Validation is acknowledgment that what you are feeling or thinking is okay, without any judgment.
Feeling validated is important for everyone, but is of great importance in recovery from the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Validation is one of the key components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is used in the treatment of BPD.
Among other benefits, validation can help in Borderline Personality Disorder treatment by:
- Strengthening relationships. Relationships are all about understanding and sharing. As one of the symptoms of BPD is a history of stormy relationships, it’s no wonder that finding the support of someone who can validate what you are saying can be a step in the direction of healing.
- Helping with emotion regulation. Outbursts often stem from frustration. Frustration often stems from not being listened to or understood. Realizing you are being listened to and understood is soothing.
- Strengthening a sense of identity. One of the symptoms of BPD is an uncertain sense of identity. Having another person hear and understand your opinion or feelings on a matter solidifies the foundation of who you are.
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Key to Validation
The key to validation is finding some small kernel of truth in what the person is saying. It’s important for the person to realize that what they are feeling is not wrong.
The reaction, or resulting behavior, to a feeling may be destructive or unhealthy, but invalidation of one’s feelings leads to further self-doubt, lack of confidence, and makes for a longer road in the recovery process.
Marsha Linehan, PhD, founder of DBT, says it’s “impossible to overestimate the importance of validation” in recovery from BPD.
Still, validation can be a tricky line to toe.
“An important piece of validation that people miss is that we don’t validate the invalid,” said Shari Manning, PhD, author of the book Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. “For example, if your loved one is 5’7,” weighs 80 pounds, and says ‘I’m fat,’ you wouldn’t validate that by saying, ‘Yes, you are fat.’ That would be validating the invalid.”
6 Levels of Validation
Linehan identifies six levels of validation that are important to learn and practice for those validating loved ones with Borderline Personality Disorder, as well as for those with BPD learning to validate themselves.
- Being Present. This may sound simple, but in an age when we all have our cell phones within texting distance, when TV screens and radio waves and traffic are all blaring at us from every angle, it’s all the more important to focus, be present, and really listen to the person you are with. This is the ultimate validation: feeling more important than the constant barrage of glitzy distractions we experience in everyday life.
- Accurate Reflection. Summarize with genuine care and understanding what you have heard from the other person regarding their emotions. This can be tough if you are feeling anger toward what might be viewed as an overreaction. Be aware, avoid sarcasm, avoid hyperbole. Simply summarize what you understand the person to be saying and feeling.
- Reading Someone’s Behavior. Often emotionally sensitive people, such as those with BPD, mask their true feelings. This level of validation showcases the skill of reading the emotion behind the words. Be present and get a sense for the feeling behind what is being said. Reach out to them, knowing your guess may be wrong. Still, this action will show you are listening and that you care.
- Understanding Someone’s Behavior in Context of Their Experience. Take that extra step to understand what may be considered an overreaction in the context of someone’s history. Maybe a friend lost a loved one in a plane crash and therefore refuses to take a flight. Just because flying is something millions of people do each day, you can extrapolate the experience and see how the emotional reaction fits the memory.
- Recognizing Emotional Reactions. Understanding that the way you are feeling can actually help others with their emotions and reactions. The ability to communicate empathy and understanding.
- Radical Genuineness. Understanding someone else’s feelings on a very deep level, perhaps from having experienced a similar situation or feeling.
This, of course, is an extremely abbreviated introduction to the role of validation in Borderline Personality Disorder treatment. If the symptoms of BPD have taken over the everyday life of either you or a loved one with BPD, look for BPD treatment centers or DBT treatment programs that can help you learn and strengthen these validation skills.