Avoiding harmful patterns in relationships
Vienna-based Marriage and Family Therapist Helen Rudinsky looks at how to avoid invalidating others, even if you don't realize you're doing it.
Often we do things and we don’t even realize we’re doing them - like invalidating our spouse or co-workers. Statements like: “That is a ridiculous idea” or “You are way too sensitive” are invalidating.
When we discount, minimize, belittle, or brush off another person’s thinking or feelings, we are invalidating them. Invalidation can be direct and verbal: “Don't feel that way”, “You are really overreacting”. Or it can be non verbal: like rolling your eyes, looking at your watch, or drumming your fingers while someone is talking to you.
Validation, on the other hand, is acknowledging a person's right to think or feel a certain way, even it you don't agree with them. Validating statements are: “It is obvious you take this very seriously”, "I can see this is very important to you”, or “You really have strong feelings about this, don't you?”
Let's look at the following scenario. Susan walks over to Tom, who is watching TV, and says, “I feel very alone in our marriage.” If Tom responds by saying, “Come on, everything is fine”, or “You're not alone,you're just over reacting”, or “You shouldn't feel that way, want some ice cream?” he is invalidating Susan. Or if he doesn't say anything but continues to watch TV and ignores her he is also invalidating her.
On the other hand, to validate Susan, Tom could say things like: “You feel very strongly about this, don't you ?” or “I can see you are troubled by this, and I don't want you to feel alone.”
It is possible to be true to yourself and disagree with someone and still validate them - with sentences like: “I would have handled this differently, but I can understand why you were so angry”, or “I see this is important to you, but I just don't think I can live with it. How can we make it work?”
Invalidating others creates resentment, anger, alienation and emotional distance between people. It breaks down the mutual trust and respect we all need to cooperate and connect with each other.
To prevent invalidation both parties need to work to show respect for and acknowledge the other's right to have different thoughts, opinions and feelings.
Validation, on the other hand, is a powerful tool that you can use to build intimacy with your spouse, and cooperation with co-workers. Validating others will help you build a positive, supportive and satisfying environment at home and in the workplace.
• Take away tip: Watch your conversations over the next few days to see if you are invalidating others. If you are, the good news is that now you are aware of this, you can change how you interact. Remind yourself that your partner, co-worker or anyone else has a right to his/her own opinion, feelings and thoughts.
Why is validating so important? Partners validate each other. Adversaries invalidate each other. If you want to have healthy relationships you need to validate others often.
Research has shown that if harmful patterns like invalidation are not corrected they will cause significant damage to any relationship. In marriage they will send a couple into a downward spiral that ends in divorce 98% of the time.
In the workplace, these negative patterns will bring about stress, conflict, lack of productivity, and high turnover.
If you have a question for Helen that you would like her to address in her next column, email us at [email protected] All personal details will be treated confidentially and names will be changed.