Validation and Agreement: What Is the Difference?

Excellent blog article: The 6 Levels of Validation, (from Living with Borderline Personality Disorder). The author summarizes lessons about validation from DBT residential treatment. “Validating,” she observes, “refers to the process of acknowledging and accepting someone’s experiences as valid and understandable. Even if you may not necessarily agree or empathise with the person, recognising that their thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviours are their reality – and that these experiences are there for a reason – still counts as holding a validating stance.”

Many people who end up in DBT skills training have a learning history involving invalidating environments–in which we are told that our feelings are wrong, out of proportion to the situation, or in other ways unwanted and unacceptable. We learn to discount our own feelings, which usually only leads to trouble. One way to become more self-validating is to practice on others–to think mindfully about how you are responding to the emotional communications of those in your group or among your friends and family. When you get the knack of validating without necessarily agreeing, you may find that communication becomes more genuine and meaningful to you.

What does it mean to validate without agreeing? It helps to start answering this question by outlining the six levels of validation so nicely described in the blog entry:

1–Being present

2–Accurate reflection

3–Accurately guessing the mental states of another

4–Considering a person’s past history and biology

5–Considering and normalizing present events

6–Radical genuineness

Now back to our question: What does it mean to validate without agreeing? Imagine a friend or group member is describing a conversation that this person found difficult or wounding. The speaker is struggling with feelings of anger and indignation. When you hear what happened, you can’t help wondering if the speaker misunderstood what was going on. And yet, (per Validation Level 4) you might also know that this is someone who suffers a great deal from a history of invalidation. So how can you do something different for this person? You can listen carefully (Level 1). You can reflect back what’s being said (Level 2) and what you surmise (Level 3) about the person’s mental states: “You’re feeling really bad about this;” “Wow, I can see how hurt and upset you are.” You can observe that you know what it’s like to feel so distressed (normalizing, Level 5). And having done these things, you might just find that you’ve been radically genuine. In fact, it becomes much easier to be emotionally genuine when we don’t feel pressured to agree where we disagree or compromise our values.

By doing these things in connection with others, we learn a little bit each time about how to respect and care for emotion mind–our own of that of others–even when the emotions are difficult or might not live up to rational mind’s standards of appropriacy. By learning these lessons, we can come to be more accepting of our own states of suffering–which paradoxically is a necessary step in the process of coming to suffer less in the presence of difficult experiences and emotions.

Thank you, BorderlineBabble, for a wonderful entry on validation.


Self-Compassion Meditations

Link here to access guided meditations focused on self-compassion from the author of a book on the same topic, Kristin Neff.