Validation Is a Powerful Tool in Helping People Stay Positive

Are you a glass-half-full type of person, or someone who sways towards the glass-half-empty point of view? Positivity is an interesting personality trait, given that some people are naturally more positive than others. But, this doesn’t mean you can’t create a little positivity in your life, even if you’re not usually that way inclined.

Research has highlighted the importance of validation in promoting positivity in people. According to Science Daily, validating a loved one who is distressed with something simple like “I understand why you feel that way,” can go a long way in helping them feel better.

When exploring this area, researchers from Ohio State University asked 307 undergraduate students to describe real-life incidents that made them angry. When the researchers didn’t show support or understanding of the situation that the students were describing, their positive emotions decreased. When the researchers validated the participants’ feelings, their positive emotions stayed much the same. Participants also noted a dip in their overall mood when they recalled the event, with only those who were validated experiencing a recovery of mood back to their starting point.

On the flip side, there wasn’t much of a difference found in participants’ negative emotions which, according to Jennifer Cheavens, senior author of the study and a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, further highlights the importance of focusing on protecting positivity.

“We have underestimated the power of positive emotions. We spend so much time thinking about how to remedy negative emotions, but we don’t spend much time thinking about helping people harness and nurture positive emotions,” Cheavens said.

“It’s really important to help people with their depression, anxiety and fear, but it’s also important to help people tap into curiosity, love, flexibility and optimism. People can feel sad and overwhelmed, and also hopeful and curious, in the same general time frame.”

In three different experiments, researchers assessed the effects of validation versus invalidation on what is known clinically as “positive and negative affect”. According to Science Daily, positive affect refers to positive emotions and expression that allows people to be curious, connected and flexible in thinking. Negative affect, on the other hand, refers to negative emotions and causes people to experience feelings of fear, sadness and disgust.

When exploring this through the experiences of the participants, researchers used a variety of validating phrases, including “Of course you’d be angry about that” or “I hear what you’re saying and I understand you feel angry” as well as invalidating phrases like “That doesn’t sound like anger” and “Why would that make you so angry?”.

When thinking of the situations that made them angry, all participants experienced a decrease in positive affect but, when the researchers validated their feelings, their positive affect matched or even exceeded their original baseline measures.

“When you process negative emotions, that negative affect gets turned on. But if someone validates you, it keeps your positive affect buffered. Validation protects people’s affect so they can stay curious in interpersonal interactions and in therapy,” Cheavens said.

“Adding validation into therapy helps people feel understood, and when we feel understood we can receive feedback on how we also might change. But it’s not a uniquely clinical thing — often the same ways you make therapy better are ways you make parenting, friendships and romantic relationships better.”

So, while positivity is hard to maintain all the time, it’s helpful to know that practicing validation with loved ones will help them feel more positive about their experiences — especially when they’re feeling distressed.

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