Validation from others helps us feel understood and safe. Validating different parts of ourselves – especially the parts we are ashamed of – helps to align our goals and gain self-assuredness.
I was out with my toddler son when he became tired and absolutely hangry. He quickly delved into full tantrum mode as he repeated that he wanted to hit. Being the wiser adult, I reminded him of our rule that we don’t hit. That did not work, if anything his demands to hit grew louder and more desperate. I changed strategies. I empathized. I said that I saw that he was angry. I validated that sometimes I feel like hitting too. That completely threw him off guard. He seemed to listen more and then I was able to say why I don’t hit – it would scare other people. After repeating that conversation a few times, we were ready to continue our day uninterrupted.
Afterward, I wondered why relating to his anger worked. I think that telling my son that I know how he feels helped him to feel validated and understood. Simply reinforcing the rule that we don’t hit left him feeling misunderstood and did nothing to alleviate his desire to hit. I’m guessing that he got louder because his defenses went up and he desperately wanted to make sure that I understood what he was feeling. Once I reassured him that I did, we were on the same team. He could lower his defenses more and trust what I was saying. He could hear why. We could share a goal of having a good time and he could understand that hitting would stop us from having fun.
Reflecting more on this experience, we have different parts that are inside of us. There’s always a part of us, perhaps a little toddler self, that wants to engage in unhealthy behaviors like hitting, overeating, undereating, yelling at someone, not talking to people, etc. Think about how you respond to that part. Perhaps you are like me with my son at first and dismiss it and try to remind the rule. Maybe you’re even ashamed of it and try to hide that part. Perhaps you try to get louder than that part and just try to drown it out. Regardless, that part of yourself is left feeling misunderstood, like my son was.
Try instead to validate that part of yourself that wants to be unhealthy. Show empathy. If you want to yell, acknowledge that you want to yell. Maybe you want to yell to protect yourself in some way. Get on the same team with that part of yourself and validate that you want to be protected – you just know that yelling will not actually protect you.
Validation works because it helps us feel understood, on the same team, and therefore safe. We hope to have validation from other people, but we also should validate ourselves. I have seen the power of people being comfortable getting to know the parts of themselves that were previously dismissed, exiled, ridiculed, or shamed. Where before those parts grew louder or weighed heavily, now validated they relax more and align toward the true goal.