Invalidation

Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, or diminish someone’s feelings. Constant invalidation may be one of the most significant reasons a person with high innate emotional intelligence suffers from unmet emotional needs later in life. A sensitive child who is repeatedly invalidated becomes confused and begins to distrust his own emotions. He fails to develop confidence in and healthy use of his emotional brain– one of nature’s most basic survival tools. To adapt to this unhealthy and dysfunctional environment, the working relationship between his thoughts and feelings becomes twisted. His emotional responses, emotional management, and emotional development will likely be seriously, and perhaps permanently, impaired. The emotional processes which worked for him as a child may begin to work against him as an adult. In fact, one defintion of the so-called “borderline personality disorder” is “the normal response of a sensitive person to an invalidating environment”

Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but that we are fundamentally abnormal. This implies that there is something wrong with us because we aren’t like everyone else; we are strange; we are different; we are weird.

None of this feels good, and all of it damages us. The more different from the mass norm a person is, for example, more intelligent or more sensitive, the more he is likely to be invalidated. When we are invalidated by having our feelings repudiated, we are attacked at the deepest level possible, since our feelings are the innermost expression of our individual identities.

Psychological invalidation is one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse. It kills confidence, creativity and individuality.

Telling a person she shouldn’t feel the way she does feel is akin to telling water it shouldn’t be wet, grass it shouldn’t be green, or rocks they shouldn’t be hard. Each persons’s feelings are real. Whether we like or understand someone’s feelings, they are still real. 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. A good guideline is:

First accept the feelings, then address the behavior.

We regularly invalidate others because we ourselves were, and are often invalidated, so it has become habitual. Below are a few of the many ways we are invalidated:

   * We are told we shouldn't feel the way we feel
   * We are dictated not to feel the way we feel
   * We are told we are too sensitive, too "dramatic"
   * We are ignored
   * We are judged
   * We are led to believe there is something wrong with us for feeling how we feel

Defensiveness and Invalidation

All invalidation is a form of psychological attack. When we are attacked, our survival instinct tells us to defend ourselves either through withdrawal or counter-attack. Repteated 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 or puts us in the position of trying to change another person.

One sign of both high self-esteem and high EQ is the absence of either of these defensive responses. 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.”

How the other person responds to your emotional honesty will depend upon, and be indicative of:

   (a) how much they respect you
   (b) how much they care about you and your feelings
   (c) how insecure and defensive they are
   (d) how much they are trying to change or control you

All of this is information which will help you make decisions which are in your best interest.

Examples of invalidating expressions

Each is an attempt to talk you out of your feelings.

  • Smile.
  • Be happy.
  • Cheer up
  • Lighten up.
  • Get over it.
  • Grow up
  • Get a life
  • Stop taking everything so personally
  • Don’t look so sad.
  • Don’t look like that.
  • Don’t make that face.
  • Don’t look so serious.
  • You’ve got it all wrong.
  • But of course I respect you.
  • But I do listen to you.
  • That is ridiculous (nonsense, totally absurd, etc.)
  • I tried to help you..
  • You are making everyone else miserable.
  • You are the only one who feels that way.
  • It doesn’t bother anyone else, why should it bother you?
  • You can’t be serious.
  • It can’t be that bad.
  • Your life can’t be that bad.
  • You are just … (being difficult; being dramatic, in a bad mood, tired, etc)
  • It’s not worth getting that upset over.
  • You are not being rational.
  • But it doesn’t make any sense to feel that way.
  • Let’s look at the facts.
  • Let’s stick to the facts.
  • You are too sensitive.
  • You are over-reacting. You are too thin-skinned.
  • You are way too emotional.
  • You are hopeless.
  • You are making a big deal out of nothing.
  • What is your problem?
  • What’s the matter with you?
  • Why can’t you just get over it?
  • How can you let a little thing like that bother you?
  • Do you really think that crying about it is going to help anything?
  • You should be excited.
  • You should feel guilty.
  • You should feel thankful that…
  • You should be happy that ….
  • You should just drop it.
  • You shouldn’t let it bother you.
  • You should just forget about it.
  • You should feel ashamed of yourself.
  • You shouldn’t wear your heart out on your sleeve.
  • You shouldn’t say that about …
  • Maybe they were just having a bad day.
  • I am sure she didn’t mean it like that.
  • You just took it wrong.
  • I am sure she means well.
  • You don’t really mean that. You are just … (in a bad mood today, tired, cranky)
  • What did you think? The world was created to serve you?
  • What happened to you? Did you get out of the wrong side of bed again?
  • Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?
  • When you are older you will understand
  • You are just going through a phase.
  • Everything has its reasons.
  • This is getting really old.
  • I am sick of hearing about it.

Much more info and examples: http://eqi.org/invalid.htm

See also

3 thoughts on “Invalidation

  1. Anonymous

    How do you react to invalidation? I have known someone that has invalidated me for years, but I can’t seem to find a solution to the problem without becoming an invalidator myself. If you have a solution to this problem, I would be more than happy. My email is located above, and do not hesitate to sending me a reply.

  2. Anonymous#2

    Even though invalidation is bad thing, not letting people go on a let out thier feelings, how to you try and comfort someone who is upset without that invalidation. Do we just tell them to let all of their feelings out and let them do whatever they want? Even if it means for a suicidal person to want to kill themselves, we let them? I am confused. Can someone reply to this please? Thanks

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