Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, or diminish someone’s feelings. It is an attempt to control how they feel and for how long they feel it.
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 definition 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.
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 person’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
You Can’t Heal an Emotional Wound with Logic
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.
You can’t solve an emotional problem, or heal an emotional wound, with logic alone.
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.”
All these labels and statements are invalidating and do emotional harm to children and sensitive teens and adults.
Our world will be a safer place when we learn to stop invalidating one another.
The destruction caused by invalidation.
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