Sanctuary for the Abused
Friday, June 06, 2014
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.(1)
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" (2)
Psychiatrist R.D. Laing said that when we invalidate people or deny their perceptions and personal experiences, we make mental invalids of them. He found that when one's feelings are denied a person can be made to feel crazy even they are perfectly mentally healthy. (Reference)
Recent research by Thomas R. Lynch, Ph.D. of Duke University supports the idea that invalidation leads to mental health problems. He writes "...a history of emotion invalidation (i.e., a history of childhood psychological abuse and parental punishment, minimization, and distress in response to negative emotion) 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.) (Reference)
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.
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.
One the great leaders in education, Haim Ginott, said this:
Primum non nocere- First do no harm. Do not deny your teenager's perception. Do not argue with his experience. Do not disown his feelings.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
People with high IQ and low EQ tend to use logic to address emotional issues. They may say, "You are not being rational. There is no reason for you to feel the way you do. Let's look at the facts." Businesses, for example, and "professionals" are traditionally out of balance towards logic at the expense of emotions. This tends to alienate people and diminish their potential.
Actually, all emotions do have a basis in reality, and feelings are facts, fleeting though they may be. But trying to dress an emotional wound, with logic tends to either confuse, sadden or infuriate a person. Or it may eventually isolate them from their feelings, with a resulting loss of major part of their natural intelligence.
There are many forms of invalidation. Most of them are so insidious that we don't even know what is happening. We know that something doesn't feel good, but we sometimes can't put our finger on it. We have been conditioned to think that invalidation is "normal." Indeed, it is extremely common, but it is certainly not healthy.
I have heard parents and teachers call children:
dramatic, crybabies, whiners, whingers, too sensitive, worry warts, drama queens
I have also heard them say things like: "He cries at the drop of a hat." One teacher said "When she starts to cry, I just ignore her and eventually she stops." Another said, "When one kid's crying is disrupting the lesson, I tell them to go cry in the hall till they can pull themselves back together again."
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.
Self-Injury and Invalidation
Invalidation has been suggested as one of the primary reasons people cut, burn and injure themselves.
For example this quote is from D. Martinson
One factor common to most people who self-injure, whether they were abused or not, is invalidation. They were taught at an early age that their interpretations of and feelings about the things around them were bad and wrong. They learned that certain feelings weren't allowed. In abusive homes, they may have been severely punished for expressing certain thoughts and feelings.
Martnison also writes:
Self-injury is probably the result of many different factors. Among them: Lack of role models and invalidation - most people who self-injure were chronically invalidated in some way as children (many self-injurers report abuse, but almost all report chronic invalidation).
Examples of invalidating expressions. -- Each is an attempt to talk you out of your feelings.
"Ordering" You to Feel Differently
Get over it.
Get a life
Don't be sad.
Don't get angry.
Deal with it.
Give it a rest.
Forget about it.
Don't be so dramatic.
Don't be so sensitive.
Stop being so emotional.
Stop taking everything so personally.
Ordering you to "look" differently
Don't look so sad.
Don't look so smug.
Don't look so down.
Don't look like that.
Don't make that face.
Don't look so serious.
Don't look so proud of yourself.
Don't look so pleased with yourself.
Denying Your Perception, Defending
But of course I respect you.
But I do listen to you.
That is ridiculous (nonsense, totally absurd, etc.)
I was only kidding.
I honestly don't judge you as much as you think.
Trying to Make You Feel Guilty While Invalidating You
I tried to help you..
At least I .....
At least you....
Trying to Isolate You
You are the only one who feels that way.
It doesn't bother anyone else, why should it bother you?
Minimizing Your Feelings
You must be kidding.
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 nothing to get upset over.
It's not worth getting that upset over.
There is no reason to get upset.
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.
But if you really think about it....
I don't always do that.
It's not that bad. (that far, that heavy, that hot, that serious, etc.)
Judging & Labeling You
You are a cry baby.
