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Author Topic: COMMUNICATION: Validation - tools and techniques  (Read 43022 times)
Skip
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« on: September 24, 2008, 01:34:27 PM »

COMMUNICATION: Validation - tools and techniques

Validation of feelings is vital to connecting with others. The mutual validation of feelings is important in all phases of relationship; including building, maintaining, repairing, and improving them.

So what happens when this dynamic breaks down.  One family member has very high validation needs, or one member is invalidating, or both have high validation needs, or both are invalidating?

Often, unidentified or unrecognized and unvalidated feelings are at the heart of relationship issues and problems. Understanding the fate of unvalidated feeling/experience is eye opening and can be an significant motivator to investing in validation.  

The fact is that problems in relationships are often a result of what individuals do with unvalidated feelings.

  • Dissociation - they can keep them out-of-awareness, a part of not-me, hidden.

  • Projection - another option is to get rid of them, discard them, put them into someone else, project them.  

Unfortunately hiding (dissociating) or getting rid of (projecting) feelings is never the last of it. Unvalidated feelings have a way of coming back to haunt the relationship over a over.   This is not an issue unique to BPD - this happens in all types of relationship - and we often do it, too.

So what should I do?  

The simple answer is become more empathetic and more validating - and recognize that this is not a simple "you look nice today" understanding.  Even though we know that listening carefully is important in relationships - it can be very difficult to recognize when we aren't succeeding at it. We are often more aware of not being listened to (heard) than of our own shortfalls of empathy and of not listening to our partner.  We may be reacting and resentful ourselves to a lack of being validated.  Self-awareness is key.

People with BPD have high validation needs - often very high.  People with BPD are also very erratic in their validation of others - they can be extremely validating (over validating) and flip over and become very invalidating -  sometimes resentful of the validation that is being sought or that they previously expressed.  And pwBPD can get extreme in the use of dissociation and projection.

As relationship partners, we often have our own "above average" validation needs.  Let's face it, we were attracted to the uber-validation that was showered on us early in the relationship - it was a significant part of the attraction.   As a result, we often have our own struggles when we don't get what we feel we need and we then process it in unhealthy ways too.  It's human nature all around.

And as parents. we often have our own "above average" validation needs.  Let's face it, tendencies run throughout a "BPD family, we often have above average needs for validation ourselves.   As a result, we often have our own struggles when we don't get what we feel we need and we then process it in unhealthy ways too.  

In a "BPD family" there are going to be validation issues.  As the healthier family member, it falls to us to try to achieve some level of working validation in the relationship - to lead.

  • That often means that we need to be very conscious of the pwBPD high validation needs and try to provide for them in a healthy and constructive way

  • It also often means that we have reacted in unhealthy ways to feeling invalidated by the pwBPD. We need to fix ourself (the pwBPD isn't going to fix us) and we need to disengage a bit from the push/pull validation habits common to pwBPD

This workshop is about the power of validation!

Thanks for participating!


See also: COMMUNICATION: Stop invalidating others
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« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2008, 07:11:15 AM »

I can understand the need to validate and can do that fine in a lot of conversations with my daughter but I have a problem when we have conversations about her treatment of my grandson.

For example my grandson might do something wrong (sometimes minor) and when my daughter is not in the right mood, she will over-react, yell or belittle him instead of disciplining him in a calmer adult manner. She will then want to complain about the whole incident to me and what he did I guess in order to justify losing her cool and over-reacting with him.

My daughter even admits that she over-reacts the wrong way with him but downplays the effect it might be having on him. I am afraid she will feel even more justified to continue punishing him in that manner if she in any way feels I am okay with it.

For example, last night she told him to get in the bathtub and instead he decided to wet his hands up in the sink first (not sure why but he is being evaluated for ADHD so he could have gotten distracted). She went off on him yelling for a full five minutes about it and then later she came and told me exactly what he had done (even though I had heard the whole thing, it was loud enough).

This type of scenario goes on several times during the week.
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« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2008, 11:20:46 AM »

A validation statement doesn't mean you agree with WHAT she did, or even why she did it... it only expresses that you can see things from her viewpoint.  While she let you know "all of the really rotten stuff your grandson did", she was also telling you that she is frustrated and/or  feeling overwhelmed.  You can say something like "raising a child can sure be a strain"

Her: That kid - he is such a brat!

