Validation is a key relationship skill for any relationship. But for a person in a mental health crisis, it is oxygen.
For a trauma survivor or person going through a bad mental health episode, there is nothing worse than being told that they are exaggerating or they are out of touch with reality. This approach makes them defensive and we lose our means of communicating with them and comforting them.
Validation is a key skill for us to practice. Validation involves accepting and verbally recognising another person's emotions and feelings as being their very own experience of the world. Even if it does not agree with our view of the world.
For instance, your friend may feel like he was totally ignored and ridiculed at the college reunion. You may not feel this was so. In his own way, he believes he is right. Acknowledging this is an important bridge in this communication.
Validation is actively listening to someone else, actually hearing someone else, accepting someone else’s experience as real.
It is also reflecting back to the person their own feelings or emotions that we recognise.
"I see you are sad about this situation."
"I am aware of how angry this made you. Although I wouldn't be this angry, I recognise how angry you are and I accept that it is how you are feeling"
Validation is indeed a skill that you can use with anyone. In work, with your neighbors and your friends. Practice it first and see how easily it makes connections with others possible! People will open up and trust more when they feel their views and emotions are validated.
Someone in a crisis is on emotional quicksand, so rejection of feelings in a situation is experienced as total rejection. A specific rejection of a feeling in a situation becomes a global, whole person rejection. “You never understand me. You always support the other person”. Communication breaks down.
Judgement of how they handled a specific situation is experienced as judgement of their whole person, not just the situation.
Getting a message that their emotional perceptions are flawed teaches a person in crisis to distrust their perceptions. This makes it difficult for them to make decisions, to take action or to solve problems. This is called "Learned Helplessness”.
Validation is not blindly agreeing to everything the other person says. It is finding a common ground in both your experiences and articulating it. This common ground is important for the trust in this relationship.
Please also see a technique called LEAP by Dr Xavier Amador. See our Tamil book review on his book நான் நலமில்லாமல் இல்லை, எனக்கு ஒரு உதவியும் வேண்டாம்.