Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Manhattan Clinical Director Kelsey Fisher, LMSW endeavors to support and challenge people to enliven their potential and forge a way out of the problematic cycles in which they inevitably find themselves. As a social worker, she takes a particular interest in understanding the individual in the context of their environment. In the conclusion of Kelsey’s series, she shares importance of validating a loved one’s feelings.
Read Part One of Kelsey’s Series HERE.
The demands of supporting a sick loved one may have exceeded our emotional and physical resources: it requires patience and can be incredibly challenging to respond to loved ones with maladaptive emotional expression. Our loved ones may be reactive and intense, or withdrawn–either way the experience is taxing. Many times these problems have existed for years before the loved one seeks help.
To dispel some of the fears from the list above, validation is an essential ingredient in building self-esteem and secure connections. It helps a person build a foundation of trust in themselves and others, thereby increasing their ability to self-validate and have healthier and more effective relationships.
For any one of these barriers I would suggest that supporters seek their own therapy, but in the meantime there are some skills that are the antidote to a toxic pattern of disconnection that we can all learn, listening and validating.
It will be hard to validate without first listening. Good listening is a surprisingly elusive thing in our age of distraction. There are a few key foundational factors that I see families stumble with:
1. Pay attention limit distractions. And no, you, like all other human beings, cannot multitask while playing candy crush or answering a text.
2. Be quiet while someone else is speaking and take turns
3. Use affirming body language to indicate interest and that you are following, e.g. nodding head, posture oriented toward the person, eye contact.
4. Check to make sure you’re hearing right, restate without additional interpretation and judgments, ask for clarification if you don’t understand.
5. Practice non-judgment. This takes some work, but see if you can become aware of the your inevitable biases and opinions, and take a moment to take alternative perspectives.
6. Respond, don’t react. Take note of your reactions and/or judgments as they occur internally. They don’t have to set the stage for what happens next.
Validation comprises recognition, acceptance, understanding, and affirmation.
Find whatever kernel of truth you can and see if you can empathize. You may feel strongly that the reaction is disproportionate, or even inappropriate, but can you find something you can anchor into? Maybe your loved one is feeling upset, because you talked about food/body when they had asked you not to. Maybe you didn’t mean to upset them, but can you take some time to let sink in what the experience is like on their end? In validation, as in improvisational performance, it is important to employ, “Yes, and” rather than, “Yeah, BUT” or the least effective, “No.”
It can be an important starting place to validate someone’s emotional experience, it does not necessarily mean that you have to approve of their version of the story, or their behavior that followed, if it is not appropriate to do so. This is not about leniency or reassurance, it is about finding the connection to another person’s experience and integrating that into your own narrative.
From this space of shared understanding and connection we are able to begin to heal and engage in a dialogue. It may be apparent that someone has a distorted perception of reality and their reactivity is a result of this. We would want to be able to unpack what distortions are at work and see if we can help that person take in the missing information and behave effectively, however that person still has a need to be heard and understood as they are now. From a foundation of listening and trust we open up so many more opportunities to healing and communicating.
Galanes, P. (2017, September 7). Why Is My Daughter Such a Drama Queen. The New York Times. Retrieved September 9, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/style/why-is-my-daughter-such-a-drama-queen.html?mcubz=0