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E21: Why Self-Validation is the New Self-Compassion

Updated: Oct 3

Jacob Derossett

We're here with Sarah Vallely, mindfulness teacher, coach and author. Sarah has been teaching meditation mindfulness for the past two decades, training and certifying others to teach mindfulness. Sarah is the author of four books. Her latest book is titled Tame Soothe Dwell: The 55 Teachings of TSD Mindfulness. On today's episode, we talk about using validation to reduce stress and anxiety. And we also talk about how to stop repetitive thoughts and redirect our thinking for positive changes in our lives. I am Jacob Derossett, we're here with Sarah Vallely, Sarah, how are you?


Sarah Vallely

I'm great, Jacob. Thank you. Right off the bat, I've got a question for us. And that is, what do you do when you notice you're having an anxiety episode, or you notice you're having a difficult emotions, such as sadness or hurt? I start making plans--my mind goes into overdrive. What do I need to do to make this better, and then it creates a overworking cycle. For me, I get into these overworking modes. If you keep that up you eventually go into burnout. Usually, I can catch myself before that point. And sometimes I'll use food. If I'm feeling stressed. Grab some chips or something. And then, of course, there's some more healthy strategies that I'll get into. How about you, Jacob? What do you do when you notice you're having an anxiety episode? Or you're experiencing difficult emotions, just sadness or hurt? What are some typical go tos,


Self-validation is one of the most important forms of self-compassion

Jacob Derossett

I will drop my routine and I'm very routine oriented so if I start to drop my routine, I start to feel out of control and then I start to become irritable. And then that's usually the cycle. Yeah, definitely. I'm right there with you. And then yeah, all the normal vices to the normal nighttime vices.


Sarah Vallely

What put Netflix on something like that?


Jacob Derossett

Netflix, having a beer, eating some cookies. It all adds up. But I honestly I eat cookies all the time, even when things are going good or bad. It's just like, oh, I need to treat myself either way. I haven't figured that one out yet.


Sarah Vallely

At least you're mindful of it. Some people get short and snappy with others. How about driving faster? Do you do that?


Jacob Derossett

I'm trying to pack too many things in so then yeah, driving faster, because usually I've tried to do too many things before I have to be somewhere else.


Sarah Vallely

Some people might turn to putting some music on which I don't think that's necessarily unhealthy in any way, or taking a bath or meditating. Those are some of the more healthy ways--cooking and baking—“I'm stressed, I’m going to bake a batch of muffins.” Another thing that we often do when we get stressed, have an anxiety episode or have a difficult emotion--we devalue ourselves. We might say things to ourselves, like, “This wouldn't be happening if I was more organized.” Instead of doing some of these unhealthy things that we mentioned, what if you gave yourself some validation, in the moment?


I'll begin by explaining what validation is by saying what it's not. Validation is not saying to yourself or to someone else, “Good job,” “Keep it up.” “Way to go.” Validation is not encouragement. We're not encouraging ourselves to do whatever it is. Validation is simply acknowledging that there is a reason for the feeling or the thought. If you say that there's no reason for your reaction, then you're basically saying to yourself that there's something wrong with your own emotional/psychological system, that there's something faulty, something's not working. If something comes up in your psychological/emotional system, there's a reason that came up. And we can validate ourselves for that.


Jacob Derossett

What are some examples of ways that you could validate yourself?


Sarah Vallely

You can validate any emotion and any stress response you're having. Experiences do not need to be ideal to validate them. They don't need to feel good to validate them. They don't need to be efficient. They don't need to be in our highest interest to validate them. If we are experiencing something like I talked about--stress or the sadness, then it's worth validating. Anything you're experiencing is understandable just for the sole reason that you are experiencing it. We don't experience things for no reason. Validating is just admitting that there is a reason.


Jacob Derossett

Give me an example of what would that look like?


