Validation is so important to have strong mental health. I believe that validation can generally be thought of as to come from a person, maybe a spouse, sibling, parent or friend. But, I believe that validation can also come from participating in a class, activity, sport, job, or chore. I also believe it can come from your pets! However, the source of your validation may not always be coming from the person, place or thing you wish it to come from. You may have to go searching for validation, and that can be frustrating, agitating and feel a little degrading.
First, what is validation? Marsha Linehan describes validation as the following definition:
“To confirm or strengthen what is relevant, true, or effective about a response, be it a thought, emotion, physical sensation or action. Validation requires empathy (the accurate understanding of the person’s experience) but validation also includes the communication that the person’s response makes sense.”
Before being formally diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, I believed I had Borderline Personality Disorder. I was staying the summer at college to write a long thesis-esque political paper to try and graduate on time. I struggled with it. I struggled with life. I lived alone. I isolated. One day, I reached out to a friend who was my teammate, roommate and in that moment and moments for years, best friend. As I explained to her that I believed something was wrong with me beyond having anxiety, I believe I had BPD.
This friend was going to graduate school for social work and an undergraduate psychology major so her response mattered to me. Her response felt like it came from a place of knowledge. More so, she knew my family, she had been to my home state (10 hours away), she had seen me through my worst and my best.
My friend explained to me that people who have serious mental illnesses do not have the capacity to have friends, to be social and therefore, I could not possibly have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). She told me that in her family, she has a higher chance of having schizophrenia (I have no idea where that statement came from) and she does not suffer from that illness. Therefore, to her knowledge, I do not have BPD or any mental illness since I appear to be so “capable and social”.
I was destroyed and shattered. I sat there in a moment of complete weakness. I had no idea what to say. I was destroyed. I was drowning. I was looking for a friend, the only person I felt in my college town to help me in my desperation and she invalidated me. She humiliated me. She made me feel less than. I didn’t know how to cope.
In that moment, I felt my problems didn’t matter. I knew she didn’t care and she didn’t understand. I didn’t feel supported. I knew at that moment, I couldn’t go to her again for help. I felt betrayal and I felt angry. I felt like I needed to cut the cord.
Fast forward, it’s three years later, I live in a city where I have no family nearby, no previous best friends and no previous strong relationships. In the beginning of moving to Boston, it was hard. I think I was in denial. I didn’t believe I needed a support group. I felt I could juggle Bipolar on my own. But I can’t.
I’m so lucky to have found so many people out there who I can tell my story to. I have found co-workers, in my most ill moments and my co-workers validate me and make me feel strong. I have found a psychiatrist who validates that my illness is serious and is one that will impact my life forever. I have found a therapist, who not only helps me with my weaknesses but also empowers my strengths and even digs deeper to give me suggestions on things I would excel at.
I have found validation in reading memoirs. I love to read memoirs on people who deal with mental illness. I have found validation in writing on my own personal blog. I have found validation in various inpatient, partial hospitalization program (PHP), and intensive outpatient program (IOP) settings. I have found validation in running, in SoulCycle class and simply the fact that I am in a city, by myself, and living a life worth living. I have built a life for myself, all by myself. And that in itself is something that I am so proud of.
I have learned to be more compassionate and give myself self-care. I have found that one of the first steps to feeling better is self-validation. Once I have insight on my feelings, I can build confidence towards an obstacle and get the help that I need to overcome it.
No one deserves to be invalidated. There is no situation too big or too small. Every single issue, concern, obstacle, problem, thought and idea deserves validation and I believe that there is some way of validation out there. I hope each one can find it and if not, be strong enough to keep looking and have hope that it’s there because I believe it is for you.
I have come a long way from being invalidated by a good friend. I still hit bumps in the road. I have to re-center myself, remember that it’s okay to feel a certain way, reach out to my support group and tackle the problem head-on. If I can do it, so can you!