Invalidation: I Refuse to Have This Discussion!

When we invalidate people or deny their perceptions and personal experiences, we make mental invalids of them. When one’s feelings are denied a person can be made to feel crazy even when they are perfectly mentally healthy.

R. D. Laing, MD, psychiatrist

Invalidation is considered the most damaging form of emotional abuse. If you were involved with a psychopath, there is no doubt you experienced it in the extreme. Your feelings and perceptions may also have been invalidated by friends and family when what you needed was support, although they may not have done it purposefully.

What is invalidation?

Invalidating someone else is not merely disagreeing with something that the other person said. It is a process in which individuals communicate to another that the opinions and emotions of the target are invalid, selfish, uncaring, stupid, most likely insane, and wrong, wrong, wrong. Invalidators let it be known direction or indirectly that their target’s views and feelings do not count for anything to anybody at any time or in any way.

David M. Allen, MD, Psychology Today

It is so pervasive and insidious that we may not even know it’s happening. We know something doesn’t feel right, but we can’t put our finger on it. One reason is that we’ve learned to think invalidation is “normal,” because it’s so common. It might be common, but it’s not healthy. Think of how often you’ve heard people say things like, “it could be worse,” “lighten up,” “don’t let it get to you,” “just forget about it,” or “you can choose to be happy.”

People invalidate others for a variety of reasons, sometimes purposefully and sometimes not. An abuser will use invalidation as a tool of manipulation and a weapon. Others may be short on empathy. Some may feel uncomfortable with your pain, or feel powerless to do anything to help you. Some are simply jealous when you share something you’ve achieved and are excited about- “It’s not such a big deal.”

The bottom line is this: When you’re invalidated, you are not having your emotional needs met.

These are some of our fundamental emotional needs:

  • To be acknowledged.
  • To be accepted.
  • To be listened to.
  • To be understood.
  • To be loved.
  • To be appreciated.
  • To be respected.
  • To be safe.
  • To be valued.
  • To be worthy.
  • To be trusted.
  • To feel capable and competent.
  • To feel clear (instead of confused).
  • To be supported.

Now think back to the idealization or love-bombing. state of your involvement with a psychopath. What made it so marvelous was that our emotional needs were being met, and then some. We felt loved, appreciated, understood, valued, and all the rest… like never before. Psychopaths know what our emotional needs are, and they know what to do to appear to fulfill them.

By seeming to validate us, they demonstrated that they cared and that our feelings mattered to them. It seemed to show that we mattered to them. By “mirroring” our feelings, they showed us they were in tune with us. That made us feel connected to them. That’s how they got us to bond with them.

Now think back to the devaluation stage. What changed? Our emotional needs began to go unmet. We felt confused, unappreciated, unloved, misunderstood, unworthy, rejected, incompetent, unsafe, etc. Our needs, emotions, thoughts, and perceptions were being invalidated.

The basis of the whole charade was first being validated and then being invalidated.

Invalidation needs to be recognized and taken seriously because it can lead to mental health problems. Researcher Thomas R. Lynch, Ph.D. found that “a history of emotional invalidation… was significantly associated with emotional 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.”

When we experience invalidation, we defend ourselves either through withdrawal or counter-attack. “Repeated 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. 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.” – Steve Hein, MSW: Invalidation.

Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive.

Danielle Bernock

The following are all invalidating statements that either minimize your feelings, deny your perceptions, order you to feel differently, tell you how you should feel, or put you on a guilt trip for thinking or feeling the way you do:

I thought we already talked about that.

I can’t believe you’re going to bring that up again.

I refuse to have this discussion.

You need to realize how lucky you are.

It could be worse.

You shouldn’t feel that way.

Think about those who have it worse.

Just don’t worry about it.

Stop taking everything so personally.

Get a life.

Lighten up.

Cheer up.

Don’t look so serious.

You’ve got it all wrong.

Of course I respect you.

But I do listen to you.

That is ridiculous.

This is nonsense.

That’s not the way things are.

I honestly don’t judge you as much as you think.

You are the only one who feels that way.

It doesn’t bother anyone else, why should it bother you?

You must be kidding.

It can’t be that bad.

Your life can’t be that bad.

You’re just tired.

It’s nothing to get upset over.

It’s not worth getting that upset over.

You should feel thankful that __________.

You should be glad that ____________.

Just drop it.

You should just forget about it.

I’m sure she didn’t mean that.

Maybe he was just having a bad day.

You shouldn’t let it bother you.

I’m sure she means well.

Don’t make that face!

You don’t really mean that.

Do you think the world was created to serve you?

Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?

What about my feelings?

Have you ever stopped to consider my feelings for even a moment?

Time heals all wounds.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Life is full of pain and pleasure.

In time you will understand this.

You can choose to be happy.

You are just going through a phase.

Everything has its reasons.

Everything is just the way its supposed to be.

This is really getting old.

This is getting to be pathetic.

I am sick and tired of hearing it.

You should be over that by now.

It’s not such a big deal.

That’s what you’re so excited about? Is that all?

You think too much.

Don’t let it get to you.

That’s nothing to be afraid of.

Stop feeling so sorry for yourself.

You’ve been upset about this for too long; it’s time to move on.

Just don’t think about it.

You need to get past this.

You need to get on with your life.

You’re [jealous, insecure, crazy, unstable, a worry wart, overly dramatic, a complainer, too sensitive.]

You’re making a big deal out of nothing.

You’re imagining things.

Non-verbal invalidation includes things like leaving the room, giving the silent treatment, and rolling the eyes (this indicates contempt, and it’s actually predictive of a bad outcome in any relationship).

With increased awareness, you’ll begin to notice comments and behaviors like these.

Invalidation makes us wonder if there is something wrong with us for feeling the way 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 when one person has long-term power or influence over another… Invalidation undermines self-confidence because it causes self-doubt. This in turn further diminishes self-esteem.” (S. Hein)

On the flip side… what does VALIDATION look like?

“To validate someone’s feelings is first to accept their feelings. Next, it is to understand them, and finally it is to nurture them.”

To validate is to acknowledge and accept one’s unique identity and individuality. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignored, or judge their feelings, and hence, their individual identity.