Sarah Vallely

I was in line in the drive thru at Walgreens to get a COVID test. And I was having anxiety because I needed to get back home for zoom. Fortunately, it occurred to me, why don't you give yourself some validation. And so what I did, I named it, I named the anxiety, I'm having anxiety. And then I said to myself, “It's understandable that you're having anxiety right now. It looks like you might be late for your zoom.” When I said that to myself, my anxiety went down 80%. I sat there in the car, still waiting for the COVID test; it was taking her so long to get all that together. And then about a minute later, it came back. I validated myself again. I was able to go more minutes feeling calm. It's powerful. You can be in this anxious energy and use self-validation and calm yourself. And I don't think this is something that a lot of people talk about, but it totally works.


Jacob Derossett

When I first started going to therapy, that was one of the first things we worked on. It was first off, being able to identify my emotions. I realized that I would immediately go to the emotion I should feel and not the emotion I was feeling.


Sarah Vallely

This first step: naming what you're experiencing. For example, I feel unsafe, I feel edgy, I feel hesitant, rushed, singled out, let down, withdrawn, I feel separate, I feel disrespected. I feel played. I feel misunderstood. These can be soothed with self-validation. And then following that up with a statement about it being understandable. You might say, “It's understandable I feel stressed, I might be late for my appointment,” like I did. Or “It's understandable that I feel sad, it's hard to transition to a new city.” Including the reason is helpful.


Validation does not mean that we keep doing it. It's not encouragement. Usually the opposite happens, we actually become calm or we become accepting ourselves. Here are some examples of what we might be doing when we are not practicing self-validation. You might be thinking, “I'm overreacting.” That's not validating your feelings and your experience. Or “Why can't I be calmer about this?” Or “I can't believe this is happening.” Or “I'm going to be late yet again.” We're not validating ourselves, we're putting ourselves down. Or “Why do I have to be so needy?” If you notice yourself doing any of these, catch yourself and say, “Hey, this is a wonderful opportunity to practice self-validation.”


Jacob Derossett

Why is it that recognizing your emotion, hopefully accurately, work? In general, why does validating work?


Sarah Vallely

It could be your inner child saying, “I just want to hear that this is understandable. I want to know there's a reason for my reaction.” Possibly one of the reasons validation works is because it helps soothe your inner child.


Maybe it's human nature. I read a study showing that medical patients have much more trust in their healthcare providers when they validate their concerns. A need for validation might be part of our human nature--a human need that we're born with. I read a quote that supposedly from Oprah Winfrey's final television episode, and she says, “I've talked to nearly 30,000 people on the show, and all 30,000 had the same thing in common. They all wanted validation.” That’s interesting.


Jacob Derossett

Yeah. I was actually listening to a psychologist on a podcast yesterday and he was talking about the “emotional immune system.” Your body has a natural healing process that it goes through. If someone as a car accident, six months later, they are at the same level of happiness as before. They have a huge dip and then they resurface. Our bodies and mind are healing themselves as we speak. And I remember my therapist once said, “You're alright, you're doing pretty good. Just work on the stuff we've talked about. You're going to be fine.” He validated that everything's okay, everyone's fine. It's all good.


Sarah Vallely

Do you think self-acceptance piece was important to your healing?


Jacob Derossett

Oh, yeah, I think that was the whole thing. I just needed somebody else to give me an outside perspective on things.


Sarah Vallely

It's powerful, as some of my clients will say, “Really, it is understandable that I'm feeling this way? They are fighting against their feelings and thinking that they're not okay. It makes you wonder how many people out there are walking around, feeling that they're unacceptable?


Jacob Derossett

How does mindfulness come into play when we're talking about the practice of validation?


Sarah Vallely

Mindfulness and compassion/validation, however you want to look at it, are associated with one another, right? You hear “mindfulness and compassion”. The old school mindfulness teachers might say that this is because compassion is a part of what breaks the cycle of rebirth into physical form--ends our karma. So that would be a real Buddhist way to answer the question. Maybe a more modern answer is: when we become more mindful, we start to become aware of our difficult emotions, and all these thoughts that we're having that we tuned out before. And so we need a self-compassion practice or self-validation practice, and an acceptance practice to help us through this because it can be a lot, and it can feel uncomfortable, and we can feel bad about ourselves. But this is part of the awakening, and moving into compassion, as eases us through this experience.


