There is a woman in my life that I regard extremely highly. I recently showed her a photograph of a shoe rack I built for my trailer, and she commented that I have a lot of shoes. I replied that I repressed my fashion sense for 39 years and refuse to do so anymore. Declared that I’m now flaunting that fashion sense in full measure.
She laughed and told me about how she only recently pierced her ears, and how she now loves earrings and owns many pairs.
We shared a moment of mutual understanding.
Without thinking much about it at first, I started buying more colorful, more expressive, and larger earrings after that conversation. (I had few anyway, and the ones I did have were rather bland).
As this behavior proceeded, I realized two things:
First, I was subconsciously celebrating the moment of shared understanding we experienced. Turned out it meant a lot to me.
Second, I was subconsciously offering her validation. I’ll go into more detail about this in a minute.
Regarding both reasons, I moved them to my conscious mind and decided to continue the behavior.
So lets explore the validation piece a bit:
Many posts in this blog explore the validation I receive externally. Telling these stories aligns with the advocacy goals of this blog. They speak to the challenges of being transgender and the journey I’ve embarked on.
But I’ve never directly discussed my validation of other people before. I’ve partially deconstructed how I love romantically, declaring that, while there are unhealthy aspects to it, the way I love is genuine and validating to others.
I’ve long made a point to validate people I care about (friends, lovers, mentees, coworkers), because we reap what we sow. But I’ve never written about it and analyzed it until now:
My goal in all relationships is interdependence . We all must uplift and support each other. While the direction and intensity of that support ebbs and flows within every relationship (as it should), we are simultaneously responsible for each other and ourselves.
A person who feels structurally invalidated (through oppression for instance), or who is heartsick due to continual invalidation by other individuals in their lives may become incapable of participating in an interdependent relationship. They might either shut off the world by enacting a wall of complete independence, or they might withdraw into complete dependence. Either way, their relationships will become impaired.
So I believe building interdependence begins with validation of everyone involved. Validation of others is an art. It takes practice and study. I screw up a lot but also experience frequent success. Validation stands as a critical ingredient for any successful relationship.
So how am I validating the woman who loves earrings? By “mirroring” her. (This is a well-documented way to build rapport, by the way ). I’m communicating that what she values appeals to me. I’m communicating that she is worth learning from.
But this only works sustainably if I am authentic to myself. Otherwise I’m acting out codependence (a disease I struggle with frequently and am actively unlearning). Wearing more colorful and expressive earrings appeals to my own tastes now that I’ve learned the habit, so I’m fully putting my own values first.
It also only works if the attempted validation truly honors the other person’s core identity. In other words, you can’t successfully validate someone if you are trying to change them. That would be manipulation and it is abusive. It is fine to recommend and promote change in a person’s destructive behavior, especially if the destruction affects more than that person, but it is not okay to try to change someone’s core being. Validation is about honoring one’s core being.
- Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. [Rev. ed.]. New York: Free Press, 2004.
- The Unconscious Influence of Mirroring