Validation is a need – The Hindu

Acceptance and affirmation reaffirms that we are understood and valued.

Acceptance and affirmation reaffirms that we are understood and valued.

I have been scared of water. Never adjusted to feel any degree of calm in the sinking, unhinged feeling inside water of any depth. Dunking my head under water makes me panic and I go into a fight-flight mode. So, when I decided to take swimming lessons, it had to be with a coach who would work on my fears. My 50-year-old coach was a skilled swimmer with years of experience and a highly fit athlete, exuding quiet strength and assurance.

For the first couple of sessions, I learn to acclimatize after entering the water, to float and dip the head and breathe underwater, holding on to the edge of the pool. The drill began to feel comfortable and soon the quality of my grip eased from desperate to assured. The next lesson was to stand at the shallow end and launch the body head-down and eventually float up parallel to the pool floor. This was a threatening proposition, and mental blocks showed up – I wouldn’t let go of my foothold. How could I let go off the anchor that saved me from sinking? It was fear, compounded by shame at the ease with which other students took to the water.

On the second day of trying to let go, my coach sought me out and asked me to explain my problem. Here is that moment forever etched for me. While I explained, I had a sense of being the only student in the classroom. He listened and nodded. He then recounted what he’d heard and explained that this was a common fear among learners. He gave context to my fear and validated my feelings. I felt heard and understood and my sense of shame and fear loosened. My head felt lighter, rid of conflicting chatter. I remember feeling open and willing to be guided and to explore ways to release my foothold. Eventually, a specific cue from my coach taught me to launch and float in deeper waters.

Valuable lessons

Today as I look back, there were multiple lessons in that moment of mentorship:

Each one’s version of the world, of reality, is subjective, seen through the lens of individual values, experiences, influences, and assumptions. Every emotional experience differs. Yet every feeling is universal and can be explained in words.

We can stay aware, alert and call out our self-talk. Awareness separates out guilt, shame, fear and every emotion that blocks reason, rationale and initiative. Awareness also validates.

Validation is respect. Validating someone’s reality does not invalidate mine. Standing in my truth without judgment is vital to my progress. Validation is not adulation; neither is it agreement or rejection.

Acknowledging someone’s reality and offering a different perspective can go hand in hand. And vice versa.

Validation humanises an experience. It is a powerful act to make someone feel heard, understood, and accepted. The simple act of acknowledging another person’s experience without judging (or invalidating) conveys positive intent and creative bias. Even someone secure and confident will need it.

Validating an experience does not mean agreeing to someone’s viewpoint. It is a simple act that says, “I hear you ‘and’ it’s perfectly okay for you to have a (different) emotional experience.” This is unconditional acceptance of individuality.

The upside of suspending judgment is that it leads to deeper conversations and we can get to know each other better. In learning more, we identify ways to be helpful and to connect meaningfully. It creates an environment of care and respect and strengthens relationships, whether it be friends, colleagues, parents, siblings, or family members.

The writer is a freelance writer, blogger and life coach. nivedita @


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