Especially when they don’t deserve it!
There are multiple reasons to validate. Yeah, one reason is to make the other person feel better, but there are several other options as to why you might want to do it even when you don’t feel like it. Here are a few that might help you stomach the idea a little easier :
Reason #1: Because it allows you to establish your personal limits/boundaries
Maybe you didn’t know that validation isn’t just the “warm and fuzzies” of communication. In fact, sometimes it can involve actual confrontation. According to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the highest level of validation (“Radical Genuineness”) is about being real, and at times, calling out “the elephant in the room.” When I call out a salty adolescent who is working hard to upset their parent by yelling, cussing, or behaving rudely, I am actually validating them in a weird sort of way. How? I’m validating that one of their goals (to behave badly) hit the mark. In essence, I am saying (without saying it) that “Yes, you are correct, that is generally established in society as an inappropriate way to behave. I do not like it.” If I ignored or downplayed it, it would be INvalidation because it fails to acknowledge the obvious truth of the situation: The kid is acting like a shit…and knows it. If the parent doesn’t acknowledge the obvious, the kid can only conclude a few things: the parent is insane or weak, the parent is a fake poser, or they are just a bad kid (but the parent is too angelic to notice). None of these are optimal conclusions.
Reason #2: Because this is not the Twilight Zone
When a patient shows me self-inflicted cuts on their body, I can promise you I will display a cringe-face. Why? Because that is a normal reaction and this is not the Twilight Zone. Could I control that if I wanted to? Yes. But to do so would be going against my natural (human) response of empathizing with pain. The patient has stopped reacting to physical pain in this way. Why in the world would I control my reaction to match theirs? Some people worry that doing so would reinforce a patient’s need for attention. The problem is, if that hypothesis is true, then the patient will need to increase the severity of the cutting in order to gain my attention…not a great setup. My grimace is a validation that yes, that looks painful. Yes, you hurt yourself. And yes, it is abnormal. Stop trying to change people’s behavior by inhibiting your own normal, natural reactions. That’s just weird.
Reason #3: Because it’s easier than fighting
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll see you can pretty much validate in your sleep. Even if you mess up, you can always recover immediately by validating how much it must suck for them to have to deal with your mess up. This can be super helpful in bringing strong emotions down a notch. The key is to take yourself (and your ego) out of the equation. If you fully commit to not taking anything personally, you can save a ton of effort you would have wasted in trying to win. It is literally possible to validate ANYTHING.
Reason #4: Because they are more likely to hear you out
You have a point to make and they have a point to make. Let them go first. If they say “you don’t understand,” trust me, you don’t. Try again. If they say a thing more than once, I can assure you they don’t think you got it. Try again. Most people have to feel like they are heard and that you somewhat “get” their point before hearing the other person out. It’s like we each have a performance prepared and want an engrossed audience. We don’t want the one audience member jumping to upstage us with their song and dance. Pay attention, validate, and wait your turn. You’ll want an attentive spectator, so do your part and hopefully, they will do theirs.
Yes, to validate is mostly about communicating like a decent human being to others, but it also has some great side effects for us too. I mean, after all, we deserve it ;)