Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes. It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right. What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.
(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions. If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response. You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.
Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally. When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension. Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice. Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it. Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it. Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.
Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment. Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away. Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them. Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.
Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.
Levels of validation
To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.
Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion: for example, “I feel anxious.” By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.
Allowing. The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.” Here, not only are you not judging the emotion. You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.” Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.
Understanding. The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult. In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it. “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when thieves broke in and threatened me with a gun.”
If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to undertake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it. Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering. We cannot unlearn old patterns over night. Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.