The Importance of Validation in BPD Treatment

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is often the result of an invalidating environment during childhood. People who grow up in invalidating environments are often led to believe that their emotions and thoughts aren’t valid, and they discern that their emotions aren’t correct.

As part of BPD treatment through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), people with the psychiatric disorder are taught skills to help them learn both to feel validated and to validate others. Validation is an important skill learned in DBT, and is one you can help someone with BPD practice.

Learning to Help Someone with BPD Feel Validated

Validation means letting the person with BPD know that you identify what they are feeling or thinking, and clearly communicating your understanding of what that person is expressing. It’s being non-judgmental and accepting of their thoughts and emotions.

During DBT therapy, people with Borderline Personality Disorder are taught the acronym CLEAR to learn the process of validating. If you are interacting with someone with BPD, try using the following techniques to help them feel validated in their thoughts and feelings:

  • Communicate what you understand about the situation
  • Legitimize the “facts” of the person’s responses
  • Explain your own feelings after expressing understanding
  • Acknowledge the situation, and the other person’s opinions and feelings
  • Respect emotions, desires, reactions, and goals

As you are validating the other person, keep in mind that it’s not important that you agree with what they are thinking or feeling. What’s important is simply acknowledging that person’s thoughts and emotions exist.

Types of Validation

There are two ways that you can provide validation to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder:

  • Verbal validation is letting them know through words that you agree with them or see their point. You can verbally validate through such phrases as “I hear you” and “You are right.”
  • Behavioral validation is validation through actions and behaviors, such as hugging them or smiling. You can behaviorally validate through body language and how you respond to their requests.

Why Validation Is Important

For people undergoing BPD treatment, validation can be an integral part of helping them realize that what they think, experience, and feel is legitimate. This is important for successfully moving through BPD treatment and the stages of Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

According to the National Education Alliance on Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD), validation is also important for the following reasons:

  • It’s the core of communication
  • It helps to get through conflicts
  • It builds trust
  • It decreases anger
  • It enhances self-respect
  • It makes both parties feel more positive about the relationship
  • It makes problem-solving, closeness, and other kinds of support possible

What You Should Validate

As you attempt to help someone feel validated, you’ll realize that you won’t be able to – or won’t want to – validate everything. People may express things to you that are unachievable or impossible. But rather than making them feel silly about their thoughts or beliefs, you can listen non-judgmentally and be accepting of what they are expressing.

Here are some areas that NEA-BPD suggests you target for validating:

  • Feelings and emotions
  • Legitimacy in desires
  • Beliefs, opinions, or thoughts
  • True values and priorities
  • How difficult a task is
  • How hard a person is trying to accomplish something
  • Things a person does for someone else
  • Efforts made

Learning these validation skills and putting them into effect can go a long way to enhancing your relationship with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder and helping them to feel validated.

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