The practice of invalidating one another in everyday conversation is so prevalent that many of us probably don’t even recognize when we’re engaging in this behavior. We may even think we’re helping another to cope with something that’s causing emotional stress when we say, “don’t worry,” or “you’re taking things too seriously.” But if we occasionally invalidate others, even unwittingly, it’s quite possible that we learned this way of relating to others as children and adolescents from family members or peers. I had an “aha” moment when I first discovered that invalidation is an attempt to control another’s feelings. One can reject, ignore, judge, mock, tease, refute, or diminish how someone feels…it’s all considered invalidation.
Invalidation occurs when someone orders you to feel or look differently, as when he or she says, “Get over it,” “Don’t look so sad,” or “Don’t’ get angry.” Someone could deny your perception by saying something like, “You’ve got it all wrong.” He or she might tell you how you should feel or act with a comment such as, “You should feel ashamed of yourself,” and may even use reason, saying, “You’re not being rational,” and debate with you in doing so. One might get you to question yourself, asking “What’s wrong with you?” Further, a person could judge or label you with a remark like, “You’re impossible,” or “You’re over-reacting.” There are dozens of other examples of invalidation. It’s a form of emotional dishonesty in that it goes beyond mere criticism in asserting or implying that someone is somehow abnormal, when this isn’t the reality.
You may be surprised to learn that, especially when invalidation is practiced repeatedly within a relationship, it’s actually considered a form of verbal abuse. Emotions are very real and their consideration is important to our wellbeing. Our feelings need to be validated, or respected and acknowledged, at all times. Invalidation is considered a form of emotional betrayal.
Invalidation is especially harmful to a child who learns to believe his or her emotions aren’t real or worth consideration. Then a child begins to associate the expression of feelings with pain. This can be extremely damaging, because that young person is likely to grow into an adult who’s in denial of his or her feelings. The experience of recurring invalidation from others during childhood is enough to damage anyone’s sense of selfhood, along with his or her confidence and creativity in self-expression.
It’s not uncommon for a couple to develop a consistent habit of invalidating one another, which is unhealthy behavior. If a disagreement develops between two people, a good principle to remember is to first accept the other person’s feelings.
Increased awareness of invalidation and the harm it can do can help to curtail its destructive effects. I know that if I ever start to tell someone to “Try not to be upset” I’ll check myself, realizing that if someone said this to me, it would doubtless make me feel not only disrespected but unworthy of my feelings.
If you’d like learn more about dealing effectively with invalidation, I invite you to return tomorrow to read my blog “How to Respond to Invalidation.”
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones
Founder of Women Who Walk the Talk™