You have a problem.
You are too sensitive.
You are over-reacting. You are too thin-skinned.
You are way too emotional.
You are an insensitive jerk. .
You need to get your head examined!
You are impossible to talk to.
You are impossible.
You are hopeless.
Turning Things Around
You are making a big deal out of nothing.
You are blowing this way out of proportion.
You are making a mountain out of a molehill.
Trying to get you to question yourself
What is your problem?
What's wrong with you?
What's the matter with you?
Why can't you just get over it?
Why do you always have to ....?
Is that all you can do, complain?
Why are you making such a big deal over it?
What's wrong with you, can't you take a joke?
How can you let a little thing like that bother you?
Don't you think you are being a little dramatic?
Do you really think that crying about it is going to help anything?
Telling You How You "Should" Feel or Act
You should be excited.
You should be thrilled.
You should feel guilty.
You should feel thankful that...
You should be happy that ....
You should be glad that ...
You should just drop it.
You shouldn't worry so much.
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 your father/mother.
Defending The Other Person
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.
Negating, Denial & Confusion
Now you know that isn't true.
You don't mean that. You know you love your baby brother.
You don't really mean that. You are just ... (in a bad mood today, tired, cranky)
Sarcasm and Mocking
Oh, you poor thing. Did I hurt your little feelings?
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?
Laying Guilt Trips
Don't you ever think of anyone but yourself?
What about my feelings?!
Have you ever stopped to consider my feelings?
Philosophizing Or Clichés
Time heals all wounds.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Life is full of pain and pleasure.
In time you will understand this.
When you are older you will understand
You are just going through a phase.
Everything has its reasons.
Everything is just the way it is supposed to be.
Talking about you when you can hear it
She is impossible to talk to.
You can't say anything to her.
This is getting really old.
This is getting really pathetic.
I am sick of hearing about it.
Even when we are happy, unhappy people want to ruin it for us by saying diminishing things like: What are you so happy about? That's it? That's all you are so excited about?
There was an expression I heard when I was growing up. It was "Who put a quarter in you?" A quarter is a 25 cent coin in the USA. It was a coin which was once enough to start music in a juke box. So the implication was the person was acting abnormally happy, excited, lively etc.
When your awareness rises, you'll begin to notice such comments on a regular basis. Together, they take their toll on us. We wonder if there is something wrong with us for feeling how 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, I believe, in the case where one person has long-term power over another. Examples of such relationships are parent/child, teacher/child, "spiritual" leader/follower, boss/employee, spouse A/spouse B. Such a sad scenario appears to be even more likely when the person being invalidated is highly sensitive, intelligent and has previously suffered self-esteem damage.
The more sensitive the person, the more serious the damage of invalidation. Invalidation undermines self-confidence because it causes self-doubt. This in turn further diminishes self-esteem. Invalidation is serious violation of one's "true self." I believe it is one of the worst crimes one person can commit against another without ever lifting a finger against them. And yet it is neither illegal, "immoral" by most who consider themselves moralists, nor even widely recognized as a problem.
The high EQ person will never invalidate another person's feelings, especially not the feelings of a sensitive child.
Below is an article on invalidation which uses some of my thoughts.
Validation and Invalidation
Excerpts from an article by Cathy Palmer-Scruggs
Recently, I had a few situations to come up that called for some comfort from my friends. I really needed them. A few came through for me in just 'being there'...and others took it as their cue to 'give advice'...and believe me, it only made the situation worse. I did not ask anyone for advice.January 20 , 2001 -- Cathy Palmer-Scruggs
I don't make the habit of asking my friends for advice....believe me. I am a 'thinking' person and only need some time and to get things off of my chest. I do not ask my friends to solve my problems. I do not tell my friends about a situation in order for them to come up with ways in which to tell me how to 'get through it' or 'how to think about it' or how to look at it.
