How to Validate Others' Emotions

Emotional validation is a subtle exercise that makes others feel good. However, despite its low cost and positive outcomes, we don't always do it. In many cases, it's because we don't know how.
How to Validate Others' Emotions

Last update: 31 July, 2022

“You’re exaggerating, it’s not that bad”, “How have you allowed yourself to get in such a state just because of all this nonsense?”, “Stop crying, you have to be strong”. These are just some of the kinds of phrases that you’ll stop saying once you understand the importance of emotional validation. In fact, learning to validate the emotions of others is one of the great tools that allow you to care for and strengthen your social relationships.

This concept is so important that Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), calls it the aspirin of DBT.” It represents one of the fundamental tools for building a good client-therapist relationship in any psychotherapeutic process.

In reality, whether or not you’re a mental health professional, knowing how to validate the emotions of those around you is a truly valuable strategy.

Emotional validation

Emotional validation consists of communicating to another person that they’re being heard and seen. It means accepting the emotional experience that someone is feeling at that moment and communicating it clearly, through your own words or actions. It’s conveying to them that their responses are valid and their point of view is understandable.

Emotional validation involves letting the other person know that what they’re feeling and manifesting is accepted, regardless of whether or not you agree with it. In short, to validate is to express to another that their emotions make sense, that they’re relevant, significant, and coherent from a logical perspective.

“Validation is the answer of ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Can this be true?'”.

-Marsha Linehan-

Couple talking about emotional validation
Emotional validation is a powerful tool that strengthens the links in relationships.

You can do the same with yourself. In this case, we’d be talking about emotional self-validation. Accepting the validity of your own emotions helps you manage them more adaptively. Thus, you reaffirm that what you feel is important, be it pleasant or unpleasant.

In contrast, emotional invalidation toward yourself or others means minimizing, judging, or downplaying emotions. Surprisingly, invalidating responses can be rather warm and even well-intentioned, despite having dysfunctional consequences.

Indeed, it’s common to invalidate the emotions of someone you love without even realizing it when what you were actually intending to do was to provide them with help and support.

Let’s give an example. Imagine that a five-year-old girl leaves her favorite toy behind on a bus. On noticing it, she bursts into tears of anguish. Her father tries to help her and tells her: “It’s okay, don’t cry. I can buy you another toy”. He’s invalidating the girl’s sadness, which is both expected and valid. She’s left wondering “How can it be that nothing’s happened? Why’s it wrong for me to cry? I’m hurt, I’ve lost my toy”.

Validation levels

Each successive level encompasses and exceeds the previous one.

1. Be present

The most basic level of emotional validation refers to listening and carefully observing the speaker. It’s not enough to look at them, you must be interested in what they have to say, look at them, and let them know that you’re paying attention to them.

Also, placing yourself at their height and holding their hand can be useful strategies, as it makes them realize that you care about what they tell you.

2. Reflect accurately

It’s important to accurately reflect that what you’ve heard you clearly understand. It’s about ‘giving back’ what they’ve told you through repetition or paraphrasing, like a reflection in a mirror.

In this case, you must be careful not to interpret or add your own ideas or assumptions, but correctly extract the central idea that they’ve expressed.

3. Read their behavior

The third level of emotional validation consists of articulating what they didn’t explicitly verbalize but that you detected in their speech, making sure that you’re correct.

For example, if they tell you “I spent a lot of time studying and still didn’t pass. In the end, it’s no use studying”, you might reply “I understand that the situation is frustrating for you, as you feel that your efforts haven’t been worth it. Is that so?”

4. Understand their behavior

To emotionally validate, it’s essential to understand the causes of their behavior. Every emotion starts from a context, a situation, a story. This level is about understanding that, in light of their experience, it makes sense that they’re feeling the way they do.

For example, telling them, “I understand that you distrust people, considering that you felt betrayed by your previous partner”.

Sad girl due to grief with her friend consoling her
Emotional validation involves empathizing with the other person and taking into account their history and life experience.

5. Normalize their emotions

Normalizing their emotions means looking for ways in which their behavior makes sense in the current circumstances. It’s noticing and communicating to them that their feelings are valid responses because they fit the present context.

For instance, if your young son is afraid of storms, you could validate his fear by saying the following: “I understand that you may be feeling afraid right now because it’s raining a lot and I know you don’t like that”.

6. Radical genuineness

Radical genuineness means you understand what they’re feeling on a deep level. It’s about putting yourself on the same level and accepting that all of their emotional responses and different perspectives are valid.

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  • Cortes, M. D. L. Á. R. (2019). Estrategias de validación emocional, repertorio conductual indispensable en el apoyo del duelo. Revista Mexicana de Enfermería Cardiológica27(1), 42-45.
  • Cotamo, J. A. V. (2018). Niveles de validación emocional. Psicología.
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