- “It makes sense that you feel ____ after ____.”
- “I value your ability to ____.
- “What you are feeling right now is normal. I have noticed that ____.“
- “It makes sense that you think ____ because ____.”
- “What happened?”
- “You are having a rough day.“
- “Please tell me about ____.”
- Active listening (Nodding your head, eye contact, body language, facial expressions, “Mmhm,” “Right,” “I understand,” etc.)
Repeating what you have heard to ensure that you understand the point that the other individual was trying to get across.
Social Psychologist and Dating Expert | Founder and Director, The Match Lab
Across time and cultures, all people want to feel heard, understood, and cared for. Validation can achieve these ends.
Validation plays a key role in maintaining and strengthening many types of relationships, from romantic relationships to friendships and even to business partnerships.
In providing validation, one person recognizes and affirms that another person’s feelings are real and understandable. Validating doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with someone but is instead about acknowledgment.
Some ways to validate a person’s feelings are to listen mindfully, listen actively, and show understanding.
Listen mindfully to make them fully heard
Listening to someone mindfully is crucial for making them feel fully heard. It’s important to put down screens, pause other activities, and give someone your full attention as they speak.
Stay physically present in the conversation by maintaining eye contact and keeping your body positioned openly toward the person.
Listen actively; treat this conversation as an opportunity to learn
Listen actively by nodding, giving brief verbal responses from time to time (e.g., saying “I see”), and asking questions to understand the person’s experience and perspective better.
Don’t ask questions with the goal of solving the person’s problems; it’s best to avoid giving unsolicited advice.
Instead, ask questions aimed at understanding where the person is coming from and what they’re going through. Be curious about their experience and treat this conversation as an opportunity to learn.
Show understanding to provide reassurance and create a sense of security
Show the person that you understand what they’re going through and why they feel this way.
Statements such as “It’s perfectly natural to feel that way” and “I think everyone would feel the same way in that situation” can provide the reassurance needed for validation, ultimately creating a sense of security.
MS Education | BCBA | Founder and Owner, Bridging Worlds Behavioral Services
The best way to validate someone’s feelings is to feel it with them by using empathy.
Give them the space to feel what they are feeling
If somebody has just lost their mother and they are telling you about their feelings, you first want to give them the space to simply feel what they are feeling.
Let yourself feel their sense of loss — you can draw on whatever loss you have experienced yourself in order to empathize with them.
Allow them to be where they are
The best thing you can do to validate someone is to allow them to be where they are and give them support. You simply encourage them to be where they are.
In the case of someone who lost their mother, all of the grief they feel is appropriate. They may alternate from feeling the pain of loss to anger and guilt.
Don’t invalidate their feelings even though you might have an alternative perspective
The most validating thing you can do is to affirm that it is okay to be just the way they are in that moment. When you disagree with someone, the way to validate their feelings is also through empathy. When we use empathy, we understand where they are coming from. We don’t invalidate their feelings even though we might have an alternative perspective.
Articulate their perspective back to them to show you understand
The best way to help someone feel validated is to articulate their perspective back to them to show you understand what they are saying.
The more you disagree with somebody, the more you want to show them you understand what they are saying — before you disagree.
In the case of abortion, you might say:
“I understand there is a fetus in the human being that is coming into existence. I understand that abortion is a serious thing which should never be taken lightly. And I also believe the woman should have the right to choose even if there is another life involved.”
So you validate the feelings and beliefs of the other person first, even as you challenge their perspective.
In a breakup that you’ve initiated, the other person is likely going to be hurt and angry. They may also feel betrayed and abandoned by you.
You don’t have to defend yourself or prove you are not whatever they say you are. Let them feel whatever they feel.
If they say things that aren’t true, continue to understand their feelings without validating the distortions they are creating about you. For example, if they start saying things like, “You never cared about me,” you can respond by saying, “I hear that you are hurting.”
Create a safe place for them to exist
When we validate each other’s feelings, no matter what the case may be, we create a safe place for all to exist. To create a world that works for everyone — the mission of the non-profit Heart-Centered Revolutions — everybody has to be able to fully feel what they feel.
Chris Rabanera, LMFT
Licensed Online Therapist | Founder, The Base EQ
Validating someone’s feelings is a skill that everyone can learn. There are a few steps involved:
Listen to what the person is saying
The first step is to listen to what the person is saying. You are trying to get an understanding of what the person is experiencing and how they feel. This isn’t easy as people want to give feedback instantly to the person.
You need to hear what they are saying before you can speak. You are trying to get a clear picture of the situation. You are going to use this information in the next step.
Ask clarifying questions
Step two is to ask clarifying questions. When the person is finished saying their piece, you want to ask clarifying questions because you may not have heard them correctly.
