The Power of Validation in Helping People Stay Positive

by | Nov 8, 2023 | Helping a Loved One, Well-being | 0 comments

Recent research suggests that offering support and understanding to distressed friends or family members, such as saying “I understand why you feel that way,” can have a significant positive impact on their emotional well-being.

In this study, participants recounted real-life incidents that had made them angry. When researchers failed to provide support or validation for the participants’ feelings of anger, the storytellers experienced a decline in positive emotions. However, when the researchers acknowledged and validated the participants’ emotions, their positive emotions were preserved and remained at the same level.

The study also found that participants reported a decrease in their overall mood as they recalled the anger-provoking event. Only those who received validation for their feelings experienced a recovery of their mood to its initial state. There was no significant difference in the participants’ negative emotions, emphasizing the importance of preserving positive emotions.

According to Jennifer Cheavens, the senior author of the study and a psychology professor at The Ohio State University, the power of positive emotions has been underestimated. While addressing negative emotions like depression, anxiety, and fear is essential, it is equally important to help people nurture and harness positive emotions such as curiosity, love, flexibility, and optimism. People can experience sadness and overwhelm while also feeling hopeful and curious at the same time.

The study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, involved three experiments that assessed the effects of validation and invalidation on both positive and negative effects. The researchers observed that positive affect enables individuals to be curious, connected, and flexible in their thinking, while negative affect encompasses a range of negative emotions from disgust to fear to sadness.

The study involved 307 undergraduate students who were asked to recall a time when they felt intense anger and then describe it to a researcher. The researchers either validated or invalidated the participants’ feelings based on randomized assignments. Validation involved responses like “Of course, you’d be angry about that,” while invalidation included responses like “That doesn’t sound like anger.”

Results showed that all participants experienced a decrease in positive affect while thinking about their anger. However, those who received validation had their positive affect restored to or exceeded their baseline levels. In contrast, the positive effect of those who were invalidated did not recover while interacting with the experimenters.

The researchers intend to apply these findings in a therapy setting, but they also emphasize the relevance of validation in various relationships, including friendships and romantic partnerships. Validation helps people feel understood and preserves their positive affect, enabling them to engage in more curious and constructive interpersonal interactions.

The study was co-authored by Ohio State psychology graduate students Cinthia Benitez and Kristen Howard.

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