“When we invalidate people or deny their perceptions and personal experiences, we make mental invalids of them. When one’s feelings are denied a person can be made to feel crazy even when they are perfectly mentally healthy.”
(R.D. Laing, MD, psychiatrist)
Invalidation is considered the most damaging form of emotional abuse. If you were involved with a psychopath, there is no doubt you experienced it in the extreme. Your feelings and perceptions may also have been invalidated by friends and family when what you needed was support, although they may not have done it purposefully.
What is invalidation?
“Invalidating someone else is not merely disagreeing with something that the other person said. It is a process in which individuals communicate to another that the opinions and emotions of the target are invalid, selfish, uncaring, stupid, most likely insane, and wrong, wrong, wrong. Invalidators let it be known directly or indirectly that their target’s views and feelings do not count for anything to anybody at any time or in any way.”
(David M. Allen, MD, Psychology Today)
Invalidation is so pervasive and insidious that we may not even know it’s happening. We know that something doesn’t feel right, but we can’t put our finger on it. One reason is that we’ve learned to think invalidation is “normal,” because it’s so common. It might be common, but it’s not healthy. Think of how often you’ve heard people say things like “it could be worse,” “lighten up,” “don’t let it get to you,” “just forget about it,” or “you can choose to be happy.”
People invalidate others for a variety of reasons, sometimes purposefully and sometimes not. An abuser will use invalidation as a tool of manipulation and a weapon. Others may be short on empathy. Some may feel uncomfortable with your pain, or feel powerless to do anything to help you. Some are simply jealous when you share something you’ve achieved or are excited about–“It’s not such a big deal.”
The bottom line is this: When you’re invalidated, you are not having your emotional needs met.
These are some of our fundamental emotional needs:
To be acknowledged.
To be accepted.
To be listened to.
To be understood.
To be loved.
To be appreciated.
To be respected.
To be safe.
To be valued.
To be worthy.
To be trusted.
To feel capable and competent.
To feel clear (instead of confused).
To be supported.
Now think back to the idealization or love-bombing stage of your involvement with a psychopath:
What made it so marvelous was that our emotional needs were being met, and then some. We felt loved, appreciated, understood, valued, and all the rest… like never before. Psychopaths know what our emotional needs are, and they know what to do to appear to fulfill them.
By seeming to validate us, they demonstrated that they cared and that our feelings mattered to them. It seemed to show that we mattered to them. By “mirroring” our feelings, they showed us they were in tune with us. That made us feel connected to them. That’s how they got us to bond with them.
Now think back to the devaluation stage.:
What changed? Our emotional needs began to go unmet. We felt confused, unappreciated, unloved, misunderstood, unworthy, rejected, incompetent, unsafe, etc. Our needs, emotions, thoughts, and perceptions were being invalidated.
The basis of the whole charade was first being validated, and then being invalidated.
Now that this is distinguished in your awareness, you can use it for future reference. You can also use it right now to determine the health of your current relationships.
“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive.”
~ Danielle Bernock, Emerging with Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, and the Love That Heals
Invalidation needs to be recognized and taken seriously because it can lead to mental health problems. Researcher Thomas R. Lynch, Ph.D. found that “a history of emotion invalidation…was significantly associated with emotion inhibition (i.e., ambivalence over emotional expression, thought suppression, and avoidant stress responses). Further, emotion inhibition significantly predicted psychological distress, including depression and anxiety symptoms.”
When we experience invalidation, we defend ourselves either through withdrawal or counter-attack. “Repeated withdrawal, though, tends to decrease our self-confidence and lead to a sense of powerlessness and depression. On the other hand, going on the offensive often escalates the conflict. A healthier response, one which is both informative and assertive, without being aggressive, is to simply express your feelings clearly and concisely. For example, you might respond, “I feel invalidated,” “I feel mocked,” or “I feel judged.” ~ Steve Hein, MSW: Invalidation
The following are all invalidating statements that either minimize your feelings, deny your perceptions, order you to feel differently, tell you how you should feel, or put you on a guilt trip for thinking or feeling the way you do:
I thought we already talked about that.
I can’t believe you’re going to bring that up again.
I refuse to have this discussion.
You should be ashamed of yourself for feeling that way.
You need to realize how lucky you are.
It could be worse.
You shouldn’t feel that way.
Think about those who have it worse.
Just don’t worry about it.
Get over it.