No one likes to hear things like "don't let it get to you"...or "don't let her / him get to you"....or "you need to just 'get over' this"....etc. If solutions were that easy, don't you think we'd all do them? And I've also noticed that the very people who tell me this will also eventually deal with frustrating things, and they don't follow their own advice. See, it's different when something happens to THEM.....but not when it's me.
It's easier said than done....how does one not let things get to them? If they are upset, obviously, it's bothering them. They can't just 'dismiss' their feelings on a whim. How do you feel when someone says that to you?
Then there's the other side of the coin...the friends who do not know what to say and do, so, they avoid their friend altogether...the friend in pain. Well, you don't need to say or do anything...just 'be there' for them. They do not expect special words and solutions....they only want to know you care.
They know that not all of their friends are poetic, graceful with words...know 'just what to say'....this isn't a contest of who can make them feel the best. They just want to know you care...that you will merely listen, if they need to talk. And believe me, even if you don't think so at the moment, if you have a hard time facing your friend, you can get a little blank note card and just put the words 'you are in my thoughts' and that is enough...it does show you care. Send it to them. No one ever expects anything 'fancy' or 'just the right thing to say'....please believe that.
Basically, for me, I just need to talk...or type....just 'get it out'...then I can look at it, process it, deal with it, begin the healing, and move on. The very best words a friend can ever say to me is "I'm here for you if you just need to talk". My close friends know that I am not coming to them for answers.....I just need to talk it out ....hear myself say it....
And sometimes, my good friends will 're-state' what I've already said, or re-phrase it....letting me know they 'got it'....they understood me....they heard me. And sometimes they even tell me a similar situation that may have happened in their own lives...and from there, I can glean out some good things that I can take with me. Not everything works for all people. What may have worked for you may NOT work for your friend.
I realize that when our friends are hurting and in pain, our instincts urge us to want to help. None of us want to see our friends hurt. But, especially in my own situation recently, I expected no solutions....no answers...no 'fixes'....no advice....and certainly no philosophical sayings. All I needed was 'validation'....let me feel what I feel. And when my wonderful friends do that, they are deeper into my heart....I feel closer to them and respect them because they respected me and my feelings.
If a person loses a loved one to death, it might not be a good time to say things like "you need to get past that"...or "just don't think of it"....or "you need to get on with your life"....And I've actually had people say this to me.
I don't care how much time passes or what a person tells themselves....you never 'get over' something like this...you merely learn to live with it...live around it....cope with it. No amount of grieving, then or now, will take away the pain or fill the void. Time will allow us to continue our lives while we accept the loss.
Accepting the loss does not mean we are not allowed to grieve from time to time...or cry, when inspired to do so. No one has the right to tell you to put it so far back behind you, that you no longer feel the loss. It will always be there.
Being able to live with this loss does not mean that you are not allowed to visit those very painful memories. Just because you can still cry about anything does not mean you have not gone on with your life....and that somehow, once you are past the initial hurt and tears, that to re-visit those feelings will be wrong and damaging. And anyone who tells you anything different ...well, they are not being realistic.
Why is it that when a person feels momentarily sad, their friends think it's their cue to stop them from feeling and grieving? Who in the world told them that was healthy? When did they become an expert at how long a person should grieve, and feel, and cry and remember? And just because I do cry from time to time over something, that does not mean that for the rest of my life, each and every day, I will sit and cry, just like this, forever....and that I have ruined my life....forever. Allow me to be sad, just as you would welcome and allow me to be happy....I need it.
My telling someone of an event or something that I am going through, does not mean it's their cue to try to 'solve my problem'...I didn't ask for advice or ask how to grieve.
I have the RIGHT to grieve and cry and 'feel' any emotions I ever have in any event in MY life. No one has the right to rob me of my right to express myself or to grieve....to do what "I" need to do in order to continue on with my life. (note)
If your friend is hurting....if they are angry at someone, if they have to make a decision that they feel is in the best interest of them, LET THEM DO IT....let them feel it....validate what they are going through. Just because YOU can't feel it in the same way or maybe not 'see it' in the same way, does not mean that YOU get to take it away from your friend....who "IS" feeling that way. You need to respect what your FRIEND feels. This does not mean your friend is wrong...'feelings' are not wrong. The feelings are based on your friend's life experiences...not yours.
