Validation … feedback rather than criticism: It’s what we all need

Dr. Lawrence Johnson

Over the past three articles we have examined the “needs cycle,” relational needs and the power of acknowledgement. In this article we will examine the relational need of validation which is our need to have our intra-psychic process and interpersonal relationship process validated.
Within our intra-psychic process we all carry a certain amount of archaic shame. In other words, within each one of us there is an internal voice which casts doubt on everything we do and say. The first line in Lauren Daigle’s song, “You Say” exemplifies this process: “I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough.” This is the internal experience of shame. We need validation from significant others to counterbalance this intra-psychic experience. Without validating relationships, the internal voice of shame takes over and the person sinks into isolation and withdrawal, fighting depression.

In our society today, I observe that criticism is normalized. As criticism and judgement expand, the presence of validation diminishes. Consequently, depression becomes highly prevalent. We rationalize the use of criticism through the phrase “constructive criticism.” I contend that there is no such thing as “constructive criticism.” Criticism is criticism. The function of criticism is to tear down and destroy. Criticism does not elevate the person.
However, feedback is possible. We can validate a person and still give them feedback on self-defeating, self-diminishing behaviors and intra-psychic process.
Giving a person feedback includes four criteria:

  • the person wanting the feedback must invite the person giving the feedback;
  • the person giving the feedback must have a clear understanding of the goals, which the person receiving the feedback has for him or herself;
  • the person giving the feedback must truly care about the welfare of the person receiving the feedback; and
  • the person receiving the feedback must be able to feel the validation of the person giving the feedback.

As a result true human growth takes place in the person receiving the feedback.
I often use this simple example: If my golf swing needs improvement, which it often does, I seek out my local golf pro to give me a lesson (I am inviting the pro to observe me and give me feedback). I explain that I want to hit the ball straight (I state my goal). He watches me and teaches me about my self-defeating golf swing. He explains that I am releasing the club too early and gives me some exercises to correct my swing, demonstrating that he cares about me improving my golf swing. This is the process of feedback which people experience as validating. While playing, one of my fellow golfers could make the same observation and point out to me that I am releasing my club too early. This is criticism because it was not invited and he demonstrates no interest in my goals or welfare.
I realize this is a very simplistic example, but let’s expand on it. How often do we give or receive feedback without being invited? How often do we give or receive feedback when the lack of understanding is present? How often do we judge and criticize without any concern or caring for the recipient of the judgement.

Lawrence J. Johnson, Ph.D., FAPA, is a clinical psychologist with over 38 years of diverse experience in the field.

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