My two favorite words are: listening and validation. And still a couple times recently, I have found myself biting my tongue to keep from giving advice. It was well-intended. I just wanted to help. But in both situations I realized that if the roles were reversed, I would be looking for validation not advice.
For example, a friend of mine told me about a memory that had surfaced of a time when she had been betrayed by someone close to her. My first instinct was to make excuses for the person that hurt her. Somehow I thought that would make her feel better. Then I remembered that my husband had recently made the same mistake. He tried to make me feel better by making excuses for someone that had hurt me. I appreciated that he was trying, but it made me feel even more frustrated. What I really wanted was for him to say, “What you are feeling is understandable.”
Another incident that really brought this home for me was in therapy. This week my therapist was “off”. I don’t know what happened but it felt like he was on auto-pilot mode (yes we discussed it). By auto-pilot mode I mean that I felt he was giving me less validation and more advice. He didn’t actually give me advice, I just felt the questions were leading that way and I didn’t like it. I felt let down.
The experience with my therapist helped me understand something else about validation. It’s more than saying, “what you are feeling is okay.” By validating someone, and not giving advice, you are saying, “I have confidence in you to find the answers you seek.” That feels empowering.
I think that being told that your feelings are understandable, and feeling someone’s confidence in you (feeling empowered) are especially important for survivors of abuse, because those are some of the very things that are taken from us by the abuse. When we are abused, the messages are clear, “Your feelings don’t matter,” and “There is nothing you can do about this. You are powerless.”
So next time someone shares a problem with you, consider validation instead of advice. It maybe the best gift you can offer them, especially if that person is a survivor.
Monday Mitzvahs were inspired by Linda Cohen’s book 1000 Mitzvahs.
- Monday Mitzvahs: Perhaps Self-control is the Greatest Act of Kindness (lesliegnelson.com)
- Monday Mitzvahs: 3 Keys to Avoid Saying the WRONG Thing (lesliegnelson.com)
- Monday Mitzvahs: Memorial Day – Remembering (lesliegnelson.com)