Validate literally means “to make true”. It comes from a word meaning “lawful” and “strong”, and more generally, “supported by facts and authority.” Validating someone means listening to their truth and letting them know that you hear it. It answers our deep desire to be recognized and reflected back, and it lets us know that we have the power to tell our own stories. We become makers of meaning, instead of passive objects made by someone else.
Validating someone means recognizing that a person’s own perceptions are worth listening to. …
Most of what was cast in the 80s and 90s as failure to praise children was actually failure to validate them. When a child comes to an adult, dripping with defeat, and says, “I failed,” praise is, “No you didn’t! You did really well!” and validation is, “You’re really disappointed with how you did, hunh? That sucks.” And over time, if adults do nothing but praise, what children hear is: Your self-doubt and weaknesses are not wanted here. Failure is not acceptable, not even thinkable. I cannot accept you unless you do well.
Things I wish my PhD supervisors would do. Saying “you’ll be fine; of course you can do it” does not cut the mustard.
Praise, Validation and Encouragement
For part of my graduate training at therapist school, I did a counselling internship in a university student resource centre. It’s an interesting experience to fall back on, especially when people start ragging on millennials for being lazy and self-satisfied. The students that I saw were overwhelmingly workaholics who felt pressured to sacrifice everything at the altar of academic success—and they were resistant to being told that completely forgoing sleep, a social life, leisure time, and adequate nutrition actually made them less likely to succeed. I came away thinking that there is a deep sickness in the root of my generation’s soul, and this is what it looks like: To be imperfect is to be inadequate. If you are not an extraordinary success, you are an utter failure.
And overwhelmingly, the students I saw—bright, accomplished, high-achieving people—were obsessed with the thought that they were lazy, stupid, and untalented. Impostor syndrome ran rampant, as student after student agonized over the ethics of letting people believe they were good people or even adequate human beings, when their private truth about their selves was far harsher. View Original