What if you are the kind of person who is in denial of things around you...trying to look at things through 'rose colored glasses'...and your friend doesn't ....you cannot expect your friend to put on your 'special glasses' and pretend that their pain doesn't exist, or that nothing is wrong, just because it would be easier for YOU to deal with. Maybe that works for you...but I doubt it...it will come out eventually, in one way or another. I try to avoid that by dealing with it now, not later.
And it will still hurt later, but not with the same intensity. That does not mean I didn't do something right...it just means that it was a painful event in my life that I will forever feel....as long as I am alive, just not with the same intensity. You do grow with, and from, your experiences.
If you can't deal with your friend's pain and frustration, then maybe it's best that you say nothing at all....it's certainly better to say nothing than to make your friend feel worse. They probably aren't asking you for a solution anyway. Why hurt them worse?
I'm sure that if your friend needs or asks advice, it would be a different story. I'm just talking about those people who like to immediately step in and tell a hurting person to suppress their feelings.
They see and feel what they see and feel...and unless they have been diagnosed with a mental illness that causes hallucinations and 'voices'....don't be so quick to 'dismiss' them. They may be more grounded in reality than you are....and YOU are the one who may need the advice when it's all said and done. Your friend is trying to deal with reality, what is real...
Please do NOT see it as your cue to 'fix' them or tell them that they "should feel this way" or that they "should not feel that way". They feel as they do because of their own life's experiences....not based on your life's experiences. It does not have to make sense to YOU or even be real to YOU...it does not have to be felt by YOU, in order to validate what your FRIEND is feeling.
Being 'strong' for your friend does not mean you have to solve their problems or give them answers.
Just be there to 'listen'....they may not even need to talk to you about it, but feel close enough to you to share it...and if you give them the hurtful advice that I mentioned on this page, you are going to alienate them from you.
You may help them, upon hearing them explain their situation, to even agree that 'you can understand how and why they would feel that way', even if YOUR OWN thoughts are different...try to understand the way THEY are seeing it.
To your friend, all of what they are feeling is very real and very painful....it's affecting their life.
As a great friend, all you need to do is just lend a listening ear....'be there' for them....don't try to make them look at it differently. If that needs to be done, they will do it on their own, you can't rush it. They have to see their OWN way through.
If you take it as your cue to minimize their situation, 'make excuses' for their enemies, or the ones who are hurting them and causing them grief, what you are now doing is making them feel defensive .....they already feel bad enough, but now they have to further frustrate the situation by defending their feelings and emotions to you.
So, while they try, once again, to tell you why they are hurting, you have just sent them on a detour of the path they are on....now they have to get it all past YOU. And, not only are they upset at the original situation, now they feel alienated and unsupported by you....their friend...the person they just needed to talk to.
And the more you try to get them to see it a different way, the worse it will get. They have to see those things for themselves, "if" it's something they can ever do to begin with. Again, not on YOUR schedule. They, most likely, know more about the situation than you do, give them the benefit of the doubt.
No one expects you to have a clever saying....no one has the answers or the solutions. Each person has to work through their own pain....they can't hurry things along on YOUR schedule, just because you don't want this to be happening to them. The worst thing you can do is minimize what they are dealing with....that just makes them feel even more isolated. If I really want to get some advice from, I'll ask for it....and so will your other friends.
And this also goes for situations regarding pets. I have friends who have lost pets through a death, or the pet turned up missing, and they have told me of incredibly insensitive things that were said to them. They are grieving a companion...a friend...and a friendship that, through 'unspoken language', grew into a special friendship that they will surely miss. This was a creature, a 'friend', who loved them unconditionally. Who wouldn't miss something like that?