You: I hear how frustrated you are. I know how hard raising children can be. What can I do to help?

Or You: Raising kids really can be such a challenge! I like how you handled him today  (send him to his room, or something she did right)

Or You: I get that you are about ready to lose it... thats a hard part of being a good parent.  What helps you to calm down the best?

Or You: I hear you are saying you feel badly when you hit Junior when you are angry. That would be upsetting to any parent. Are there things that help you avoid that? Maybe talking it out would help...


See where you are empathizing with her feelings instead of condoning her actions?  Does this help? 

Obviously, if there abuse or serious parenting issues that warrants professional help.
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« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2008, 12:43:57 PM »

Before we go too far, we want to be careful not to oversell this tool.  Validation will not cure BPD (obviously). It is a very valuable tool.  It will help you create an environment where BPD related struggles can often be reduced - however - a person with this disorder will have interpersonal struggles from time to time no matter how well we do.

We all tend to validate in positive situations. But we don't tend to validate in neutral situations and definitely not in downright negative situations.  To a hypersensitive person, validation in neutral situations and negative situations can be diffusing as Skip points out.  

So the challenge is to develop validating skills, that we don't likely have as second nature, for when we are confronted with things like this:

From an adult:

#1  "That kid is so lazy. Look at her room!  Stuff is just tossed everywhere. Why can't she learn to pick up her stuff? Why is it so hard for her to do the right thing?"

#2  "I'm the only one who does anything around here. Everyone else treats me like a maid. No one offers to help me without me having to yell and scream at them. Why won't people help me?"

#3  "you're always working. Why are you always working? Don't you realize that I need help around here too? If you were home more often you would see that I have a hard time handling things here by myself."

#4  "That driver just cut me off! What an idiot! Some people shouldn't have drivers licenses! Let's see how he likes it when I do it to him!" Your pwBPD is very angry and becoming an aggressive driver, scaring you.

#5  "You were really talking a lot to that other guy at the party tonight. I noticed how you were looking at him. Do you guys spend a lot of time together behind my back? I bet you and he are sleeping together, aren't you? I can tell by the way you spoke with each other, that there is more than just a "friendship" between you two."

#6  "Didn't I ask you to not do that anymore? I know that I did. We spoke of that last week, and I specifically told you not to do that to me anymore, but I guess you just don't listen, cause you went and did it again. I hate when you do that, don't listen. I feel like I'm just wasting my time here, since you never listen or do as I ask you to."

From a child:

#1 I can not ever count on anyone to help me when I really need help!

#2 You don't love me.  If you loved me you would lend me the money I need.

#3 People always leave you so I don't trust anyone

#4 You know...my life is a crap. I wish to be the  son you deserve


What Can We Do?

The basic are - use words that focus on:
  • emotions
  • wants and desires
  • beliefs and opinions
  • actions
  • suffering

Letting the pwBPD i your life know that:
  • you understand them.
  • you accept they have a right to their feelings. Even if you don't agree with them.
  • it is a reasonable possibility, and that others would feel the same way.
  • you have empathy for them (a true connection with what they are going through).
  • there is a kernel of truth to what they are expressing.
  • they have a legitimate right to feel as they do.
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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2008, 02:21:38 AM »

Wow, that was harder than I thought it would be.  I did have a cheat-sht: http://bpd.about.com/od/forfriendsandfamily/a/SET.htm   smiley

I also must say that it feels a bit phony to say these things here - and maybe that's ok - because in practice I was always so caught off guard that I pretty much clammed up or tried to 'reason' with her without first validating her feelings. 

My sense is that this 3-step process takes some time and practice, but once it becomes second nature, it should help a lot (right?).  Let me know how I did. 

My attempts...

#1  "you're always working. Why are you always working? Don't you realize that I need help around here too? If you were home more often you would see that I have a hard time handling things here by myself."

My response: "I love you, hon, and want you to be happy.  I can see that my working so much is leaving too much work around here in your hands and it is getting overwhelming.  If we are going to afford this house and our other expenses, I need to put in these hours right now."


#2  "That driver just cut me off! What an idiot! Some people shouldn't have drivers licenses! Let's see how he likes it when I do it to him!" Your BP is very angry and becoming an aggressive driver, scaring you.

Me: "I hear you, darling.  I'm pretty shaken up too and would be even more so if I were driving when he did that.  Let's just get home and be glad not every driver on the road is as reckless as he is."


