EQI Core Home | Free PDF on Invalidation
Suicide, Invalidaton - Letter from a Mother
|Invalidation and Children
An Abstract From an Academic Article About Invalidation by Thomas Lynch, Duke University
Songs with examples of invalidation
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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|Hearing "Don't worry"
When I am worried about something and I tell someone who is involved in the situation and they say "Don't worry," I actually feel more worried. This is because I can tell they don't take me and my feelings very seriously. I see that they are not going to do anything to help prevent what it is that I am worried about.
For example, let's say I am traveling with someone and I say I am afraid someone could come into our room and steal my laptop computer if they keep leaving the door unlocked. If they tell me "don't worry", then I am more worried, because they are not taking my fear seriously and they may just keep leaving the door unlocked. Besides worrying about my laptop getting stolen, I am now also worried about traveling with someone who invalidates me.
|Free PDF on Invalidation|
|Defensiveness and Invalidation
All invalidation is a form of psychological attack. When we are attacked, our survival instinct tells us to 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 or puts us in the position of trying to change another person.
One sign of both high self-esteem and high EQ is the absence of either of these defensive responses. 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."
How the other person responds to your emotional honesty will depend upon, and be indicative of:
All of this is information which will help you make decisions which are in your best interest.
|Self-Injury and Invalidation
Invalidation has been suggested as one of the primary reasons people cut, burn and injure themselves.
For example this quote is from D. Martinson (www.crystal.palace.net/~llama/selfinjury/guide.html)
Martnison also writes:
|Examples of invalidating
-- Each is an attempt to talk you out of
"Ordering" You to Feel Differently
|Ordering You to "Look"
look so sad.
Denying Your Perception, Defending
You've got it all wrong.
|Trying to Make You Feel Guilty While
tried to help you..
Trying to Isolate You
You are the only one who feels that
Minimizing Your Feelings
You must be kidding.
There is no reason to get upset.
|Telling You How You
"Should" Feel or Act
You should be excited.
Defending The Other Person
Maybe they were just having a bad
Negating, Denial & Confusion
Now you know that isn't true.
Sarcasm and Mocking
Oh, you poor thing. Did I hurt your
|Laying Guilt Trips
Don't you ever think of anyone but yourself?
Philosophizing Or Clichés
Time heals all wounds.
Talking about you when you can hear it
She is impossible to talk to.
This is getting really old.
|Trying to Control How Long
You Feel Something, or Judging You for How Long You Feel
Are you still
upset over that? It happened a long time ago.
Maybe it is because...
Even when we are happy, unhappy people want to ruin it for us by saying diminishing things like: What are you so happy about? That's it? That's all you are so excited about?
There was an expression I heard when I was growing up. It was "Who put a quarter in you?" A quarter is a 25 cent coin in the USA. It was a coin which was once enough to start music in a juke box. So the implication was the person was acting abnormally happy, excited, lively etc.
When your awareness rises, you'll begin to notice such comments on a regular basis. Together, they take their toll on us. We wonder if there is something wrong with us for feeling how 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. Examples of such relationships are parent/child, teacher/child, spiritual leader/follower, boss/employee, husband/wife. Such a sad scenario appears to be even more likely when the person being invalidated is highly sensitive, intelligent and has previously suffered self-esteem damage.
The more sensitive the person, the more serious the damage of invalidation. Invalidation undermines self-confidence because it causes self-doubt. This in turn further diminishes self-esteem.
Invalidation is serious violation of one's "true self." Repeated invalidation may be one of the worst crimes one person can commit against another without ever lifting a finger against them. And yet, it is neither illegal, "immoral" nor even widely recognized as a problem.
|Stories about Invalidation
I met someone once who said her boyfriend was jealous. I asked if he was able to say directly that he is jealous. She said yes. I asked him what she said in reply. She said she tells him he has no reason to be jealous!
Later this same person said she felt disrespected when he walks in front of her. I asked what she thought he might say if she said, "I feel a little disrespected when you walk in front of me." She said he would probably say, "That is totally absurd!"
These are two highly intelligent people, and both university graduates. They are highly skilled in debating facts, but untrained, uneducated and unskilled in listening and showing understanding.
One day in Australia I decided to try hang gliding. I went up with an instructor, floated and flew above the waves and coastline for about 20 minutes, then landed on the sand. His wife was there to meet us so she could drive us back up to the top of the hill. Their son, about 8 years old, was with her. As the four of us were standing there a woman named Sue came up with a big smile on her face. She gave a warm hello to the couple, then asked the boy, "How's school, mate?" With a troubled look on his young face, the boy quietly said, "Not good." In response Sue exclaimed, sounding surprised and incredulous, "Not good!? I bet it is heaps of fun."
