Someone close to me asked me which psychiatric tablet that I take helps me the best. I thought for a few seconds and then replied that actually it wasn’t a pill that helped me the best, but a ‘thing’ – validation. They replied quite honestly that they didn’t know what validation was. So I told them………..
I have blogged before about my journey of mental health distress, about how I found peer support and became an accredited peer support worker. I have blogged about relapse and how that has shaped my journey – I have talked about some of the challenges I have encountered on my recovery road, but now it’s time to talk about things that really matter to me. The things that are forming the concrete foundations that I am building, tools that I can use in my own recovery but also tools I can use to help those I have the privilege of working with.
So, to validation, I could easily give you many a dictionary definition to peruse but in short, validation is making someone’s experience ‘valid’, ‘real’ and ‘true’. If you can do this for someone then you have the power to help them in greater ways than any medication, I believe. Let me give you some examples. I have recently experienced a rapid relapse, that was scary, full of visual and auditory disturbances and scary shadows that were everywhere. For those of you that have experienced such things you will know that telling someone who works in mental health services what you can see and hear is very hard – you worry what they will say, you worry they will call a mental health act assessment – you worry that they will take away your choices – but above all, for me anyway, you worry they won’t believe you! To share something so scary, to ask for help is something I find really hard, and sadly in the past, people have said things like ‘pull yourself together’, or they try to minimise your experience by saying ‘oh it’s all in your mind’ or ‘other people have it worse’.
How wonderful and powerful it is then, to be with someone who will truly validate what is happening to you – they will say things like ‘that must feel so scary Clare’ or ‘I can’t imagine what that must feel like Clare’. Or even ‘I believe you, and I believe in you’. Thus acknowledging that they can’t take those experiences away but they can sit with you in your distress and help you find fresh avenues to reduce the intensity of your emotions. Validation, when truly experienced can help to safely minimise your distress and for me it creates strong bonds of trust that allow you to walk bravely in the darkness of your experience. How powerful is that?!
I love this quote by Danielle Bernock which says:
“Trauma is not personal, it does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally, heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.”
Validation is so important, so crucial to healing and recovery, yet many people jump to fix or dismiss the suffering being felt. This can be equally frustrating for both parties.
When I think of my own relapses, I can recall occasions where I felt unheard, yet was desperately screaming inside for help. I can also think of times more recently where someone has said ‘I hear you’ and the difference it makes is truly amazing.
Being a peer support worker, the reciprocity of sharing feelings and experiences is so powerful and I feel honoured to sit with someone in their distress – but as a person who has experienced trauma, I KNOW the wonderful feeling when I have really been heard.
Validation, it’s priceless.
Clare Knighton is an accredited peer support worker based in Worcestershire.