Emotional Validation

The feelings of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are often rejected, ignored, or judged.  This is emotional invalidation.  Especially if born into the religion these people may experience a very profound level of personal invalidation.  Not only are they told what to believe but they are also told what they feel.  Any personal feelings or experiences must be pushed aside.  For help with learning how to validate ourselves and others lets look at six levels of emotional Validation based on work by Marsha Linehan Ph.D.

What does validation mean?  It means to recognize and accept another persons feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and perspectives as understandable.  Validation is related to unconditional positive regard which I talk about here.  XJWs often need to develop self-validation alongside validation of others.  As we go through Linehan’s six levels of validation I am going to talk about how to be self-validating as well as how to validate others.  Validation is something we need to practice.  By practicing self validation we will get better at validating others and by validating others we will get better at validating ourselves.

  1. The first Level is Being Present.
    • Being present with others:  When you are spending time with others practice being present by focusing on what they are saying and not letting you mind wander.  You can be present with others by literally being physically with them as a means of support. If a friend is at the hospital visiting them would be a way to be present with them.  Not playing on your phone while others are expressing themselves is being present.
    • Being present with yourself:  To be present with yourself means deliberately giving attention to your internal experience.  Take time and be with yourself rather then trying to suppress your internal experience.  Just experience what your feeling with acceptance and non-judgmentality.  This can be tough.  I suggest learning about meditation and Secular Buddhism to help you with this.  I recommend reading Secular Buddhism by Noah Rasheta and Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor.
  2. The second level of validation is Accurate Reflection.
    • Accurate Reflection with others:  This is just to summarize what someone is saying and repeat it back to them.  This shows that you are listening.  Its important your summary is not artificial sounding.  You want it to be in a sincere and caring way.
    • Accurate Reflection with yourself:  Sometimes we are just experience things and we don’t verbalize what we have experienced.  Sometimes its because we are afraid to.  Sometimes is because we don’t have the words to describe what we’ve experienced.  By putting together the words and summarizing our experiences we can validate yourself.
  3. Level Three is Emotion Labeling.
    • Emotion Labeling with others:  As you observe others try to think about what emotions they might be experiencing.  Many times people experience emotions but are unaware of what emotion they are are experiencing.  You can support them by taking a guess at what they might be feeling.  You could say something like, “I’m guessing you must have felt pretty hurt when your brother stopped talking you.”
    • Emotion Labeling with yourself:  Similarly we ourselves experience many emotions but we might not know what we are feeling.  We might not have a label for it.  By taking time to experience what we are feeling and by identifying what we are feeling we can self-validate.
  4. Level Four is Understanding the Person’s Behavior in context.
    • Understanding behavior of others in terms of context:  The fourth level of validation is understanding a person’s behavior the context of their biology and their specific experiences.  For example someone might feel sad and alone, and if they have just been shunned by their family these feelings are normal.
    • Understanding your own behavior in context:  An important act of self-validation is understanding yourself in terms of your own history and biology.  Do you feel bad about not having the degree you want?  Well understanding those feelings in the context of being born into a fundamentalist cult is a way of validating yourself.
  5. Level Five is normalizing or recognizing emotional reactions that anyone would have.
    • Normalizing and recognizing emotions in others:   Level four and five are similar  Helping others to understand that their emotions are normal is validating.  Helping others to understand that given what has happened there emotions and behaviors are to be expected.
    • Normalizing and recognizing emotions in yourself:  Just the like the above but in regards to oneself.  Take a moment to validate your own emotional reactions by acknowledging that given your circumstances the feelings are normal.
  6. Level Six is Radical Genuineness.
    • Radical Genuineness with others:  When someone expresses their feelings you can express that you have been through the same thing and therefore you uniquely possess a deep level of genuine understanding.
    • Radical Genuineness for yourself:  Practicing this with yourself is a little bit different.  You might be able to get this genuine deep level of validation by reading stories of other survivors.  You might also be able seek out other people who have experienced what you have experienced.

Not all levels of validation are possible in all instances.  Some are more appropriate in certain circumstances.  It’s easy to read about validation and its another thing to practice it.  So go out and practice validating each other and yourself!  You will get better the more you practice!

Reference: Understanding Validation: A Way to Communicate Acceptance by Karyn Hall Ph.D.

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Published by Ryan David Tuttle

PhD Graduate student studying Behavioral Neuroscience, Addiction, Stress, Behavioral Economics, and Individual Differences. Former member Ministerial Servant and Pioneer in a Spanish speaking congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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