Then she turned her attention back to the boy's parents. They started talking about some of their friends, smiling and laughing. Meanwhile all three of them completely ignored the boy. But I watched him. I watched his head drop. I watched his face change. I watched him turn away from the group. I watched him take a few steps, then just stand there, alone.
I still find it hard to believe that anyone could miss a child's reaction that completely. I wondered how the three adults could stand there and laugh while that boy stood there alone, troubled now not only about school but also because no one was interested in his troubles. They wanted everything to be positive. They want it all to be good. But it wasn't all good for that boy. No one showed him any understanding whatsoever. What's worse is that when he gave them a golden opportunity to understand him and his world, he was completely invalidated, then completely ignored.
Maybe his father was the type who would try to distract his son with thrilling and risky sports such as hang gliding, soccer, surfing, and race car driving. This is probably how he was taught to deal with feelings by his father and by the Australian culture. As long as you are active, you can't feel your emotional pain. But what if his son is not interested in sports? Then what? What will his father do then? What will his mother do? She seemed as athletic as the father, which makes sense of course. Otherwise they would not have been compatible.
Again I feel guilty because I did not say anything. I just stood there, stunned, while I watched and made mental notes. I probably will never forget the dejected way he turned and walked away. And I never want to forget it. I want it to inspire me to keep working for the needs of children and teenagers.
These were parents which most people would say are "good parents." I doubt anyone will ever accuse them of child abuse. But I say that what they did was child abuse. It was total emotional neglect at that moment. Now you might think this one incident is a small thing. Yes, it is. Maybe they are good listeners when it really counts. Maybe. But then again, maybe not. I say this one incident says a lot about their parenting style and about how children are psychologically invalidated every day. Either way, they all could have handled that situation much better. And that is why I am writing this story. To remind everyone that it is these little interactions with children that make a difference in their lives and in society.
If one were to ask that child how much he felt understood, between 0 and 10, at that moment, what might he have said? I would guess he would say zero. Is that what we want? Is that acceptable to you? It is not acceptable to me.
One day I expect there will be research which proves that children who did not feel understood by their parents, teachers, parents' friends, etc. are among the most self-destructive or socially destructive adults.
We all need to feel understood. It is a basic, natural human need. It is not a right, it is not something nice to have. It is a need. When our needs go unmet one incident at a time, for years and years, we and society all suffer.
|Don't Think So Much. Don't Look So
Last night I went to visit someone while she was at work. When I got there, she didn't seem very happy to see me. I felt uncomfortable being there. I had to wait for her to finish with a customer. The longer I waited the more uncomfortable I felt. I felt out of place, unwelcome. I started thinking maybe there was something wrong and wondered if she had second thoughts about the plans we had made to go travelling together. I wondered if her boss told her that if she left, she couldn't come back. Many things were going through my mind. As I waited, small signals from her caused me to feel even more discouraged. Then she seemed to notice my mood and asked me what I was thinking. I tried to explain to her what I was afraid of and she said, "Don't think so much."
I didn't know what to say after this. I knew there was no point in telling her that I felt invalidated.
(Actually, looking back, maybe it would have helped. Maybe she would have said, "What does that mean?" Then maybe I could have explained it to her and she would have learned something useful and it would have started us on a path of better communication and understanding. It is unlikely considering what happened next, but maybe with someone else it could have helped.)
I just sat there, stunned. I didn't know what to say for a moment. Then I said, "Why don't you want me to think so much?" She said, "Because I don't want you to think so much." Then I was quiet for a moment. This made her very uncomfortable and she said, "Don't look so serious." I said, "Why not?" Then she said, "Because I don't like it when you look so serious."
I understand a little about why she didn't want me to think so much or look so serious. Previoiusly she told me she was raised in a dysfunctional family. Her father was an alcoholic and her parents were divorced when she was 17. Her mother probably tried to deal with her children's unhappiness by saying things like "Don't think so much" and "Don't look so sad." Her mother probably felt responsible and powerless to help them feel better. So she probably just tried to tell them not to feel how they were feeling. Parents, like teachers and many others, get accustomed to telling people what to do and having them do it. So I suppose they think they can tell someone how to feel and, then like magic, that will work, too.
Now I am wondering,...when someone says, "Don't think so much," how does one do that? To me that is like telling a fish not to swim so much or an artist not to draw so much. Or a writer not to write so much.
I know there are many ways other people try not to think so much. They distract themselves with TV, movies, music, shopping, sports, religion, drugs, alcohol etc. But I don't spend much time on any of those. Those things don't help me find answers to my questions. So I guess I will continue thinking and looking serious when I think about things that are important to me.
