May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Validate Button

Years ago when my now-husband and I were dating, he came up with a metaphoric “validate” button. I was in graduate school at the time, processing my own experiences as I entered the world of psychotherapy. Through this journey I had learned to communicate that what I truly needed—above all else—was validation. Whether I was complaining about my day, reflecting on an experience or sharing an anxiety—I needed to feel that I was being heard and seen.

We were walking in Chelsea where I worked and where he lived at the time, and I recall being on the corner of 25th Street when he stated, “I’m pushing the validate button” after I had shared an anecdote highlighting a particularly frustrating conversation I’d had. And so began a little inside joke. I would share and he would comment that he was pushing that button, showing me that he was listening and that I was being seen.

Until this stopped working. Until the day when he made that familiar comment and I became upset. “Sometimes I need to feel validated with more than just a line.” He was confused—hadn’t this been working until now? All of a sudden what I had named as helpful just wasn’t effective anymore.

And this, dear reader, is the human experience. There is no manual or rule book of what will absolutely feel helpful in our moments of need. Sure, there may be comments that are always unhelpful and a list of what not to do; but there is no one size fits all when it comes to support.

I share this idea regularly when working with parents and loved ones who reach out to ask what they can do for the individual whom they are supporting; asking for a treasure map that will yield change and recovery and feelings of love and appreciation. It can be heartbreaking to inform loved ones that there is nothing they can say, no magic line, to change the situation. Instead, support will need to bend and shift as time goes on.

As human beings we tend to be drawn toward all-or-nothing thinking, good objects and bad objects. This way of thinking helps us to feel safe and to experience the world as simple and predictable. If we have one line of what to say, then we won’t have to worry about vulnerability—we can make less of an effort and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we “showed up” but didn’t have to do much work in the moment. But, it’s not that simple.

Sure, for some people even remembering one supportive line is hard work. Perhaps it goes against their natural instinct; so many people try to support by offering advice, trying to fix, relating—and therefore “pushing the validate button” requires the concentration of offering an alternative to what might be innate. Support is hard; we are often mind readers, hoping others will know what we need or expecting them to give us what we would offer them.

Ultimately, support requires paying attention in the moment, asking what would be helpful and being open to this changing regularly. What may be requested as supportive one day could change by the next day.

The validate button had become stale. And I believe in the moment of frustration I wanted to hear more curiosity rather than a line that made me wonder if he was listening. (Spoiler: he was). So I explained that I was starting to want more validation by his asking questions and commenting on what I was sharing. I gave direction. Did I want to have to? No. But I needed to teach him what I needed; I could not expect him to just know. And this is what I recommend of those whom I support and what I recommend you practice, reader. Be clear in stating what type of support you need. Ask for advice, a listening ear, stories of how the other person can relate, a simple hug. Ask and recognize that others cannot read our minds.

Supporters, be open to this change. Be open to asking what you can do. I find myself in sessions asking, “Would it be helpful for me to ask more about this?” or “Would you like to make a plan?” and by doing so, clients pause to reflect on what they might need. At times they do not know, but they may be able to reflect on what would not be helpful.

There is no manual or magic line. We constantly evolve, living in a plethora of colors while we wish for a world that is black, white or gray. You are meant to change and what feels helpful is meant to shift. Communicate—on both the giving and receiving ends and know that the process of asking for help can be scary and confusing; it just may not make sense. But when we offer space for learning together we can adapt to one another and know that support is possible.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles