When we talk about SwanWaters, we often explain it as a place of support and validation. In fact, it is even included in our mission statement! There is a reason why we specifically highlight validation, because it fulfills a multitude of important functions in the process of recovery.
“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”
― Danielle Bernock, Emerging with Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, and the Love That Heals
Validation Communicates Acceptance
When first coming to terms with abuse, survivors often experience a great deal of shame. Shame at not realizing what was going on sooner. Shame at having been fooled by the abuser. Shame at a failed marriage. Shame at leaving aging parents fend for themselves. Shame at struggling to overcome the abuse. Shame at missing the idealized image of our abuser…
Shame is about feeling there is something wrong with us. And through that shame the survivor often takes on the responsibility for the abuse too. It is all part of the power play unleashed by the abuser. An important part of overcoming the abuse, is relieving that sense of shame and guilt.
Validation of the situation will help with this. It took me a while before I could call what my parents did ‘abuse’. It is a big label, and it made me feel guilty to apply it. Having other survivors to listen to my stories, and validate the abuse made that easier. That in turn made it easier to stop feeling guilty and ashamed about this happening. By letting a survivor know that what happened to them is not normal, we help them see what happened was abuse. Moreover by showing that abusers the world over use the same strategies, we illustrate the point that the abuse was not personal, and especially not caused by the target. All this makes it easier to accept what happened. It is about stating our truth as part of our healing journey. Telling our truth and accepting it, are both essential to move beyond the toxic relationship.
As I have mentioned probably a hundred times on this website already, acceptance is what ultimately enables us to forgive. Or maybe the two are even closer related, and acceptance and forgiveness are really two sides of the same medal.
Validation Helps the Person Know They Are On the Right Track
The number of times I have asked myself if I was doing the right thing, if I wasn’t overreacting… I cannot even count. Having a group of survivors supporting me, and validating my experiences helped there too.
Talking to people who do not only understand the abuse you experienced, but also the highs and lows of the recovery journey, is beyond words. Talking to those people means you do not have to navigate you healing journey alone, I mean the healing path is a winding road that can be hard to keep track off. Having people who understand that, who can cheer you on and give you feedback, it keeps you on that straight and narrow.
Validation Helps Regulate Emotions
Abuse recovery is an emotional roller coaster ride. At times when those emotions get on top of you, what you need is for someone to confirm the validity of those emotions. One of our members once said: “It feel so good not to have to start a story with: I know it sounds crazy, but…”
That is what it is all about. Being in a place where your story and you emotional responses are not viewed as crazy or over-reactions. Managing your emotions is so much easier when you feel they are valid and normal. Too long we have been made to feel that our feelings don’t matter, are “silly” or inappropriate. It is important to learn that our feelings are none of those things!
Validation Helps Build Identity
The feeling of having been stripped of your identity is something most survivors of abuse can relate to. When coming to terms with the abusive situation, we realize that our lives have been a farce, and we need to redefine our entire history and therewith our identity. It is a terrifying prospect, so terrifying indeed that some targets rather stick it out with the abuser.
Validation of the abuse helps us understand how our identity was hijacked, which in turn will help us find it back.
Validation Builds Relationships
There is a group of people in my life who I want to talk to, and hang out with on the good days and the bad. They are my new family. All of them are also survivors of abuse in one form or another. The validation that they were able to give me, and I them, has been a foundation for a friendship built on trust, understanding and mutual support.
Everyone knows that feeling of not having to explain yourself to your best friends. That is because validation of our story, our journey and our individuality is at the basis of friendship.
Validation Builds Understanding and Effective Communication
This ties in directly with the previous point. Validation gives a basis of understanding. It means I don’t have to convince you that what I am experiencing or feeling is real, it needs not be debated. So instead, I can tell you straight away what is on my mind, what I am thinking about or feeling, what I am worried about or what major hurdle I feel I have cleared.
That basis of understanding means that survivors can jump right into the conversation that really matters. It makes for far more effective communication, and healing too for that matter.
Validation Shows the Other Person They Are Important
Targets of abuse are made to feel worthless and maybe even disposable. Our feelings do not matter, our emotional needs are of no concern, our identity is only what our abuser needs. We are tools to fill the emotional needs of our abuser.
Becoming part of a group of peers who validate our experiences and stories is feeling like a person again. All of a sudden people acknowledge us, our emotions, our importance. That is the beginning to learning to exist again as an individual, not a tool.
Validation Helps Us Persevere
Recovery is hard work. Without people telling us we are doing the right thing, we are right about our understanding of the past and that what we are feeling is normal… the recovery path may be an impossibly difficult one to walk. We need the cheerleaders, the navigators, the crutches, the lights in the dark… and that is what validation really is.