#3  "That kid is so lazy. Look at her room!  Stuff is just tossed everywhere. Why can't she learn to pick up her stuff? Why is it so hard for her to do the right thing?"

Me: "I see that your not too happy with her.  This place is a mess and it doesn't really need to be, and I would be frustrated too.  Let's talk to her after school to see if she is doing okay and if she can't keep things a bit tidier around here."


#4  "I'm the only one who does anything around here. Everyone else treats me like a maid. No one offers to help me without me having to yell and scream at them. Why won't people help me?"

Me: "I love you and want you to be happy (no points for creativity here).  You do work a whole lot around here, and I can see where it gets tiring.  We can all try to pitch in on Saturdays if that would ease your load during the week."


#5  "You were really talking a lot to that other guy/girl at the party tonight. I noticed how you were looking at him/her. Do you guys spend a lot of time together behind my back? I bet you and s/he are sleeping together, aren't you? I can tell by the way you spoke with each other, that there is more than just a "friendship" between you two."

Me: "I love you and cherish you as the one woman in my life, darling.  You seem worried about losing me to this other woman.   The fact is that I knew her through work a couple years ago and she is friends with some of my buddies and we haven't seen each other all this time.  If you'd like I can introduce her to you.  Trust me, she is not a threat."


#6  "Didn't I ask you to not do that anymore? I know that I did. We spoke of that last week, and I specifically told you not to do that to me anymore, but I guess you just don't listen, cause you went and did it again. I hate when you do that, don't listen. I feel like I'm just wasting my time here, since you never listen or do as I ask you to."

Me: "I want to see you happy.  I can see that I've done something to upset you; I have forgotten our conversation from last week and I know how frustrating that can be.  Tell me again what you don't want me to do and I will make a clear effort not to do it again."

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« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2008, 01:41:46 PM »

The reality is that we deal with our friends and loved ones issues all the time anyways, and since the thing most people are searching for is acceptance (healthy or mentally ill), then by offering them understanding, over time you will be lowering their defenses.

It is an integral part of human nature to find others who can accept and understand us. We need it for survival, to work together. A person who is BPD has been invalidated (even if it is just in their minds) their whole lives, so they are very defensive and easily triggered. Offering them the concept that you aren't fighting and arguing with them anymore - that you support them - that you believe them - can be a very healing and loving thing.

You can work against them, by trying to prove your point (most of us have tried that and we can easily say - it doesn't work) or you can work with them and see what happens.  Will it increase their dumping or reduce it?

The experts say it will reduce it. I'm willing to give it a try.

Just remember, our goal isn't to defend a value /boundary or convey our own intentions, it is simply to relate to and calm the pwBPD down. Validation is to soothe and form a connection of trust and respect between the two of you.

Save "SET" and "Truth" for a later moment when you see that your validation and empathy are having an effect.

Yes, it does seem awkward and stiff putting it down here in words, but when you speak them out loud and use the correct inflection in your voice and some direct eye contact it can really come across as being sincere - which it should be anyways.

Practice makes perfect.
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« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2008, 09:59:50 AM »

So the challenge is to develop validating skills, that we don't likely have as second nature, for when we are confronted with things like this:

It IS hard to validate.  It seems like such a simple thing, but as most of us find out, it is not so easy to do.  It is a learned skill.

Valerie Porr, in Overcoming BPD says that it is “counterintuitive”. She explains that ours is a world based on logic and problem solving. She says that we don’t take time to notice people’s feeling or efforts, especially those who are closest to us.

The Lundberg's wrote I Don't Have To Make Everything All Better as a parent’s self help book. It is a powerful guide to the importance of validation. They make the point that to be an effective validator requires a lot of practice because it doesn’t come naturally.

From a child

#1 I can not ever count on anyone to help me when I really need help!

I understand.  You feel helpless maybe when there is no one around to help you.

#2 You don't love me.  If you loved me you would lend me the money I need.

I am sorry my son.  It is very hard when we don't feel loved and have no money.

The Bible tells us:  "Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep."  This is empathy.  Validation is the verbalization of empathy.
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« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2008, 10:10:21 AM »

Thanks lbjnltx!

