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Why It’s Important to Validate Someone’s Feelings

Being seen in a moment of pain helps us to heal and return to a place of peace and calm.

Validating feelings
Credit: Getty Images

“I understand why you feel that way.”

According to a new study by researchers at The Ohio State University, these seven words could mean the difference between helping a loved one work through a moment of anger in a healthy way or leaving them stuck in painful negativity.

Participants in the study—307 undergraduate students—told researchers a real-life story of an incident that had made them angry. Some researchers responded with a supportive phrase like, “I hear what you’re saying” or “Of course you’d feel angry about that.”

Others responded in an invalidating way, with a judgmental or questioning statement like, “Why would that make you angry?” or “That doesn’t sound like anger.”

While they were discussing or writing about the angering incident, nearly all the participants reported a decrease in their mood, especially in what psychological mood tests describe as “positive affect.”

Participants whose feelings were validated quickly returned to their baseline mood. But those who were not validated reported continued negative feelings that only got worse as the session continued.

The researchers concluded that simply by feeling validated in their emotional responses, participants were able to protect their positive outlooks and coping skills. Without that protection, it was much harder for participants to find their equilibrium again after confronting an angering situation.

We are living in a time when frustration, anger and other intense emotions are high. Perhaps this study can remind us what we probably already know—that being seen in a moment of pain is a crucial aspect to working through big feelings and returning to a place of peace and calm.

Who sees you with compassion when you are upset? Who do you see in the same way?

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