Over the past several years, much has been written, talked about, and practiced with regards to my LVACTM acronym/mnemonic, so I wanted to step back and take a moment and review what LVAC really means and where it came from.
Before we begin, let me tell you what LVAC stands for: “L” is for Listen, “V” is for Validate, “A” is for Ask, and “C” is for Comment; in that order.
Some years ago, after a busy few months at my psychotherapy office, I sat down in front of an empty sheet of lined paper with the intention of writing down my idea of the perfect father.
Now, I don’t recall, nor can I tell you right now why I was so specific in wanting to define father rather than mother or parents in general.
I can only say that it was probably a combination of my professional work at the time as well as my own (at the time) new role as a father myself.
I also had that uncanny and universal qualification we all have of having once been a young child with parents of my own.
And so it was that, when I sat down in front of that empty sheet of paper, what I wanted to find out was how to be an ideal father, and, to some extent, an ideal therapist as well.
You might be sitting there, shaking your head, saying, “Umm..a therapist is NOT somebody’s father and nor is a physician..AND what about your patients/clients who are older than you are?”
I can only say in return that, whenever we humans look to someone for support or to help us with our pain, part of what we need to do is to be able to trust them and respect them. Age is not a factor here. I’ve figuratively been ‘father’ to seventy and eighty year olds as much as I’ve literally been a father to my children; sometimes I’m also their brother, their son, their ‘spouse’, or their friend.
And what’s important about inventing LVAC is that I wanted to know something fundamental and true:
What is the basic, universal thing that we humans, all of us, really need and thrive on?
Is it money?
Is it attention?
Sex? (oh, stop it, especially you fellow men out there—and go read my new marriage book, Don’t Get Married! Unless You Understand A Few Things First 😉 )
No, what people have taught me is this:
That the fundamental, basic need we humans all have is the need to be HEARD.
We want to be heard.
In serving thousands of people, first in primary care, then in psychiatry, I’ve learned that we human beings really want and need to be heard.
We don’t want to necessarily argue, again.
We don’t want to ‘stir the pot’ or ‘be a problem’.
We want to be heard, and we also want to be understood; if not by someone else, then at least by ourselves.
And what about Listening?
We may not have been born being good at Listening (the “L” in LVAC), but we were born to be heard.
Listening first, instead of Commenting first, is something we must train ourselves to do.
Think about it.
A baby is born and we celebrate in the delivery room when he or she what…?
But, surely, you might ask, as we grow up into true, Emotionally Competent adults, we must do more than crave being heard all the time, right?
What we must do, if our goal is to grow as Emotionally Competent individuals, is to cultivate the art of Listening, which is the first step of the LVAC approach.
Next, we must learn to Validate the other person’s feelings and thoughts.
We don’t have to necessarily agree with them, but we DO need to Validate before we Comment with our own opinion or agenda. (More in my LVAC Nation! book and at http://www.LVACNation.com.)
It’s just a fact of nature.
If it’s an adult we’re dealing with, then Validating them avoids triggering all of their defenses and allows for greater closeness and understanding in our communication with them.
And, as is the subject of this post, if it’s a child we’re dealing with, then it becomes vital to LVAC, and here’s why:
The effect of Listening, Validating, Asking open-ended questions, then Commenting last, allows the child to stay in connection with us and with themselves and it reinforces their sense of self and their core mental and emotional health.
It allows them to grow healthy inside. In fact, it would put me out of business as they all grew up into happy, thriving, well-adjusted adults with minimal residual hurts and pain from childhood, having been heard and validated by the most important people in their lives, we the parents.
Instead, when we Comment first, which can be with our words OR with our behaviors (e.g. rolling our eyes, getting up from the table and leaving, etc.), we express OUR agenda to them and we short-circuit their development:
“Dad, I’m going to try this new sport.”
“Oh, I don’t know; I think it’s dangerous.” (Comment; my agenda=anxiety/worry)
“Dad, I’m going to try this new sport.”
“Oh, cool. What’s it involve?” (Validate + Ask; good!)
The natural fact is, and I didn’t make it up or put it there–so don’t blame me–that we humans grow to trust and to like and respect those who LVAC with us.
We rely on them.
We go to them with our problems, hurts, and fears.
We trust them.
We feed off of them and grow because of them.
And, as you know from my prior posts: trust + likability=Emotional Credibility.
So, when you LVAC, two things are happening:
1) first, you are helping the other person heal, become more solid at their true core, and thrive,
2) second, you are earning Emotional Credibility points with them
When we do this with our spouses, we get all sorts of benefits and healing in the relationship.
So, is there ever a time for the Comment?
Why yes, of course.
BUT, unless it’s some sort of dire emergency or instructional course that you’re trying to teach (like a language for instance), you should only Comment after you’ve really learned about what the other person is trying to say; AND after you’ve given them the gift of learning about themselves at the same time.
You will meet with much less defensiveness in your life, and, as a parent, you will give your child the equivalent of emotional diamonds– if you understand and practice LVAC.
All the best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
(P.S. You can learn more about LVAC and the Spirit of LVAC in my book, LVAC Nation! Also, you can take it further into your marriage with my new book, Don’t Get Married! Unless You Understand A Few Things First 🙂 )