The one habit that could improve your life. (validation.)


By Angelica Shiels Psy.D.

Okay, so anyone who has read my blog or done therapy with me already knows that my favorite “therapy tool,” isn’t really a tool at all; It’s just a simple way of thinking:


What is validation, you ask?  Validation is simply acknowledging that a person’s feelings or behaviors are understandable. In other words, it makes sense that a person feels and behaves in the way that (s)he feels and behaves.  Validation does not require offering approval; it simply requires offering understanding.

Validation, like radical acceptance, is a hard habit for some to form, but can truly be transformative.

People who tend to be “internalizers,” or who channel their stress and “icky” experiences onto themselves, would do well to practice the art of validating their own feelings and behaviors.  Learning to validate yourself can stave off all kinds of barriers to emotional well-being including shame, depression, anxiety, and low self esteem.

People who tend to be “externalizers,” or who channel their stress and “icky” experiences onto other people– who are more likely to be blaming, aggressive, and acting-out– would do well to practice the art of validating the feelings and behaviors of others.  Learning to validate others can stave off all kinds of barriers to relationship well-being such as misunderstandings, disconnection, unnecessary criticism, and defensiveness.

In general, internalizers are more likely to voluntarily seek out therapy (or read a self-helpy psychology blog), whereas externalizers tend to seek out therapy when a loved one (or the court) mandates it.  So I am going to provide an in-depth example of self-validation.

(I am feeling particularly crunched for time as my kids are about to wake up from nap, so I will spare you one of my famously horrible cartoons. And yes, it makes sense that you are beside yourself with disappointment.  I can understand how my depriving you of a mangled depiction of a dude named Milton would prompt a melancholy sigh, along with the formation of a tiny tear in the corner of one of your eyes.) :

Validating of self: It makes sense that this morning I raised my voice with my oldest child and hastily sent him off to school with a disgusting plain jelly sandwich for his lunch.  It is understandable that my patience would be fried as I am currently sick, and two out of three of my kids are sick with something that makes them so miserable they don’t sleep at night and whine and scream all day.

Not validating of self:  WTF is wrong with you?  You are a horrible mom.  Weren’t you just reading an article on how bad it is to yell at your kid, and then you turn around and do it?

Why is validation good in this case?  Validating stops the cycle of self-deprecation-paralysis– the cycle that, when you feel like such a failing loser, causes you to either stop trying to do better, or keep messing up as a consequence of your insecurity/uneasiness.  Validating yourself “creates the space,” or creates the calm and matter-of-fact mindset (with no self-defensiveness or self-loathing) to be able to correct course, get back on the horse, and try again.

As a result of my validation, in my example, I felt empowered and motivated to spend some time snuggling with my son with renewed attention to my patience level.  If I would have gotten stuck in the “invalidating” thought process, I would have probably remained irritable and slightly depressed, and likely would have used the first part of naptime to sneak a half gallon of ice cream instead of reading stories with my son. Chronic invalidation of self can lead to depression, and in many cases, it is a paralyzing depression deprived of all motivation.

Validating buzz words:  It makes sense… I can see how you… I can see why you…. It is understandable that I…. Mhm… I hear ya…. I can see that. (I must say “I can see that” a thousand times a day, and I’m not lying.  I really can see how it would be infuriating to have your little brother wipe his booger on you. Now slowly step away from me without touching anything please.)

Invalidating buzz words:  I should…You should….Yah, but…. Are you serious?…You/I shouldn’t feel that way… How could you/I do that?… Why would I/you think/do that?…

The last time my husband said, “Why would you be stressed out? You have no reason to feel that way,”  I promptly wrote him a script on a post-it note of what he should have said. And, of course, I validated his invalidation: “Oh, sweet husband of mine, I can see how you would not have thought that was an offensively fucked-up thing to say…”


I encourage using the sophisticated art of “the compassionate white lie sprinkled with shameless flattery.” Also, post-its.

Anyway, I hope that motivates you all to stop and consider validation the next time the opportunity arises.  However, it is understandable if you don’t because you are still so saddened by my lack of cartoon in this post.


Wanna learn more about the behavior of validation and even learn the skills of empathy and compassion? And wanna know why and how all of these ways of thinking just might improve your well-being and your life?  Check out this book.

In the meantime, be sure to check out my facebook page, and message me if you would like your couples/kids/psychology questions answered anonymously on my blog!







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