VALIDATE THE VALID
The term "validation" is often bandied about in "BPD" family support groups, but what does it mean beyond the literal definition of word?
To understand validation, it's necessary to first look at the term "invalidating". Invalidating actions drive deep instinctual feelings of rejection in humans. Knowing this is keenly important when dealing with a person suffering from BPD because a hallmark of the disorder is extreme rejection sensitivity.
What makes this complicated is that invalidation is communicated in many subtle ways -- verbally, through facial expressions, sighs, body language, actions and even omissions -- and a person with BPD typically has hypersensitive and not-so-accurate "invalidation" detection radar. To complicate this further, invalidation is as instinctively transmitted as it is received - so when we feel it, it is hard to hide. And to complicate this a little more, if we ineptly mask invalidation with nice words, we send a signal to the other party that we are hiding our invalidating feelings and they should discount our words and read between the lines.
This is the problem that "validation" skills are intending to mitigate -- how to not be invalidating during the average day and most importantly, during contentious times. In other words how to stop instinctually rejecting your loved one. To do this is a little like beating a lie detector -- we have to reach pretty deep.
The term "validating the valid" is simply a reminder to never go so far in your efforts to be validating as to validate inappropriate actions. There are plenty of ways to be validating without crossing that line.
Now, to be fair, we don't want to look at this as solely our child's problem.
Sometimes we are very sensitive ourselves and reacting in invalidating ways. Sometimes we are insensitive and invalidating in that way. Let's face it, if you are an innately validating person, you probably aren't struggling with invalidation in your family.
So the message is that validation of feelings is vital to connecting with others and that the mutual validation of feelings is important in all phases of relationships including building, maintaining, repairing, and improving them. I underlined "mutual" to point out that we not only want to be validating, but we want to grow to be role models for our children and hope they also see the importance of validating others.
The validation process is well modeled -- see the text below -- but it take a lot of practice and a some trial and error. We can really help each other here at BPDFamily by coaching each other and doing postmortems of failed communications.
We have an excellent video clip to start you off on this journey.
Validation,encouraging peace in a "BPD family"
Shari Manning Validation Model
The first Level is Being Present. There are so many ways to be present. Holding someone's hand when they are having a painful medical treatment, listening with your whole mind and doing nothing but listening to a child describe their day in first grade, and going to a friend's house at midnight to sit with her while she cries because a supposed friend told lies about her are all examples of being present.
Multi-tasking while you listen to your teenager's story about his soccer game is not being present. Being present means giving all your attention to the person you are validating.
Being present for yourself means acknowledging your internal experience and sitting with it rather than "running away" from it, avoiding it, or pushing it away. Sitting with intense emotion is not easy. Even happiness or excitement can feel uncomfortable at times.
Often one of the reasons other people are uncomfortable with intense emotion is that they don't know what to say. Just being present, paying complete attention to the person in a nonjudgmental way, is often the answer. For yourself, being mindful of your own emotion is the first step to accepting your emotion.
The second level of validation is Accurate Reflection. Accurate reflection means you summarize what you have heard from someone else or summarize your own feelings. This type of validation can be done by others in an awkward, sing-songy, artificial way that is truly irritating or by yourself in a criticizing way. When done in an authentic manner, with the intent of truly understanding the experience and not judging it, accurate reflection is validating.
Sometimes this type of validation helps someone sort through their thoughts and separate thoughts from emotions. "So basically I'm feeling pretty angry and hurt," would be a self-reflection. "Sounds like you're disappointed in yourself because you didn't call him back," could be accurate reflection by someone else.
Level Three is Mindreading. Mindreading is guessing what another person might be feeling or thinking. People vary in their ability to know their own feelings. For example, some confuse anxiety and excitement and some confuse excitement and happiness. Some may not be clear about what they are feeling because they weren't allowed to experience their feelings or learned to be afraid of their feelings.
People may mask their feelings because they have learned that others don't react well to their sensitivity. This masking can lead to not acknowledging their feelings even to themselves, which makes the emotions more difficult to manage. Being able to accurately label feelings is an important step to being able to regulate them.
When someone is describing a situation, notice their emotional state. Then either name the emotions you hear or guess at what the person might be feeling.
"I'm guessing you must have felt pretty hurt by her comment" is Level Three validation. Remember that you may guess wrong and the person could correct you. It's her emotion and she is the only one who knows how she feels. Accepting her correction is validating.
Level Four is Understanding the Person's Behavior in Terms of their History and Biology. Your experiences and biology influence your emotional reactions. If your best friend was bitten by a dog a few years ago, she is not likely to enjoy playing with your German Shepherd. Validation at this level would be saying, "Given what happened to you, I completely understand your not wanting to be around my dog."
Self-validation would be understanding your own reactions in the context of your past experiences.
Level Five is normalizing or recognizing emotional reactions that anyone would have. Understanding that your emotions are normal is helpful for everyone. For the emotionally sensitive person, knowing that anyone would be upset in a specific situation is validating. For example, "Of course you're anxious. Speaking before an audience the first time is scary for anyone."
Level Six is Radical Genuineness. Radical genuiness is when you understand the emotion someone is feeling on a very deep level. Maybe you have had a similar experience. Radical genuineness is sharing that experience as equals.