While recently out to dinner at a local mall, I noticed the sign pictured to the left as a reminder for customers to validate for parking. I was suddenly struck with the thought, “We need signs like this posted all over for help with our relationships!” Whether in regards to parking or our interactions with others, it costs us when we forget to validate. In forgetting to validate another, we miss an opportunity to connect. When we validate, we communicate our genuine interest and care for another and support one another to fully feel and process emotions. Validation assists to maintain connection even during conflict. Validating another in their present perspective often opens them to alternative perspectives, where the issue at hand may be handled more effectively.
When used in the pop culture vernacular, “validation” often refers to the need for some type of personal affirmation. For example, women may post provocative pictures on social media because they are seeking validation for their physical attractiveness. However, in relational psychology, the term validate has a different application. Relational validation is a form of being present with another through four steps: listening, attuning, mirroring, and affirming (LAMA). When validating this way, we are seeking to 1) hear the other, 2) feel what they feel and understand the logic of their perspective, 3) reflect this back to them, and 4) affirm their perspectives and emotional experience.
LISTEN. Truly hearing another with the intent to deeply listen requires our full awareness. We must listen with our whole being. We face the other, gaze at them intently, and filter out irrelevant sensory input. To be truly present with another, we must stop what we are doing, thinking, and saying. We hone in on their words, witness their body language, and discern their emotional tone.
ATTUNE. When we deeply listen with our whole being we empathically attune to the other. This means our being resonates with the mental and emotional frequency of the other like a silent tuning fork begins to resonate when brought into proximity with a singing fork. At the physical level of our being, research indicates this may occur through the action of certain cells in our nervous system called mirror neurons. For example, neuroimaging studies demonstrate that specific parts of the brain and neural circuits fire in a person feeling happy and jumping up and down. When others witness the happy person jumping up and down, their same brain and neural circuits will begin to fire simply through focused observation.
According to energy psychology theory and research, attunement at the subtle-energetic or bio-energetic level of our being involves sharing our essence with another, and we receive their essence in turn. The information stored in the subtle waves and particles at this level of the other is received and translated through our own system. We can then intuit empathically the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations of another. Often, just being this connected to another’s experience through our presence offers deep validation. This is the simple essence of compassion: to be with and feel with another. Compassion in its latin roots, com and passion means “to feel with.”
MIRROR. Once we are attuned, we demonstrate our empathy through mirroring the other’s experience back to them with our words, emotional tone, and body language. Paraphrasing what we heard the other express while subtly mirroring their facial expression, gestures, and tone, we communicate we are with them in their experience.
Let’s now apply mirroring to a concrete example. Imagine your wife comes through the door with a tense face, roughly sets down her bag and states she is upset that she lost an important account at work. Her eyes begin to water as she tells you her boss gave the account to a new coworker without letting her know. As you listen and attune, you are able to feel her distress. You sense she feels disrespected and disregarded. You mirror her by matching her distressed expression and upset tone as you say something like, “This account was really important to you and your boss just gave it to the new guy without even talking to you first. It seems like you feel disrespected.”
Sometimes it takes a few tries mirroring before we get it right, but the other will let us know when we are accurately reflecting their experience. We will observe a marked sign of emotional release or de-escalation: a nod, a verbal “yes,” perhaps a deep sigh, relaxation of the face and posture, or even a flood of held back tears.
AFFIRM. Once we are accurately mirroring, we then offer affirmation to the other. We continue to mirror during affirmation, however, we use words that support the logic and emotional experience of the other. Referring to the example above, an affirming husband might say, “It makes sense for you to feel this upset. It would have been more respectful for him to talk to you first,” or “I can see how upset you are and I get it! He didn’t show you the respect you deserve.”
Sounds simple, right? Perhaps you’ve already attempted to validate others and discovered how challenging validating can be…Why is it often so challenging to validate others? Before we can master validation, it’s also beneficial to examine the reasons we so often DON’T validate. In my next article, we’ll identify barriers we must often address before we can effectively offer deep listening, genuine attunement, accurate mirroring, and supportive affirmation. Stay tuned for Part II…