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How to Respond to Invalidation

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When you suppress your own desires, and act according to another’s will, you’re allowing that person to control your mind. After experiencing a person’s repeated invalidation, you begin to doubt yourself. This is unfortunate, because the solution is within you.

 This column is a follow-up to “The Damaging Effects of Invalidation” a blog I posted yesterday June 3. When someone rejects, ignores, judges, mocks, teases, or diminishes how another feels, it’s considered invalidation. When one party continually invalidates another within a relationship, it’s chronic invalidation, which experts consider one of the most devastating forms of verbal abuse.

If you’re in a relationship in which you feel you’re being continually invalidated, there’s a chance that the other party is a narcissist, a term I used in my May 31 blog “How to Recognize Controlling People.” Narcissists are known to use invalidation as a tactic to gain control of another and attain power. Especially in more extreme instances, this is their sole motivation and they will do whatever it takes to accomplish this objective. Once you understand this, you’ll realize that there’s no reasoning with this person, for whom all communication is a game about control. As an adult, however, you must realize you always have choices. And for your own self-preservation, you need to establish clear boundaries of what you will and won’t accept. Remember, you should never have to do anything against your will for another’s acceptance.

Invalidation is a form of psychological attack. In response, we can defend ourselves or withdraw. Repeated withdrawal can destroy our confidence and lead to a feeling of powerlessness and depression. At the same time, going on the offensive can escalate the problem as well as put us in the position of trying to change another.

A more effective approach is to express your feelings when you believe you’ve been invalidated, by simply responding “I feel invalidated “ or “I feel judged” or any concise statement regarding what you feel you’re experiencing. This is also a more respectful approach than counter-attacking.

The other person’s response to your emotional honesty will indicate how much he or she respects you and cares about your feelings. At the same time, it can expose how much he or she is trying to change or control you, which is often revealed by his or her defensiveness. This information will help you make decisions that are in your best interest. It would be beneficial at this point to set your own personal standards in practicing traits such as honesty, tolerance, spirituality, kindness, recognition of your own defects and working to correct them. These standards can be flexible and always up for revision. For example, you an become more tolerant, or raise the bar. But your standards will establish your boundaries of what behaviors you’ll accept from another.

If you’re in the early stages of a casual relationship, it’s advisable to keep it casual until you determine if he or she respects you and cares about your feelings. This is a time to keep your standards high, so you can be selective in choosing whether to remain in the relationship and trust him enough to allow for intimacy. Otherwise, you may learn to regret your choice.

If you’re already involved with a significant other or mate, and you continue to feel invalidated, it may be time to suggest counseling. However, caution is in order.  If the other party is repeatedly invalidating you, keep in mind that he or she may use the same manipulative tactics in trying to convince a professional that the problem is yours. If the invalidating person is a narcissist, that individual is already an expert manipulator and may be successful.

A counselor who’s savvy to this form of narcissism and invalidation may catch a controlling person in the act, and call him or her on it. The narcissist is likely to respond out of defensiveness, reject the confrontation out of hand, and deny any responsibility in creating this serious problem in communication.

As I mentioned in my June 1 blog “How to Respond to Controlling People,” a pattern of verbal abuse can transition into the perpetration of domestic violence. This can be physical and/or sexual and it creates a dangerous environment for a woman, as well as her offspring, if involved. Sometimes the only option is escape, which you should plan in private (or with intimate family and friends, if they can help) and well in advance, if possible. The Domestic Violence Hotline, which offers 24/7 service in all 50 states, is 1-800-799-SAFE, (7233). If you believe you’re in imminent danger, you can call 911.

Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones

Writer’/Producer/Speaker

Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk