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.

Songza for Different Emotions

In the Crisis Survival acronym, ACCEPTS, the letter ‘E’ stands for Emotions–and more particularly, for “different Emotions” from the ones we are feeling. The thought is that tuning in to another, perhaps equally intense emotion, can help us detach a bit from the strong feelings we’re experiencing in our crises. One of Marsha Lineman’s suggestions is listening to emotional music–and this is where Songza comes in. Songza is a FREE music app for your phone with a special feature: Playlists organized by mood. In Songza, you can listen to playlists organized around any of 20 different moods–among them angry, aggressive, confident, dark, happy, mellow, rowdy, and sad. So if you’re feeling angry, pick the “happy” playlist; or if that seems to incongruent, pick the “sad” or the “mellow” one–anything that isn’t your current mood.

Songza homepage

Songza for iPhone

Songza for Android phones

Distress Tolerance: Omby–for a cumulative distraction

Here’s a distraction that may interest some: Unscramble bits and pieces of Melville’s Moby Dick with a phone app called Omby. Though it’s best not to over-use distraction skills–relentless crisis probably means other skills are called for too–a bonus here is that one can eventually unscramble the whole novel. As a distraction skill, this could be filed under Activities or Thoughts in the ACCEPTS crisis distraction skills. And if it’s one of your values to read the classics, go ahead and double-dip: you’re distracting with something effective for Emotion Regulation! Read more about the Omby app here–or click the image below to access the iOS version.

Image links to iOS version

Distress Tolerance–Activities

I’m hoping to add to the blog a series of posts about specific Distress Tolerance skills so that readers can come here to find a menu of concrete distraction techniques. I welcome suggestions and favorite techniques from readers, so feel free to send me your favorites.

In the Distress Tolerance module of DBT, we learn the acronym, “ACCEPTS,” which encourages distractions in the presence of high stress by means of the following:

Activities, Contributions, Comparisons, opposite Emotions, Pushing away thoughts, Thoughts of other things (like math problems or song lyrics), and strong Sensations

One ACTIVITY you might try: Join the adult coloring trend. While there has been some dispute in the media about whether adult coloring does all that its proponents claim for it, most of these concerns don’t really matter for Distress Tolerance. Get yourself some markers or crayons (or use whatever pens and pencils you have ready to hand), print a free page, and give coloring a test run. Check in, if you can, with your emotions and your distress levels before you start–even if this is just a test run. Here’s where you can find some patterns:

Free Printable Coloring Pages–including mandalas, floral and geometric patterns, fanciful scenes. Or these from AZColoring. You can also search “Adult coloring” online free for many more options.

A sample from

A sample from

Now, when you are ready to stop coloring, check in on what happened. What are your prevailing emotions now? How calm or stressed do you feel? Consider:

Is coloring effective in distracting you from whatever was on your mind when you started coloring?

Do you find yourself getting absorbed (i.e., in a Mindfulness sense, participating) in the activity?

Does it give your mind a break from obsessing, perseverating, catastrophizing, or otherwise feeling bad?

If coloring is effective for you, then print out some more pages or buy a book. You can add this skill to your Distress Tolerance repertoire-and congratulate yourself for finding something effective to do in those worst of emotional times.

Among the many available books, the following bring this Distress Tolerance Activity together with Mindfulness ideas:

Color Me Calm: 100 Templates for Meditation and Relaxation

Keep Calm and Color On

Blue Star Adult Coloring Books

DBT Peer Connections

DBT Peer Connections

Rachel Gill, a four-year veteran of DBT for Borderline Personality Disorder, offers helpful guidance through a range of DBT skills and concepts. If you’re feeling stressed and like you could use a reminder of how DBT helps us self-regulate, click here to have a look at one of her videos.