top of page
  • Writer's pictureLiz Vines

The Importance of Validating Feelings

The concept of validating feelings is getting a lot of recognition these days, and for good reason. Feeling validated helps us feel understood and accepted, even if we ultimately disagree on a topic. This can do a lot for improving intimacy and connection, and it can be an important part of trauma healing.

What Does it Mean to Validate Feelings?

Validating a feeling does not mean that you agree with what someone says. It simply means "I understand your experience." You can have an experience that is completely contradictory to everything about someone else's experience, but if you can find a way to understand what they're feeling and why it makes sense that they feel that way, you can validate their feelings. Feelings are different than thoughts. Someone can have all kinds of thoughts and ideas, but the feeling is where we want to focus our validation.

Statements that validate feelings often follow a basic format:

"I see how it could feel (emotion) given that (reason for emotion)."

Common variations could look like this:

"I totally get why you'd feel (emotion) because (reason for emotion)."

"Oh, that makes sense, because (reason for emotion) could make anyone feel (emotion)."

"Wow, yes, that must have been (emotion) because (reason for emotion)."

Why is validating feelings important?

Validating feelings helps people feel like they're not crazy or alone. It takes the edge off of an intense experience. Hearing that someone understands why you feel a certain way means that you are not alone in your experience, that your brain and emotions are working just fine, and that you don't have to work so hard to convince people (or yourself) that your experience makes sense. When people rant endlessly, they often feel like no one understands what they're going through, so they have to keep saying it over and over again to try to get someone to understand. When someone validates their experience, it interrupts their cycle of activation. They can begin to slow down, stop focusing on the same argument, and explore their experience more deeply.

Why is self-validation important?

Developing an internal mechanism for self-validation is an important part of self-awareness and emotional maturity. When we feel strong emotions, it can be confusing. It's not always clear in the moment why we feel what we feel, but the feelings are there, and understanding them is one of the best ways to process them. To practice this, follow the simple validation formula: what am I feeling and why does it make sense that I feel that way? This doesn't mean that you're right about everything or that all of your thoughts are true. It means you felt a thing and that feeling came from somewhere. Knowing where the feeling came from can help you understand your experience much more deeply.

Start by identifying the first moment that you noticed the feeling. Maybe it was a rising and falling sensation in your stomach and it happened right after you saw someone who you recently had a weird interaction with. Be as honest with yourself as you can, and go slowely as you work through the expereince. Ask yourself basic questions like "does something feel scary?" "Does something feel frustrating?" "Am I worried about feeling a particular feeling?" As you begin to understand the details of your emotional reaction, when it first emmerged, and what triggered it, you will begin to understand why it makes sense that the emotion came up. You may have layers of emotions, and sometimes shame will show up to try to convince you that you shouln't feel a certain way. But if you can find why it makes sense that you feel the way you do, you are already practicing self-compassion, developing insight, and reducing the intensity of your experience. This is processing emotions in a nutshell.

The Importance and Challenge of Validating Feelings in Relationships

In romantic relationships, the emotional stakes are higher, and it can be even more important to practice validation because of the positive impact it can have on intimacy and connection. It can also be complicated, because the situations in which we want to be validated are often situations in which our partner also wants to be validated. It might not seem possible, but both can happen at the same time, even if you disagree about facts. It's important to remember that validating feelings doesn't mean admiting fault, conceding, or even agreeing. Rather, in this process we take the important part of the interaction (the emotional experience) and lift it out of the mess of the subjective argument of "who does more dishes" and just look at the feelings. I can validate that it makes sense that you feel forgotten about and not cared for when you notice that the kitchen is a mess and you have the thought that I don't clean up because I know that for you, cleanliness and order signify care and dedication. At the same time, you can validate that it makes sense that I feel hurt when you use a specific tone to express your frustration because it triggers my past experiences of being criticized and blamed.

Because we can validate eachother's feelings, we can stop arguing about "who does more dishes" and focus on the underlying feelings of frustration and hurt. Learning where our emotional experiences come from (why it makes sense that we feel the way we do) gives us an incredible amount of information about each other. Now we can explore your past experiences that gave you the particular brain mapping that connects cleanliness with care and we can explore my past experiences with critisism and learn how certain tones trigger those experiences. If we are open and non judgmental in our exploration, and not viewing either of our past experiences as a problem, we can continue increasing our connection because we get to learn about each other with curiousity and compassion. In this process, we can feel seen and heard in our frustration and hurt. We can feel believed, even if we dissagree on the subjective experience of who does more cleaning. In short, we can feel that we are important and that we matter to each other.

Validating feelings is just one part of healthy communication, but it can do a lot for us individually and in relationships. If you are interested in learning more about communication in relationships and would like to work with me for couples therapy, reach out below to schedule a free 20 minute phone consultation. We'll be able to discuss the specific challenges you're facing and talk about how therapy can help.



bottom of page