Stop taking everything so personally.
Get a life.
Don’t look so serious.
You’ve got it all wrong.
Of course I respect you.
But I do listen to you.
That is ridiculous.
This is nonsense.
That’s not the way things are.
I honestly don’t judge you as much as you think.
You are the only one who feels that way.
It doesn’t bother anyone else, why should it bother you?
You must be kidding.
It can’t be that bad.
Your life can’t be that bad.
You’re just tired.
It’s nothing to get upset over.
It’s not worth getting that upset over.
You should feel thankful that ________.
You should be glad that ________.
Just drop it.
You should just forget about it.
I’m sure she didn’t mean that.
Maybe he was just having a bad day.
You shouldn’t let it bother you.
I’m sure she means well.
Don’t make that face!
You don’t really mean that.
Do you think the world was created to serve you?
Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?
What about my feelings?
Have you ever stopped to consider my feelings for even a moment?
Time heals all wounds.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Life is full of pain and pleasure.
In time you will understand this.
You can choose to be happy.
You are just going through a phase.
Everything has its reasons.
Everything is just the way it is supposed to be.
This is really getting old.
This is getting to be pathetic.
I am sick and tired of hearing it.
You should be over that by now.
It’s not such a big deal.
That’s what you’re so excited about? Is that all?
You think too much.
Don’t let it get to you.
That’s nothing to be afraid of.
Stop feeling so sorry for yourself.
You’ve been upset about this for too long; it’s time to move on.
Just don’t think about it.
You need to get past that.
You need to get on with your life.
You’re _______ (jealous, insecure, crazy, unstable, a worry wart, overly dramatic, a complainer, too sensitive)
You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
You’re imagining things.
Non-verbal invalidation includes things like leaving the room, giving the silent treatment, and rolling the eyes (this indicates contempt, and it’s actually predictive of a bad outcome in any relationship).
With increased awareness, you’ll begin to notice comments and behaviors like these.
Invalidation makes us wonder if there is something wrong with us for feeling the way we do. “It seems fair to say that with enough invalidation, one person can figuratively, if not literally, drive another person crazy… This is especially possible when one person has long-term power or influence over another… Invalidation undermines self-confidence because it causes self-doubt. This in turn further diminishes self-esteem.” (S. Hein)
On the flip side… What does VALIDATION look like?
“To validate someone’s feelings is first to accept their feelings. Next, it is to understand them, and finally it is to nurture them.
To validate is to acknowledge and accept one’s unique identity and individuality. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignore, or judge their feelings, and hence, their individual identity.
When we validate someone, we allow them to safely share their feelings and thoughts. We are reassuring them that it is okay to have the feelings they have. We are demonstrating that we will still accept them after they have shared their feelings. We let them know that we respect their perception of things at that moment. We help them feel heard, acknowledged, understood and accepted.
Painful feelings that are expressed, acknowledged and validated by a trusted listener will diminish. Painful feelings that are ignored will gain strength.
Validation allows a person to release their feelings in a healthy, safe and supportive way. It also helps us get to know them better. Thus it builds bonds of caring, support, acceptance, understanding and trust. When a person is feeling down, these bonds are sometimes all that another person needs to begin to feel better and solve their own problems.” (S. Hein)
The following statements convey validation. They are very different from the invalidating statements listed above!
That must have been hard.
I hear you.
That’s not good.
Wow, that’s a lot to deal with.
I would feel the same way.
That sounds discouraging.
That sounds like it would really hurt.
That must really hurt.
I know what you mean.
I can understand how you feel.
It sounds like you are really feeling ____.
It sounds like _____ is really important to you.
I can see that you are really upset.
You look pretty sad.
You seem a little _________ (worried, troubled, scared, etc.)
Would you like to talk about it?
That really bothered you, didn’t it.
What bothers you the most about it?
What would help you feel better?
How someone responds to your emotions and perceptions will indicate:
- how much they respect you
- how much empathy they have
- how much they care about you and your feelings
- how much they are trying to change or control you
Awareness of invalidation and the ability to identify it will help you make decisions in your best interest.
“Rejecting feelings is rejecting reality; it is to fight nature and may be called a crime against nature, ‘psychological murder’ or ‘soul murder.’ Considering that trying to fight feelings, rather than accept them, is trying to fight all of nature, you can see why it is so frustrating, draining and futile.”
~ Steve Hein, MSW: Invalidation
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