You want to ensure that you have a great understanding of what they are experiencing and feeling. Now is the time to ask questions if you are unsure about anything.
Summarize what they said — have a full understanding of the situation
Step three is to summarize what they told you. If you’ve been listening to the person and fully understand the situation, you’ll be able to summarize what they said.
If you follow the first two steps, you can easily summarize what they said. You can say something along the lines of, “I want to make sure that I heard you correctly. (Give summary). Did I understand the situation correctly?”
Ask more clarifying questions if they said you did not get what they were saying. Then summarize again. Repeat this process until they say that you have it right. Step three acknowledges what that person has said.
Ask if they want feedback or if they only want you to listen
Step four is when you can validate a person’s feelings. During step four, acknowledge their experience and empathize with them. You can also ask if they want feedback or if they want you to only listen.
Many people have difficulty with this step because they usually give feedback as step 1 or want to give feedback when the person doesn’t want it. If the person wants feedback, you can share your advice. If the person wants you to only listen, only listen.
Senior Editor, Tandem
We’ve all had times when we didn’t feel like ourselves. Whether we are mad at someone or sad about something, there are many reasons that can cause us to have negative emotions. When our feelings are affected like this, we might seek validation from others.
If you want to validate someone’s feelings, there are a few things you can do:
Listen, but don’t judge
The person you are trying to help probably is merely looking for a sympathetic ear. Listen to them with compassion. Don’t make comments or judgments about what they tell you. Just be there for them.
Repeat what you were told
If you are able to repeat what they have said to you back to them, it will help the other person to know that you listened and understood them. Never tell their story to anyone else, though. That could be breaking their trust.
Use body language and stay present
No matter how tempting it might be to zone off when someone else needs you to be there for them, make sure you are there both physically and mentally.
You can use body language, such as head nods, to let them know you are with them.
Don’t make it about you
Though you might have gone through a similar situation, it won’t help to tell the other person about it. They may think you care more about yourself than them, and it could leave them frustrated. Leave that story for another day.
Refrain from offering advice
They might have reached out to you so that they could feel validated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are looking for advice.
No matter how well-intentioned you are, it’s best not to offer any advice unless they specifically ask for it.
Be encouraging; let them know they will get through this
Just because you shouldn’t necessarily give them unsolicited advice, this does not mean that you shouldn’t be encouraging. Provide words of encouragement that let them know you are there for them and they will get through this.
Sometimes the incident a person is looking to be validated for won’t align with your thoughts or beliefs.
If this is the case, find a way to respectfully excuse yourself so that you aren’t put in a situation where you feel uncomfortable. Hopefully, however, you can help validate someone’s feelings, and they might even be able to do the same for you one day.
Mental Health Specialist, Healthy Minded | Professional Psychology Writer and Trainee Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist
Name the emotion
Naming the emotion is a technique psychotherapists use to move a feeling out of the unconscious and into the client’s awareness.
For example, say you’re sitting across from your friend at a cafe, and they’re visibly stressed — there are stress creases on their forehead, and they’re hunching their shoulders. You could validate their emotions by saying, “Gosh, I can see you’re really stressed right now.”
Use your body language to your advantage
The last thing someone wants when they’re opening up is to see the other person scrolling through social media or paying attention to something else.
You can use your body language to validate someone’s emotions by demonstrating you’re listening to them:
- Facing them.
- Nodding while they speak.
- Not giving in to distractions.
Keep the boundary
This tip is for parents especially.
When your toddler is having a tantrum or your teenager refuses to do as you ask, the first step is to validate their emotions by saying something like, “I can see you’re super frustrated.”
This shows empathy and understanding of their perspective. It also communicates that their feelings are important. However, it’s essential to keep the boundary at this moment, even when they are upset, frustrated, etc.
Boundaries keep everyone safe and demonstrate respect, so it’s important not to bend the rules because of negative emotions.
This is the second half of validating emotions: Staying consistent.
These are examples of simple validation statements:
- “Gosh, you’re finding it really hard right now.”
- “Damn, I can see why you’d feel that way.”
- “I’m sorry you feel like that. Can I help?”
- “It’s not a wonder you’re annoyed/angry/frustrated — I would be too!”
Founder, Kind Hearts Brigade
Deep conversations only turn to difficult conversations when the subject is personal. It’s easier to talk about the football game, but when it comes to talking about your day or something personal that happened to you, it gets tricky.
Things often go wrong when people try to talk to you about their day, and you either try to find holes in their story or offer advice that wasn’t asked for in the first place. This often leads to people feeling invalidated.
When you invalidate someone’s feelings, you reject their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This often leads to people feeling worthless, which greatly impacts self-esteem and relationships.
