Validation: “You make sense to me”
I believe that most of us long to be heard and understood.
Before I retired as an Imago Therapist, a major part of my work with couples involved helping them hear and understand each other. Imago Therapists teach couples a listening skill designed to promote understanding at a deep level, suspending a common need to be right until the other person makes sense to us even when we disagree with them. The partner receiving validation visibly relaxes. I experienced it as holy and sacred work.
I received validation for my experience as a mother from two books I purchased at the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation conference in September. Not surprisingly, they were written by mothers of children with this puzzling multi-systemic neuromuscular disease that often goes undiagnosed for decades … twenty-two years in my experience.
Shannon Lord died in 2013, the same year she first validated my experience. On page 277 of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, I write about the decades of shame and guilt lifting from my shoulders as I listened to her validating 2011 presentation on the MDF website.
As one of the founders of MDF, her dying wish was to have her memoir published. An editor cousin and her husband fulfilled her desire and Larry brought Family Roots: A Mother’s Search for Meaning to the conference this year.
Shannon was already an important person in my life. It is partly because of her encouragement to share our stories that I published my memoir. Reading her’s, I felt validated over and over. We shared many of the same feelings about our experience, we coped in similar ways, we asked many of the same questions and struggled with many of the same issues. We both searched for meaning in the midst of a disease that has robbed us of so much that others take for granted. I relaxed.
At the conference, I met Ann Woodbury. She printed her manuscript, Living with DM1: my family’s story, and made it available to conference participants. She is still in the publishing process. You may contact Ann on her Facebook page for more information.
Ann was part of a panel describing the experience of central nervous system symptoms in her husband and four children. From her description, I knew we had some things in common. After reading her manuscript, I again experienced validation for my experience as a mother. I relaxed.
Ann and I have messaged each other on Facebook and she commented, after reading my memoir, how similar our spiritual quests have been. I had noticed that, too, and found it interesting because our religious backgrounds are very different. Even though Shannon, Ann, and I come from very different backgrounds and are very different in many ways, we share a common bond.
Because I am not in a partnership committed to practicing Imago’s deep listening skill, I value every experience of validation wherever I find it … even in books. Most often I find this deep connection when I read memoirs. Guess that is why I love them so much.
Being validated reminds me of the magic of Imago and why I choose to become an Imago Relationship Therapist. It is exhilarating when someone important to you takes the time to make sense of your experience even when they may not agree. As Harville Hendrix, the originator of Imago theory and practice, points out on page 136 of his book Getting the Love You Want … “a whole world opens up to you.”