Jacob Derossett

How do you know if you're right? How do I know if I should validate a feeling?


Sarah Vallely

Any emotion can be validated. It gets a little gray, when you get into what I call “mental emotions”, which are anger, blame resentment. We certainly could validate ourselves for being angry, it's not going to make things worse. However, it is better to see what the deeper emotion is. Underneath anger can often be loss or grief, something like that. And then validate yourself for that. “It's understandable I'm feeling loss right now.” Or “It’s understandable I'm going through grief over this because I had something in my life, and now it's gone.” Validating deeper emotions of loss or rejection, leads to healing. You can validate anger, but it might not lead to healing. Does that make sense?


Jacob Derossett

Yeah, I thought of a way that I can differentiate it for myself. You're validating the emotion. You're not validating your action? I can validate myself for being angry but not validate myself for breaking the glass in my kitchen because I was angry. I've never done that, by the way. You can validate yourself for having road rage but not validate yourself for flipping somebody off. Also never done that either. But you get what I'm saying.


Sarah Vallely

Thank you for that; I'm totally on board with that. When you start validating your behaviors and your actions, then it's more dicey. Focusing on validating emotions, and stress and anxiety are a good start. And if you're someone who's not doing any self-validating, start with the basics.


Regarding that question about how is mindfulness involved with a practice of self-compassion or self-validation? My answer to that would be that you need mindfulness to be successful at compassion or validation. Because you need to be able to observe what's happening to make the decision that yes, this is a moment when I can validate myself. And if you want to validate other people, you need to have mindfulness and observational skills to observe what's going on with another person--observe what trials they're going through. To validate them, observe what emotions they're going through so you can validate them and then also being able to observe and be mindful of those trials that you're going through within yourself to validate yourself.


I would ask the listeners to start becoming mindful of those moments when you're not validating yourself. Notice thoughts like, “I messed this up,” or “I wish I was more like this.” Then replace them with validation statements, “It's understandable that I'm feeling this way because of the circumstances.” Notice your anxiety episodes, notice your difficult circumstances. If you are experiencing either of these there's a good chance you are devaluing yourself and you need validation.


Jacob Derossett

In a relationship setting, this is an absolute superpower, I've been married for a few years now. We learned from Brene Brown how to give an emotional rating of where we're at, which you have to be emotionally aware to do that. If my wife at a two and I'm at an eight, I can pull all the weight that night, and I don't feel bad about it. I say, “You go put your feet up, get a glass of wine, I'm going to take care of everything.” Unfortunately, happens in the opposite more often. More often than not, I'm a little drained and she's in a surplus.


Sarah Vallely

In that action you're taking by saying, “Go have a glass of wine and rest,” is huge validation, right? You're validating her and her feelings and her experience in that moment. Walk me through that. How does it work? You come home from work, and you just let your wife know you are at a two? And that means on a scale of one to 10, your are feeling stressed or tired?


Jacob Derossett

Yes, zero is “I'm going to bed.” One is “I need to be on my phone. I can't interact with anybody else right now.” Or I need to go be in nature or something extreme. Two is I'm here but I'm basically disassociating and just getting through this so I can recover. Three is functional, but I'm not going to be able to fake very well. Four is functional and doing okay. You probably wouldn't notice five, it’s feeling normal. Six is I'm feeling pretty good. Seven is prime. Eight is blissed out. Nine is one of the best days ever. Ten is the best day of your life kind of thing. We only talk about it if things are really, really good or really not good.


Sarah Vallely

That's great for listeners who are in a relationship. And then also for listeners who are single, that could be a rating system for yourself, to let yourself know how much space you need to take from your work from other people. I encourage everyone to use that system.


Jacob Derossett

It helps a lot with boundaries, I always know that it's going to work out better on the outset if I can establish a boundary with somebody and create a little bit of space. Also this is an emotional system. It's not a logical system. A lot of times boundaries defy logic.


Sarah Vallely

Or we could be in a trauma trigger, which is not necessarily based on any logic.

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