Validation: A Mental Health Necessity

Written by Karen Loethen, LCSW

The other day my client lamented, “I need validation. I shouldn’t.”

I asked him to sit back a moment and listen.

The baddest people on the planet need validation. Military officers get amazing arrays of pins across their chests, medals, awards, bars, patches, salutes, statues, commemorations, and accolades of all kinds. There are dozens of yearly award shows where performers and people in the entertainment  industries get nominations and awards. Those shows have millions of viewers. Athletes get rings, cups, cash bonuses, fanfare, parades and social statuses. Wrestlers win gold belts the size of dinner plates, for goodness sake. People in business receive bonuses, titles, extra time off, certificates, staff/manager meetings, and all forms of recognition.

Humanity is a validation-seeking species. Validation lets us know that we are accepted and approved of by our tribe; it lets us know that we are connected to the life-giving groups that we populate. The genuine offering of kindness, love and approval makes our brains release the happy chemicals that light up our lives.

As we move through the complexities of our lives, others noticing our actions is the glue that keeps us together as individuals, as dyads, as groups. Acknowledging our loved ones’ efforts is considered the highest form of loving them. In fact, the need for validation is so great that Abraham Maslow accounts for it in the essential hierarchy of human needs, necessary for good mental and emotional health.

Interestingly, offering validation is a relationship skill that we seldom hear about, seldom practice, and seldom value. But the absence of validation is the main reason many couples enter into therapy. Couples, families, and humans seeking intimacy with others often have not learned the basics of validation in relationships and are frozen in their confusion and need.

How do I offer validation to others?

Honestly and often. Take time regularly to see your partner, spouse, child, friend, coworker. Notice their efforts. Express sincere interest in their activities and emotions. Let them know that “I see you.” Let them know that, just as they are in that moment, in all of their glorious vulnerability and imperfections, you love them and find value in them.

How do I elicit validation from others?

Coercing or manipulating validation from others feels…invalidating. Instead, model validating behavior and learn to validate yourself. You can also ask for what you need in relationships by letting loved ones know how important it is for you to feel truly seen by them. 

Become the very thing that you need.

Begin to notice others around you.

Recognize effort.

Put everything down and listen.

Give generously of your time.

Respond to their energy, enthusiasm, passion.

Ask questions to learn more.

And do it again tomorrow.

Yes, needing to be validated by others is hard-wired into our brains. At the same time, it’s worthwhile to learn to validate ourselves too. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s get working on self-validating. Then we’ll always have enough.

My client was moved. He sat back and replied, “I’m ready.”

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