There is a relational skill that is so vital, so important and essential–yet often difficult to incorporate as a habit. This skill changes how people feel, how they react to upset, and how they grow. For the last couple of years, remembering and practicing this valuable tool has been one of my goals. It doesn’t come easy all the time. Jesus has to remind me. It’s something I want to do and something we all need. When someone remembers to love us in this simple way, we want to be with them and see what God is up to instead of hiding from our hurts. When this action is missing, we feel deep emotional pain; we feel misunderstood and the upset feels worse.
This simple, important skill that I want to talk about is validation, that is, helping someone sense that we believe their feelings are valid, although their feelings may not be true. Their feelings are their feelings at the moment and it helps if someone can validate and comfort before giving truth.
I cut my spiritual teeth on the idea of helping others find the truth so that they would feel better, but I’ve been learning that there is a time for finding the truth after first validating how a person is feeling. Going straight to the truth and trying to “fix” someone is a hard habit to break. In order to validate, we have to be willing to sit with the person in their pain and help them feel cared about more than we want them to be OK–so we feel OK.
Sometimes things happen that trigger feelings and we don’t act like ourselves when under stress, when sad, when upset, or when we are tired. Feelings that might ordinarily be easy to handle are amplified when capacity is low. Observing such an event makes us tend to want to chastise instead of validating feelings or trying to find out why someone is “out of it.” As I am learning to validate, I want to remember how much it hurts to be misunderstood so I can better remember to ask someone, “What’s going on right now? You don’t seem to be your usual self?” I want to remember to say things like, “I bet that hurt (or hurts),” before I start telling someone God’s truth. I want to be sensitive to what others might be going through that I can’t see or don’t know about.
Validating and comforting are part of synchronizing with others–sharing their energy, being on the same wave length, sharing minds. When we remember to validate and comfort, it brings joy–we are glad to be together. And when we are glad to be together, if there is a bump in that relationship we want to repair it and get back to joy.
These simple but powerful relational skills–validating and comforting, bringing joy, and repairing ruptures can make all the difference when someone is upset or just not quite acting like their usual self. I want to remember to see as Jesus sees and consider others’ perspective as we work through the common bumps of life.
For more extensive information on these and other relational skills see my book Joy-Filled Relationships.