Emotional invalidation is painful. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but it’s a sign of emotional abuse when done repeatedly and intentionally.
Have others minimized, shamed, or invalidated your feelings?
Having your feelings diminished, ignored, or rejected is a painful experience for all of us – but even more so if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or survivor of abuse or other trauma.
It’s important to have a sense of belonging and to be a part of a group — a family or community. And part of belonging to any group is to be known, understood, and accepted. But, while it’s normal to want to be understood, we can’t depend on others to validate who we are, what we believe in, and how we feel. When we do, we compromise pieces of who we are in order to fit in and let others determine our self-worth.
Your feelings are valid
Your feelings matter. Emotions serve an important purpose and shouldn’t be ignored. For example, feeling angry, afraid, or sad tells you that something’s wrong. You don’t want to miss these crucial pieces of information because they can help you to take care of yourself and make decisions to keep yourself safe.
Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They are a reflection of your thoughts, experiences, and perceptions, which is why two people can have the same experience, but feel differently.
It’s also important to note that validation – saying that someone’s feelings are acceptable or worthwhile – isn’t the same as agreeing with their feelings. We can certainly feel differently, but make the effort to try to understand and empathize with our loved one’s feelings.
How others invalidate your feelings
Sometimes emotional invalidation is done accidentally by someone who is well-meaning but has a low emotional intelligence or simply isn’t paying attention to your feelings. A common form of invalidation is when someone tries to cheer you up when you’re sad because they feel uncomfortable with your feelings. This can be invalidating because your feelings are being dismissed when someone wants to change your feelings rather than accept them or understand them.
Other times, emotional invalidation is a form of manipulation and an attempt to make you question your feelings and experiences. A pattern of invalidation is a form of emotional abuse or gaslighting. it’s a denial of you or your experience. It implies that you’re wrong, overreacting, or lying. Abusers do this to turn things around and blame the victim and deny or minimize their abusive words or actions.
The most common forms of invalidation include blaming, judging, denying, and minimizing your feelings or experiences. Invalidation isn’t just disagreeing, it says: I don’t care about your feelings. Your feelings don’t matter. Your feelings are wrong.
Emotional invalidation might sound something like this:
- I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.
- You’re overly sensitive.
- You probably took it too personally.
- You’ll get over it.
- Just let it go.
- You’re a strong person.
- It could be worse.
- God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- I know exactly how you feel.
- You shouldn’t be angry.
- Don’t be sad.
- You make a big deal out of everything.
- That didn’t happen.
- Stop making things up.
- You’re overreacting.
- You probably misunderstood.
Invalidation can also be non-verbal: rolling your eyes, ignoring, playing on your phone or another distraction, leaving the room.
Coping with emotional invalidation
When your feelings are minimized or denied, it’s natural to want to defend yourself or to strike back and emotionally wound the perpetrator. This is understandable but rarely helpful. In fact, the perpetrator is often looking to put you on the defensive and draw you into a non-productive argument that further distracts you from the real issues.
Before deciding how to respond to invalidation, ask yourself a few questions to clarify your goals and options:
- Are you close to this person?
- Does their opinion matter?
- Has this person been interested in understanding your feelings in the past?
- Is it a good use of your time and energy to help them understand your feelings?
- Does this person have a habit of invalidating your feelings?
- How have they responded in the past when you’ve pointed it out?
Sometimes, it’s not worth trying to get a stranger or even an acquaintance to understand your feelings. Generally, the closer the relationship you have with someone, the more important it is for them to understand your feelings. However, you have to be realistic about other people’s capabilities to do so. If this person repeatedly invalidates your feelings and isn’t interested or motivated to change, you need to take steps to distance yourself and take care of your own feelings. You may want to calmly and without blame state that you feel invalidated. This acknowledges that you’ve been hurt and gives the other person the opportunity to make it right.
The key, again, is not to get drawn into a debate about who is right or wrong, but to set a boundary that states how you want to be treated and to leave the situation if your needs aren’t respected.
If you have a friend or family member who occasionally invalidates your feelings and is open and receptive to learning how to be more empathetic, you can show them this short video from Brené Brown about empathy and you can practice communicating your feelings using I statements.
How to validate your own feelings
It’s important to form relationships with people who love and respect you, who care about your feelings and want to understand who you are and how you feel.
It’s also important for you to care about, understand, and validate your own feelings. As you know, we can run into emotional problems and become victims when we rely too heavily on external validation.
I wrote an affirmation to help you validate your own feelings. An excerpt of it is below.
I respect and honor myself when I pay attention to and accept my feelings.
I will try to slow down and make time to notice how I feel. I know that my feelings matter and I will value the truth and wisdom they contain. Others may try to invalidate my experiences and feelings, but I will hold on to my truth.
I can hold on to my truth and also remain open to other people’s perspectives as long as there is mutual respect. I’m learning to distinguish between people who invalidate and disrespect me and those who are curious and interested but have different experiences and feelings than my own.
I can choose not to spend time with people who continue to invalidate my experiences and feelings. I will choose to surround myself with people who support my healing and growth, who push me to be a better person, and who leave me feeling better about myself — not worse.
I can validate my feelings by reminding myself that all feelings are acceptable and have a purpose; my feelings matter and they aren’t wrong.
You can purchase the entire meditation (audio and PDF) below. Or you may want to write your own emotional validation meditation.
Purchase a print-ready PDF & the full audio meditation
Many people get stuck because they think they need their loved ones to validate their feelings. To have a satisfying relationship with someone, you need them to understand you. However, you don’t need other people to tell you your feelings are acceptable. The important thing is that you know your feelings are valid regardless of what others think. You are the only one who can validate your feelings and deem them acceptable and legitimate; no one can do it for you and external validation doesn’t mean anything until you can validate your own feelings.
©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.
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