Every child needs to be heard by their parents. They want to talk about school and their time in the playground with their new friend. It doesn’t go far different by the time they become adults. When they start forming opinions of their own, they want these to be heard and, to a certain extent, influence how other people think.
May it be emotions, stories, or opinions, being heard is essential. Think about what you feel when you finally complain about your roof needing replacement. Think about finally telling someone that you’ve fallen in love with them. When you get the appropriate response to your concerns, you feel validated.
How do you feel when someone recognizes your emotions? How do you feel when someone acknowledges your views and opinions? Most of the time, that feeling is validation. Validation isn’t always about agreeing with the other person, but it has more to do with recognition, acceptance, and understanding.
There are several levels to validation as well. The first is to be present—to give the other person your full attention. Because validation is about understanding, one of the levels is to look into the person’s history and biology. What are their significant experiences in childhood? What happened a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago that caused these emotions and behaviors? By doing so, you can accept why a person is acting the way they are. When you achieve this, you will know what to say and what to do to comfort them.
The ability to empathize with others needs to be learned. Simply put, empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of others. It’s taking into account what the other person is going through and what they’re feeling. Empathy can either be affective or cognitive. The former is “mirroring” the other person’s emotions while the latter is more of analyzing and understanding their emotions.
Empathy can manifest through communication and effective listening. Experts suggest “reflective listening.” For example, a person tells you they had a bad day. Instead of proceeding to relate your experiences to what they have shared, reflective listening suggests that you ask them what happened. You should also pause to observe the emotions they are exhibiting. Maybe they are tired or exhibiting anger from the bad day they had. Then, your response could be, “What happened? You sound tired/angry.”
Yes, you exist.
Part of the reason people love to be heard is that their existence is recognized. To be heard when you say, “I am here, and I will take up space” makes you feel like you’re not fading into the background and that you belong.
This is most important for oppressed and marginalized groups. For these people, their existence is out of the norm, so they are different—even though they are equally as human as the rest. They experience prejudice at work, in school, or almost everywhere they go. For their voices to be heard could mean far more than just validation; it could be about fighting for their basic human rights.