It' s a real pain, whether it's an animal or a human, it hurts. There are memories associated with the pet...a routine....pictures....little treasures that will forever remind them that the pet is gone. Please be respectful of that. Not everyone can rush out and get another pet...some people need time. And when the time is right, they may be able to open their hearts to another pet. Again, this is on THEIR schedule, not yours.
I have lived for 46 years, thus far...and I hardly think I've waited all these years and went through all the things that I've endured, just to have a friend tell me how to 'get through it'....Nothing anyone says will make it go away....nothing will make a friend in pain feel better....except for the words "I'll be right here for you if you need to talk".
Be a friend....
Note: I would say that it is a "need" to grieve. It doesn't make much sense to try to tell someone else that they have no "right" to tell you to get over it. This is invalidating their feelings almost the same as they are invalidating yours. Evidently they feel something which causes them to say "get over it" or whatever. Probably they feel uncomfortable with your pain. They might feel powerless to do anything to help you, so to have some sense of power over the situation they start trying to give you advice or order you around. S. Hein
1. At the time I first wrote this this was my own hypothesis. Later I was informed of the defintion of "borderline personality disorder" which is based on invalidation. If you are aware of any scientific research on invalidation and the connection between it and later emotional problems, please let me know. See also section self-injury and invalidation.
3. Reference to R.D. Laing is from chapter 1 of Claude Steiner's book Achieving Emotional Literacy
The Role of Emotion Inhibition in Psychological Distress
Thomas R. Lynch, Ph.D. , Duke University
Emotion avoidance and inhibition has been implicated as a common feature associated with borderline personality disorder. This presentation will discuss three studies that that have been recently conducted at the Duke Cognitive Behavioral Research and Treatment Program. The first study examined 127 participants to evaluate a developmental model in which chronic emotion inhibition mediates the relation between childhood emotional invalidation/abuse and adult psychological distress. Findings indicated that a history of emotion invalidation (i.e., a history of childhood psychological abuse and parental punishment, minimization, and distress in response to negative emotion) 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. The second study examined a model in which inhibition of thoughts and emotion was predicted to mediate the relationship between the trait of negative affect intensity and acute psychological distress. Using structural equation modeling hypotheses were supported in both clinical and non-clinical samples, indicating its generalizability. The third study examined the effects of emotion suppression on classical conditioning. Participants were randomized to a suppression (n= 22; show or feel no emotion) or a non-suppression (n = 24; no instruction) condition. Data indicated that discriminative learning (assessed by galvanic skin response) occurred faster and was more robust for suppressors. Suppressors also exhibited less extinction. Results suggest that active attempts to suppress emotion may increase associations to an aversive event, implicating a mechanism by which certain disorders (e.g., PTSD, BPD) retain features associated with greater conditionability. Finally, directions regarding future research from our lab examining borderline personality disorder and a brief overview of a current study examining emotion suppression among suicidal patients will be discussed.
Lynch, T.R., Robins, C.J., Morse, J.Q., & Krause, E.D. (2001). A mediational model relating affect intensity, emotion inhibition, and psychological distress. Behavior Therapy, 32, 519-536.
Lynch, T.R., Krause, E.D., Morse, J.Q., Mendelson, T., Crozier, J., & LaBar, K.S. (2001). Role of emotion suppression in classical fear conditioning. In T.R. Lynch (Chair), Experiential avoidance and psychopathology: Recent research and methodological developments. Symposium conducted at the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy 35th Annual Convention, Philadelphia.
Krause, E.D., Mendelson, T., & Lynch, T.R. (in press). Childhood emotion invalidation and adult psychological distress: The mediating role of emotion inhibition. Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect.
Krause, E. D., Robins, C.J., & Lynch, T.R. (2000). A mediational model relating sociotropy, ambivalence over emotional expression and eating disorder symptoms. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 328-335.