Last week, Oprah Winfrey spoke to Harvard University’s graduating class. In her speech she noted, “There’s a common denominator in our human experience. Most of us, I tell you, we don’t want to be divided… What we want is to be validated. We want to be understood.”
It is a sentiment that she has mentioned before. During her famous last episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, she said, “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common — they all wanted validation…. They want to know, do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?“
Our feelings of self-worth are tied into the concept of validation. Validation makes us feel accepted and being accepted make us feel powerful. Validation makes us feel reassured. Validation reassures us that we can have positive feelings about ourselves, which boosts our self-esteem.
We choose goals for ourselves based on what will make us feel validated. We seek the approval of others so that we can feel validated. We also seek out friends, partners and mentors who make us feel validated.
That is not to say that we only seek friends and partners who agree with us. Not in the least. What we want is someone who listens to us, who understands our point of view. The validation comes in the acknowledgement, not necessarily in the agreement.
So how can we give someone the validation they are seeking? Here are three important ways to provide validation:
Be physically present. When you are with someone, really be in the moment with them. Make eye contact during conversation and avoid unnecessary distractions. Let that person know you care by giving them your full attention. Give a hug, a pat on the shoulder or hold a hand when it is needed.
Be empathetic. When you feel sympathy for someone, you recognize their emotional response to a situation. As Oprah stated, people simply want others to understand them. Our innate ability to see an issue from another person’s perspective is authentic, it is real and it provides validation.
Be an active listener. Active listening is focusing on the conversation at hand and nothing else. It means giving the other person your full attention. It is a sign of consideration and respect.
Active listeners often summarize or paraphrase key points during their questions or response which confirms an understanding of the other person’s feelings. Though being a good listener is also about what not to do, such as not trying to predict what the person will say next, and not interrupting or starting to generate responses while the other person is still speaking.
While it is wonderful to become someone who can validate another person’s feelings, let us look at this from another perspective for a moment and look at how to build self-esteem in children. As parents, we can provide our children with validation through these methods. And clearly there is some validation that can only be achieved from a parent, teacher, coach or mentor.
Yet there is one additional, important item that we can start teaching our children at an early age. The most confident of people seek validation more from themselves than from others. As was said above, we tend to set goals for ourselves based on what will give us self-validation. Some people, those with an innate sense of self-esteem, rely somewhat less on others for validation because they get it from within.
So, perhaps it is our role as parents to help our child look within for reassurance whenever possible, rather than relying on the validation of others. The more we teach our kids to set goals and seek validation from their selves, the less they will have to wonder, “Do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?“
What do you think? Has Oprah revealed the key to building self-esteem?