More on PreValidation
©Al Turtle 2003
History of PreValidation
Some years ago Ted Smith, a great Imago Therapist from New York, and I spent some time comparing notes on our methods of working dialogically with individuals. We found we were using a common approach. We observed that clients, as they approached our offices, were doing things and were involved in patterns of behavior that made sense to them. We both experienced that people changed their behavior when the added new data to their thinking. That the best environment for taking in new information was one where they were validated for what they were or had been doing. If we as therapists didn’t approach them as valid, they would not join with us in finding new patterns. So we both had come to “approach the person walking into the office as valid before they open their mouths.”
PreValidation as a Spiritual Practice
A spiritual dimension of this is the idea that “God lives within us and knows that what we do is valid to us.” God knows we are doing our best. But humans often forget this Godly lesson. And so it is helpful that humans remind us, by taking that as-if-I-were-God position. And thus validation often becomes a celebration of each person’s spiritual worth – of the sense we already make.
Thus Imago Therapy often becomes quite a spiritual event, where the therapist sees the god in each partner. There is no sense of taking sides, in dialogical space, as both make sense all the time. At the spiritual level couple’s therapy becomes “God holding God meeting God” (Althea Chadwick Aug, 2002).
I call this attitude or skill, PreValidation. It is a mind set, an internal stance of listener. It is the position that before you open your mouth you are valid. As you speak you share with me your validity. Until you speak your validity may be hidden from me. Hidden or not, your validity is nevertheless always there. Your validity is not conditional. Whatever you are going to say is valid for you.
This makes the idea of “making sense” to shift from an external point of view to an internal point of view. All people make sense all the time —- to themselves. Internal logic is there whether shared or not.
Definition of Validation
Prevalidation brings about a very exact new definition of validation. In the past, people have used validation as if there were a decision to be made – i.e. “a person either makes sense or does not.” This often slips into the completely silly thinking that “you don't make sense.” I think this happens because of the way we often teach validation in the traditional Mirroring, Validation, and Empathy pattern taught in Imago Therapy. By waiting till the end of the mirroring to say the phrase “you make sense”, it is a small step to activating the judgmental part of the brain. Also that particular phrase easily implies a judgment, as if “you cannot make sense.” Thus I split validation into two pieces: Part 1 and Part 2.
Part 1 is the Pre-validation statement. “Of course you make sense.” “You always make sense.” “I've never known you to not make sense.” “Please share with me your sense.” etc.
Part 2 I call “Bearing Witness.” After I see my partner's sense, after I grasp their internal logic and consistency, then I speak up and say, “Oh, I see it. You did that because………. I see. That makes sense.” I visualize this as kind of a court room situation, where I am standing before the judge explaining why my friend did what they did, why they made sense. As I am “bearing witness”, as I am “validating” my partner, I watch them to see if I truly have gotten their sense. If not, I ask them to explain more. Since people always make sense all the time, this is usually not difficult. Just takes practice.
If the situation doesn't have time for me to do a “bearing witness” I will still almost always throw in a Part 1. How about this one, “I don't see why you did that, but I know it made sense to you. When you have time, let me know your sense.”
I try to never compare their sense with mine except obliquely. “Your sense seems kind of like mine.” I think it quite silly to suggest that a person makes sense because they did something the way I do.
I believe it is important to get rid of the judgmental phrase, “you make sense” after mirroring. Replace it with liberal injections of “you always make sense. What is it this time?”
Importance of Validation
Somewhere along the path to having an adult brain, each of us discover that we see things very differently from the way others see things. My belief is that this awareness of difference is frequently scary. Our brains question themselves – wonder if they themselves are “crazy.” I believe this natural, common, fear is the primary source of people saying, “Did that make sense?” “Do I make any sense?” after they say something. They want reassurance that they are not crazy and are still acceptable even though different.
Pre-validating is immensely reassuring. Seeking to validate (Part 2) invites people to dig down and see their own sense. When you bear witness to their sense, you help strengthen their self-hood, their sense of integrity.
Persuasion is Pre-Invalidating
Because we make sense all the time, our current point of view is the best we can come up with at any point. What we are doing is our best. We will change it when we have a new point of view, new data. Sharing data allows us to change our points of view based on more data. Dialogue is a wonderful way to share data. But persuasion is based on the internal belief that someone should do it our way. Persuasion is based on an assumption of the invalidity of the other. Persuasion is built upon pre-invalidation. Persuasion is Master/Slave – an attempt to control, a subtle form of war.
Our Culture is based upon persuasion and pre-invalidation. At its most basic, our culture is a Master/Slave culture and thus a culture of critical disconnection, alienation from each other and loneliness. Our culture tends to be a powerful proponent of emotional symbiosis: the delusion that others see, feel, appreciate, value things the way we do. Most therapists who teach dialogue but don't practice it themselves, usually seem to be involved in this persuasion tactic. Give it up. It doesn't work.
I used to say, “You should like this movie.” I have given up being persuasive. In giving that up I have gained a great sense of inner peace. And I pre-validate myself.
Pre-Validation creates Peace
The dialogical alternative is a) sharing data in dialogue and b) pre-validating that the other will always make the best decision they can.
Pre-validation is a form of healing for our culture. The heart of our culture is coming from a place of invalidating – persuasion.
Shame: a developed habit of pre-invalidating oneself. Heal shame by practicing pre-validation. As you pre-validate others you will come to break that shame habit. As you validate them, their resentment will vanish.
Resentment: the memory of having been invalidated. Heal resentment in two steps: 1) by validating the original invalidating experience and 2) validating any invalidating experiences that have occurred in the time between the original and the present. Resentment can easily be healed by intentional validating activities by the “offender”.