The power of validation - recognising your thoughts and feelings

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had super weird dreams; so too, my husband. It got me wondering as to why.

And then this article, ‘Why am I having weird dreams lately?’ from The New York Times popped up in my newsfeed. It explained how many of us are having weird dreams at the moment.

Hooray! I wasn’t alone.

Reading the article made me feel better simply because it reminded me that just like me, there are many people around the world whose subconscious is working overtime processing what’s going on at the moment. It validated my feelings and thoughts.

Validation in this context isn’t about seeking the approval of others. Instead, it’s about recognising that your feelings, thoughts and actions are perfectly natural, and understandable. It’s ok, and you are ok.

In contrast, when we don’t feel validated, we can feel like there is something wrong with us. Consequently, we can try and deny how we feel and suppress our emotions, which in time wears us down and can lead to poor decisions and outcomes.

At the moment, people from all walks of life are telling me:

  • I am tired and emotionally drained by the end of the day
  • I thought working from home would be easy, but on many days I am finding
    it harder
  • I feel like I am working longer hours, but I am less productive
  • I am finding it hard to focus
  • My mind is wandering
  • If this is you, you aren’t alone.

When your world has been unexpectedly upended, these are all perfectly valid and natural feelings. Certainty has evaporated. Routines have shifted, and you are adjusting to unusual times.

In making your way through this, it starts with acknowledging how you feel. Accept those feelings as real and legitimate. It can help to label the emotions you are feeling. Write them down. Get them out of your head.

Then, dig into the meaning you are giving those feelings and what they are telling you to do. Your emotions matter. They change your physiology, perception, and where you place your attention. Notice what you are giving attention to, and what you are ignoring or avoiding.

Next, consider what you can and can’t change about what is happening around you, and how you can shift your perspective to focus on what you have (rather than what you don’t have). Lastly, consider the options you have to reframe the meaning you are putting on what is happening, and what you can do to shift that state.

In doing this activity, accept it can take time. Sit with it. Embrace the discomfort. Lean into the learnings you are gathering because you will come out the other end more resilient and with deep insights into yourself.

As well, you have opportunities at the moment to support and hear others. Just like you want to feel validated, so too do they. So, if you are on the receiving end of someone who is expressing how they feel, listen to them. Acknowledge them. Hear what they are saying. See them. Notice what is said and unsaid.

It can be easy to jump into solution mode; to try and help or rescue your colleague, friend or partner. You can’t, and they aren’t ready to hear your ideas on how to fix how they feel. They will find their way through this situation. What they need is bucket loads of empathy. Stand beside them and be ready to listen deeply.

As American psychologist, Carl Rogers, commented:

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, working with global leaders to build workplaces where leaders and employees thrive and great things happen. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’, ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’ and the new book ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’.

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