Emotional validation is the infrastructure for emotional safety in any relationship. It is an important tool for healthy communication, emotional intimacy, and love to flourish, and is also one of the most important things a parent can do to raise a psychologically healthy child.
That is why its polar opposite, psychological invalidation, is so painful, detrimental, and debilitating to the human psyche. It involves the process of telling someone that their internal experience is not important and is considered a form of emotional abuse that occurs in many social landscapes, structures, and relationships.
Because it can be so subtle, many people do not know when psychological invalidation is happening, or worse, think that it is normal. Furthermore, emotionally dismissive people may not recognize their behavior, which makes it all the more insidious.
Psychological invalidation is the act of rejecting, dismissing, or minimizing someone else's thoughts and feelings. It implies that a person's experience is not important, wrong, or unacceptable. It is a damaging form of emotional abuse, which makes the recipient filled with self-doubt.
Emotional abuse occurs whenever an individual is dictated on how to feel, told they are too sensitive or dramatic or advised not to feel a certain way. It denies the rich emotional repertoire that makes people wonder and complexly human.
Although this form of abuse is extremely hurtful to experience, it is particularly painful and degrading for someone highly sensitive, a survivor of abuse or trauma, or struggling with depression or anxiety.
Psychological invalidation can be perpetrated by oneself or by another person, such as a friend, romantic partner, teacher, colleague, parent, or family member.
When psychological invalidation happens, the person who invalidates is not aware or conscious that they are doing so; they believe they are genuinely helping the other person and do not purposely intend to shame their thoughts and feelings. They think they can help the person feel differently by forcing them to brush aside their present emotions. That is why emotional invalidation can be hard to confront - the perpetrator often does it unintentionally and ever so subtly.
If a person is aware that they invalidate others, they do so as a way to manipulate and establish control over another individual. They try to make the other person question their thoughts and feelings and exerts effort to deny their experience, which is how gaslighting occurs. By implying that the other person is overreacting, emotional abusers skillfully blame their abusive behavior on someone else.
Reasons for psychological invalidation can range from an inability to empathize with not knowing how to validate others and express it effectively. Sometimes it is used as a power move to suppress an individual's feelings and control them. A person who unintentionally invalidates, on the other hand, maybe uncomfortable dealing with another person's feelings.
If someone says "it could be worse" it minimizes someone's pain and forces a toxic positivity on them.
Or if they say "you shouldn't feel that way" it conveys superiority over someone and denies their experience by making them feel small.
Men are persistently told to "man up", stereotyping them into believing that burying one's emotions is "manly." It is completely false, and nobody, particularly men, should feel that their emotions are strange or unattractive.
A common example of someone not recognizing they are invalidating someone is saying "I know exactly what you're going through" which is a way of minimizing and dismissing the other person and refocusing the attention to the perpetrator.
"You're too sensitive" and "I'm sorry you feel that way." The former avoids responsibility for the offensive thing they said or done and the latter avoids accountability and implies how you feel is not important and has nothing to do with them.
A person who emotionally invalidates may deny your experience altogether, saying that it never happened, that it doesn't make any sense, or telling you to stop making things up.
Moreover, psychological invalidation may include physical reactions, such as eye-rolling, walking out of the room while you are talking, or distracting themselves by looking at their phone.
If you notice that you have been psychologically invalidating toward others, the chances are that you had a parent, teacher, or friend who did the same to you. But the good news is, you can improve your behavior and take the first step toward change.
If you are reading this post and realized you are invalidating or have invalidated someone but not quite sure how to be more validating there's still hope. The first thing you can do to validate someone is to acknowledge or reflect on the other person's experience. Let them know that you hear them and that it is okay and valid for them to feel that way. "I hear you are feeling disappointed about what happened." Then, try to empathize and see things from their perspective. A helpful thing to say is, "I can understand why you feel that way." It's important to remember that validation is not about agreeing with someone; you can have different thoughts or opinions but still be able to empathize with the other person.
Avoid giving unsolicited advice, and if you feel the need to, always ask them if they want help with this problem. If the answer is no, keep on listening. Remember, it is not your responsibility to fix anyone.
Validation means acknowledging, accepting, and understanding another's feelings and thoughts and that you support them in their perspective. It allows another person's internal experience to exist without having to judge it or brush it under the carpet. For example, if a child is afraid of the ocean, an invalidating parent might say, "Don't be silly, the ocean is nothing to be afraid of." A validating thing to say instead would be, "I hear that you are feeling scared. Can you tell me what makes you afraid of the ocean?"
When you are around someone who is validating, you feel that it is safe for you to be yourself.
If you have a habit of invalidating yourself, you can start by practicing simple affirmations that accept your feelings and experiences.
"My feelings are valid, and they matter."
"I respect and honor my feelings."
"I accept my feelings as they are and acknowledge that they are not wrong."
"I will be compassionate with myself and listen to what my feelings are telling me."
"I choose to be around people who are loving and support my healing and growth."
Emotions serve an important purpose and will almost always point to something that needs to be acknowledged. They are not right or wrong - they are a reflection of your inner experience. If you are the recipient of invalidation, know that you are not crazy or unstable - your thoughts and emotions are valid because they are real.
If someone is emotionally invalidating you, it is understandable that you defend yourself and increase your efforts to be understood. Being the recipient of invalidating comments triggers a fight-or-flight response that will either make you act aggressively or defensively. However, this will only establish conflict and division and play into the perpetrator's plan of distracting you from the real issue at hand.
Instead of getting angry or defending yourself, do not accept the invalidating statement. Let them know calmly using "I" statements how you feel, and be prepared to end the conversation if they do not hear you or want to hear you. Let them know that you will discuss the matter with them when you feel safe to do so. Be neutral and assertive and set clear boundaries with them.
If this person continues to emotionally abuse you, invalidate your feelings, and resist change, it may be wise to take inventory of the relationship and think about whether or not it is worth your time and investment. If you state clearly to that person how you want to be treated, but he or she is unwilling to communicate and compromise with you respectfully, perhaps it is time to walk away from the relationship to protect yourself. I am a strong proponent for therapy because it is an effective way of dealing with the intense emotions of being emotionally abused and can help you reclaim your self-confidence and assertiveness.
Validation doesn't mean you lie or agree with another person, but to accept someone's experience as truthful for them. Surround yourself with people who support this, and who are kind, encouraging, and validating.
Equally as important is being in a compassionate relationship with yourself. Remind yourself of your inherent worth - that you are enough and that you matter, regardless of what others think or say about you.