Essentially, how would you feel if a friend or a partner invalidated your feelings? You would feel hurt, but maybe you would also not share your feelings with them in the future to protect yourself. This can cause a rift in the strongest of relationships.
Hence, it’s important to validate someone’s feelings, especially in sensitive conversations.
Here are a few ways you can do the same:
Let them be heard and feel heard
Most people aren’t looking for solutions, they’re looking for a shoulder or someone to truly hear them. When you nod while listening or give them cues like a physical hug or a verbal “yes,” that’s when they feel validated.
They want to know that they are heard. They want to know that their story is understood and that they will receive the support they need. Empathy is very important in cases like this.
Therefore, group therapy or support groups work so well. Situations feel less alienating. There’s nothing more validating than hearing someone else understand you because they’re going through the same thing.
Acknowledge their emotions; do not dismiss their feelings
Recognize that emotions and journeys are unique. Not everyone goes through the same thing, and not everyone has been on the same path that you have been.
The best way to validate someone is to acknowledge their emotions about a certain thing and not dismiss their feelings just because you don’t feel the same way.
Respect what they bring forward and validate the story they share
Pay attention to the boundaries that people put up. Most often, when people share their stories, they share them from a place of vulnerability. When a person is vulnerable, they are more sensitive, and there is a higher chance of feeling invalidated.
If a person shares a story, they may choose to leave out certain sides of the story for reasons personal to them.
If they choose not to share that story or show any signs of discomfort or hesitation, it’s important not to pursue it and not press on for more questions.
By doing this, you choose to respect what they bring forward and validate the story they share.
Dr. David Seitz
Medical Director, Ascendant Detox
Acknowledge their feelings
The first step in validating someone’s feelings is to acknowledge the emotion they are feeling.
This can be done by simply saying something like: “I understand that you’re feeling (emotion).”
This simple action helps the person to know that their feelings are being seen and heard.
Show empathy for how they are feeling
The next step is to show empathy for how they are feeling.
You can do this by saying something like: “That must be really tough,” or “I can tell you are really struggling right now.”
This helps the person to feel like they are not alone in their feelings and that someone understands them.
Ask open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions is another great way to validate someone’s feelings. Open-ended questions allow the person to express themselves and explain why they feel a certain way.
Questions like, “What has been going on?” or “Can you tell me more about that?” can be helpful in this situation.
Finally, it is important to offer support and encouragement to the person who is feeling overwhelmed or upset.
You can do this by offering your help in some way or just listening and being there for them. It can also be helpful to remind the person that they are loved, and you are here to support them.
Be an active listener and see things from their perspective
One of the most important aspects of validating someone’s feelings is being an active listener. This means giving your full attention to the person and really trying to see things from their perspective.
Active listening can be done through body language, eye contact, mirroring, and parroting back what the other person said. All these techniques help signal that you are engaged and listening.
Acknowledge others’ feelings
Another way to validate someone’s feelings is to acknowledge what they are feeling without passing judgment. This means recognizing and accepting their emotions instead of trying to talk them out of them or make them feel like they shouldn’t feel that way.
For example, if someone expresses sadness about a situation, you can say, “I can hear how sad you are about that; it must be really hard for you.” It’s also helpful to try to understand why the person is feeling a certain way.
Asking questions like “What made you feel that way?” or “How did this make you feel?” shows them that their feelings are important and worthy of exploration. This helps the person feel seen, heard, and understood.
COR.E Dynamics Specialist | ELI-MP | Certified Professional Coach, Clear Mind Zen Life
When we see someone under stress, it’s easy to jump right into solution mode to try and ‘fix’ the issue.
But there is one step that is more important than the solution itself but is often skipped over. It is validating their feelings.
Why is validating someone’s feelings important?
When someone is under stress, they are overwhelmed with emotions. And those emotions will continue to fester even if the issue is resolved.
The earlier the stressor recognizes and acknowledges their emotions, the more receptive they will be to move on. Otherwise, the stressor will subconsciously continue using their energy to think and maul over the issue.
How to effectively validate their feelings:
Be present and show eagerness while they are talking
When the stressor is telling us their story, be present and truly listen to them. Sometimes our eagerness to help prompts us to start thinking of solutions while the stressor is talking, or we start thinking about how we would feel about the situation.
Know that validation is not us agreeing with them; it is understanding their perspective of the situation. Not being fully present blocks us from hearing what they are telling us and prevents us from seeing what they are not conveying to us.
Acknowledge and clarify any misinterpretations
Repeat back to the stressor on what you’ve heard, so they feel listened to. Sometimes when we listen to a story, we interpret things differently.
By repeating back, a summary of what you’ve heard will open up the opportunity to clarify any misinterpretations.
