It soothes emotions
It slows or turns around negative reactivity
It builds trust and closeness
It establishes you as safe and respectful
Validating increases your self-respect
The past few weeks of struggling in my own therapeutic relationship have had me thinking about importance of validation in therapy. For those of us who grew up in abusive & dysfunctional families, perhaps the validation we receive in a trusting therapeutic relationship is the first validation we will feel.
I remember when dear therapist first told me that it was okay to have, and express, feelings, and she would accept whatever I brought to her, and hold it to the best of her ability. Initially, I was somewhat confused. I learned as a young child that I had no rights, not even to my own body~ nothing was mine. I don’t remember expressing any feelings, but I knew what happened to my mother when she expressed her feelings. She was repeatedly beaten with a glass dark eyes vodka bottle.
An example of how my dear therapist used validation to help me feel cared for, soothed and safe: "Grace, your best at any given point in time is always good enough. Telling me to stop pretending is a way to attempt to push me away and project your feelings of anger and helplessness onto me. The injured, abused Grace will do this because she expects others to abandon, disappoint, or further hurt her. I also suspect that all the caretaking of your sick daughter and others has left the little Grace angry, lonely and needing validation and support. I hear her and I honor her fears." *Grace felt warm and safe*
Those of you who have been reading probably understand my confusion between the dear therapist who used to validate Grace’s feelings, making Grace feel heard, safe and cared for… and the dear therapist who ignores and discards Grace’s feelings …leaving Grace feeling alone, discarded and unsafe in the therapeutic relationship.
After a weekend of mind torture and lack of validation and communication from dear therapist, I woke up this morning with the old familiar feelings of defeat. In fact, when I was in the shower, I actually saw a foot print in my backside and on the sole of the shoe that had left its mark was the word “DEFEAT”. What a wonderful way to start the day! A new bruise~ self inflicted? I’m not really sure… After the morning shower of sunshine, the day didn't improve, I dialed into a 7am call 20 minutes late (I forgot!) and trying to provide direction to attorneys while driving to work with the caffeine indicator on “E” (empty) and no time to stop for coffee, started the work day off great! By the time 10am rolled around, the phrase “Grace will NEVER be good enough” had been added to the initial “DEFEAT”. And I had decided there was no way I could handle DBT class tonight and not hang myself from the ceiling tile in my office.
I called and left a voicemail for DBTC telling her I wasn’t feeling well, the weekend had been terrible and I really didn’t think I would be able to make it to class this evening…and apologizing for being high maintenance. Two hours later DBTC left me a voicemail, acknowledging my feelings, hesitation to continue in the class, and possible solutions she could offer me if I chose to attend. (Validating? Yes, in-deed).
Some highlights DBTCs message: “Grace, I’m so glad you called. First, you’re not high maintenance, you’re just honest. A lot of people are not able to say what they need and high maintenance is just a bad word we give to people who are honest. I am so, so grateful you were able to call me and tell me what wasn’t working for you…I hear you saying you can’t recall the skills now…my guess is you’re having a ‘fear’ come up. We can assess this – we can call it anxiety, or whatever feeling you’re having and try to deal with it in a way other than not showing up…I’m sorry you had such a hard weekend – and I’m curious to hear more about that.”
Summary of how I felt after listening to DBTCs voicemail: I felt respected because she called me back, acknowledged my concerns, answered my questions, agreed to keep assessing the situation to ensure I felt safe. Yes, I felt a seed of trust had been planted in our relationship.
Not long after that dear therapist left me voicemail (nearly 48 hours after my message – but I suppose her vm does say she’ll “do her best to get back with you within 24 hours”…
Some highlights from DT voicemail: “Grace, It’s DT, I’m calling you back because from your voicemails last night, yesterday, you seem like you’re confused about how the phone contact can work. Why don’t you give me a call, if you want. I’ll be available for another 20 minutes and then in session for the rest of the evening. If you leave me a message and you want to talk, please make it clear in your message that you want me to call you back. Ok – I’ll leave it at that and we’ll go from there.”
Summary of how I felt after listening to dear therapist’s voicemail: Invalidated that she is questioning my understanding of how the “phone contact” works – um, we’ve ‘worked’ together for 3 years…I think I’m pretty familiar with it by now. Of course, since she changes the rules and boundaries constantly, perhaps the phone contact rules have changed since our last appointment less than a week ago. I felt like she could care less if I called her back or not. And offended and disrespected that she waited nearly 2 days to call me back, and then has the nerve to say, “If you want to talk, make it clear in your message that you want me to call you back.” I guess my message of, I’m not feeling safe and I need to talk to you didn’t express that to her. I do not feel cared for, my emotions were not “soothed” in fact, her message angered me. (I could go on, but I think you get the jest)
DBTC validated my feelings by calling me back timely, letting me know she HEARD me, expressed her ‘concern’, told me she wanted to hear about my difficult weekend, and by her willingness to work with me to get through it.
DT invalidated me by not calling me back timely and “telling” me I had a clear misunderstanding of the ‘phone communication’. And her obvious lack of care by not acknowledging my struggles and ‘feelings’ (which I expressed on her voicemail) – and whimsically saying I could call her back “if I want too”.
I did go to DBT class tonight…because she validated my feelings and made me feel like she cared and wanted to hear me.
I did NOT call dear therapist back…because she betrayed my trust (again) and obviously doesn’t care whether I’m safe or not, or express any concern for my feelings what-so-ever!
Unfortunately, the validation from DBTC came before the invalidation from DT. I cried nearly the entire way home from class tonight. I’m sad and hurt – and confused by the different emerging personalities of DT. I used to feel cared for by her and it really hurts me that I feel discarded by her now. I don’t understand it, and it makes me feel like I have to be guarded and never show my true feelings, or the real me, for fear of being discarded.
And I hear her voice again tonight, “Grace, no one will ever love or care for you. You showed her the real you. The bad, dirty, disgusting, shameful little girl that you are, and will always be ~ You will NEVER be good enough.”
And I respond, “I know, mother, you are right.” And once again, I hide.