As Skip pointed out,  we all need validation. People with BPD just need more validation than others. Validation is not an easy concept to master, as it goes beyond saying “I understand”.  In truth very few of us really “understand” what another person is feeling. When it comes to the extreme emotional reactions of a person with BPD, saying “I understand” when we truly don’t is invalidating.   tongue

According to Shari Y. Manning, PhD (Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder), validation needs to occurs on several levels.  From her book, Six levels of validation...

One of the most basic human needs after food and shelter is the need to feel like you belong and to feel understood.

Validation is a key concept that has the power to really transform and improve relationships.  It does this by adding in a few missing ingredients - acceptance, understanding, and empathy. When a relationship is dysfunctional, typically there is a lack of validation (understanding) going on and lots of invalidation (misunderstanding) happening. These misunderstanding make it difficult, if not impossible for communication to happen. It is pretty easy to validate someone who is not upset. Validating a person who is emotionally upset (dysregulated) is a skill.

To help with visualizing how to properly use validation, Marsha Linehan, PhD (the developer of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) has broken validation into levels.

Level 1 - Stay Awake
At its most basic, all you really have to do is listen and nod.
Staying awake requires you to pay attention and ask objective, probing questions - basically that you demonstrate that you're paying attention to the person who is talking. Lean forward, nod your head, ask questions, and show you are paying attention.

Warning: It's critical not to be judgmental about what the person is saying to you. Judgements are forms of criticism, that you view something as "wrong" or "bad". A pwBPD can often see the changes in our faces when we have judgmental thoughts. To avoid judgements you need to pay complete attention to what they are saying. It's called being mindful. Pay attention to facts to help prevent you from forming an opinion or evaluating (judging).


Level 2 - Accurate Reflection

Accurate reflection requires you to communicate that you've heard the person accurately. This can be done by repeating what the person said, though it can be better to paraphrase so you don't sound like a parrot. This communicates to the person that what he is experiencing is universal enough for you "to get it", a critical part since most pwBPD feel so misunderstood by others. It shows that you are listening to what they are saying.

Level 3 - Stating the Unarticulated

This is a form of mind reading. It requires you to create a hypothesis about what you believe the person is "not" telling you. The emotions driving a persons words or actions.  The hidden message.
You do this by asking a question, essentially guessing if "blank" is accurate.

Example: This works especially when the person is dysregulated and not expressing themselves clearly. You have to be willing to be wrong though, which shows that you haven't quite got it yet, so then ask more questions to reach understanding.


Level 4 - Validating in Terms of Personal History or Biology
We are what's happened in our lives. On some level, based on our history, our actions make sense. If you ever lived through a tornado, you would have a higher response to the warning sirens than others, based on your history. Letting a person know that their behavior makes sense based on their past experiences shows understanding.

Our physical problems also impact (thus explain) how we behave. A person who has a bad back has difficulty sitting for long periods of time. Making reference to their limitations shows understanding and empathy.


Level 5 - Normalizing
One of the most important levels is to communicate that others (those without BPD) would have the same response. People with BPD have the ongoing experience of being different - outsiders in their own worlds. When you normalize  what they are feeling you find a way to communicate that what is going on for the pwBPD is the experience of being human, that anyone in the same situation would feel the same way. This is powerful. Some key phrases that can be used are:

"We all have moments when we feel that way"
"Of course you think that: anyone would in your situation"
"I would feel that way too"
"You know that is such a normal reaction"
"It makes sense that you did that. We all have those moments"


Of course, there are some things you can't normalize, such as suicidal behavior. Don't normalize behavior that is not normal - that's validating the invalid.

Level 6 - Radical Genuineness
The key to all validation is to be genuine. To be radically genuine is to ensure that you don't "fragilize", condescend, or talk down to the person you are trying to validate. You don't want to treat them any differently than you would anyone else in a similar situation. They aren't fragile, and to treat them as such can be seen as condescending.
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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2008, 11:07:51 AM »

You know, I am always a solutions oriented kind of guy. When I hear her complaints what I hear is a demand for a solution. I understand from what you're saying to change my thinking and therefore my response.  Validating is much more important than solving. Is that right? I'm trying to learn.

You are really giving me food for thought. Thanks.
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« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2008, 01:52:26 PM »

I have done the validation routine over and over, sometimes it works about 30% of the time the rest of the time my BPD wife seems to get locked in on what she is angry about and no validating seems to work its if she has made up her mind that she is going to blame me and trash me until she begins to feel better.
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