Validate without giving any personal input
Keep in mind that the stressor is overwhelmed with emotions and isn’t in the right frame of mind. Adding personal experiences at this point might further overwhelm them.
Keep it simple and validate them by saying: “Given what you just told me, it makes total sense why you’d feel that way.” This validation is genuine without you giving any personal input.
Ask for permission
Before you jump into solution mode or share your personal experiences with them, ask for permission to share. Sometimes all the stressor wants to do is vent.
Related: How to Respond to Someone Venting
They might already know what they need to do to fix the problem. All they needed was an ear to listen and validate that their thoughts and feelings weren’t crazy.
Author | Writer, Hoomale
Validation is an essential process in our lives. It helps us feel understood and respected, boosting our mood and overall well-being. There are many ways to obtain validation, but verbal and emotional are the most common.
Verbal validation is when someone says things that make us feel good about ourselves. It could be anything from compliments to affirmation.
Emotional validation is when we receive hugs, kisses, or words of comfort during tough times. Both types of validation are vastly important and can help us to regain control over our emotions and move forward in our lives.
Here are some ways to validate someone’s feelings:
Ask them what they want or need
This allows the other person to express their feelings in a safe and comfortable environment.
For example: “Do you want to talk about what’s bothering you? I can listen, or we could do something else if that’s what you’d rather do.”
When someone is talking, give them your full attention. Don’t multitask or look away; instead, focus on what the person is saying and why they feel the way they do. It will help you better understand their position and help you build a better relationship with them.
For example: “It sounds like you’re feeling really down right now. Can I ask what’s making you feel that way? Sometimes talking about our feelings can help to relieve them.”
Mirror their emotions
When someone is expressing negative emotions (such as sadness or anger), it can be difficult for them to feel validated. Permit them to express these feelings without judgment or criticism and simply listen attentively.
For example: “It sounds like you’re really frustrated with yourself right now. Can I ask why? It might be helpful for me to understand what’s going on.”
Relationship Expert | Published Author, PeopleLooker
Recognize their feelings
Start by acknowledging their feelings and explaining that you understand how they are feeling. This does not mean you have to agree with them, but merely that you recognize the emotion, they’re experiencing.
Example: “I understand that you’re frustrated right now.”
Engage by asking open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions will allow the person to share their thoughts and feelings. This helps them to express themselves and can help you to better understand what they are going through.
Example: “Could you please elaborate on what happened?”
Avoid making judgments
It’s important not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions concerning the person’s feelings. If you do, you may invalidate their experience. This could also cause them not to open up with you again in the future or to feel ashamed.
Example: “You may feel this way for a variety of reasons, and I completely understand.”
Validate their feelings
The best way to validate someone’s feelings is to repeat back to them what they’ve said. It will make them feel heard and understood. This will help them to process the way that they are feeling and work through their problems.
Example: “I hear that you are really upset about this.”
Consider offering support to the individual. This could be a comforting gesture, such as a hug, or simply listening to their concerns. No one wants to feel alone when they’re going through something, so offering a little bit of support can go a long way.
Example: “I’m just here if you need someone to talk to.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I don’t agree with the person’s feelings?
When you acknowledge a person’s feelings, it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It simply means that you acknowledge that the person is experiencing those feelings and accept them as valid. You can still offer your own perspective or opinion but try to do so in a non-judgmental way without invalidating the person’s emotions.
Can I validate someone’s feelings without agreeing with their actions?
Yes, you can validate someone’s feelings without agreeing with their actions. For example, if someone is feeling angry and wants to confront someone else, you can validate their anger without necessarily agreeing with their decision to confront the person.
Validating someone’s feelings isn’t condoning or enabling their behavior, but accepting their feelings as valid and expressing empathy and support.
Can validating someone’s feelings be done in written communication?
Yes, you can express a person’s feelings in writing, such as by email or text message. However, it’s important to watch your tone and language, as written communication can sometimes come across as cold or impersonal. Try to use language that expresses empathy and support, and avoid abbreviations or slang that could be misinterpreted.
Is it possible to over-validate someone’s feelings?
While it’s important to validate a person’s feelings, it’s also possible to over-validate to the point where it becomes disingenuous or even enabling.
For example, if someone is constantly asking for validation for the same problem, it may be helpful to gently encourage them to seek professional help or take some action to address the underlying problem.
Also, if a person’s feelings are harmful or dangerous (for example, if he/she expresses suicidal thoughts), it may be necessary to intervene or seek professional help.
How can I tell if I’m effectively validating someone’s feelings?
Here are a few signs that you’re effectively validating someone’s feelings:
• They seem to relax and feel less anxious or upset.
• They feel more comfortable opening up to you.
• They express gratitude or thank you for listening.
• They feel affirmed and understood.
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