S. P. Hein
|There is nothing wrong with
you. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You're making
One day I was talking about depression with a self-harming teen in the UK named Loz. Here is part of that conversation.
Loz had never heard of invalidation before she found EQI.org, so I showed her our page on it, hoping it would help her be more aware of what is happening to her. - Nov 27, 2005
|Loz's screen name that day:
..Loz... [x]Tutto accade per un motivo...[x]
Maybe It's Not So Bad
One day I was feeling very discouraged and depressed because a project I had started to help orphans in Bulgaria had been cancelled. When I told one of the volunteers, a mother who had been helping me there, she said, "Maybe it's not so bad..."
I remembered later that she had also said this about my visa situation, "Maybe it's not so complicated." I felt so hurt by her lack of understanding that I had to bite my tongue not to say "Did you hear one word I said?!"
On another occasion I had told her that I didn't get a reply from someone yet and this same mother said, "Maybe she didn't get your mail."
On still another occasion when I had shared some feeling with her she said something like "Maybe it is because.... "
This mother happened to be a single mother with a 16 year old daughter. Once I heard them arguing and the mother attackingly said, "Because you......". I don't remember the exact words, the mother said but it was something like "Because you didn´t listen to me." or "Because you did so (and so and therefore you deserve it.)"
I wrote in my journal that when this mother was talking to me she was trying to help because she "wanted my pain to go away quickly." But when she verbally attacked her daughter, it was more because she wanted her own pain to go away quickly.
Something else I wrote about this mother was that once she told me that when she broke up with someone she was sad for one year. Another day she told me that when her dog died she was sad for one month. Knowing what I have learned about listening and validation, I just listened to her on both of those occasions. And I wrote later that some people might think she had been sad for "too long," but who can tell someone else how long they should feel sad when they lose a relationship or a pet? Or anything?
This was over 3 years ago now, but I still feel a little sad as I edit this file because this mother had a very hard life. She had been physically and emotionally abused by her parents, and had to move back in with them when she got a divorce. She was very sensitive and caring, and I believe, very emotionally intelligent, but she never had either training, schooling or good role models for healthy emotional development.
Not Going to Happen
Once I was telling someone that I was afraid about something. The other person quickly said "It's not going to happen." This didn't help me feel any better. In fact, I felt worse. S. Hein
The other day I started chatting with someone who I will call Nadia I was feeling very depressed. They said "How are you," but I didn't want to tell them. I said I just wanted to see if they were ok. Nadia pressed me to explain why I didn't want to talk about how I was feeling, so I told her honestly that I was a little afraid she would later say that I just talk to her when I have a problem.
Her response was, "I thought
we already talked about that."
But all this happened so fast. And now it is two days later and I am still thinking about it. And I am also thinking that some people will accuse me of thinking too much. But I don't believe I think too much. I think they think too little!
But more seriously, I don't believe
I think too much because the suicidal teenagers I talk to
also think a lot. And they are often told by their
parents or even people their age they might call friends,
that they think too much. But I don't believe they think
too much. I think they are invalidated too often.
I feel sad to even say that,
because if Nadia does read this then she will probably
feel hurt, maybe she will feel defensive. Maybe she will
feel resentful or hurtful towards me. I hope that in any
case she can identify her feelings. For me, for example,
I recently realized how important it is for me to realize
when I am feeling hurtful, because if I think about it
that way I realize I don't want to hurt someone I love.
|Invalidation and Children
I believe that invalidating a sensitive child is a crime against humanity.
|A letter from a social worker about
(copied with permission)
Feelings Are Not Debatable
I still remember many years ago when I was driving my car thinking about how people in my family would so often argue and debate about everything. I stopped the car, opened my laptop and wrote in a large font
|Other Articles on
An article on invalidation which uses some of my thoughts:
|Validation and Invalidation
Excerpts from an article by Cathy Palmer-Scruggs (Full article)
Recently, I had a few situations to come up
that called for some comfort from my friends. I really
needed them. A few came through for me in just 'being
there'...and others took it as their cue to 'give
advice'...and believe me, it only made the situation
worse. I did not ask anyone for advice.
Note from S. Hein - I would say that it is a "need" to grieve. It doesn't make much sense to try to tell someone else that they have no "right" to tell you to get over it. This is invalidating their feelings almost the same as they are invalidating yours. Evidently they feel something which causes them to say "get over it" or whatever. Probably they feel uncomfortable with your pain. They might feel powerless to do anything to help you, so to have some sense of power over the situation they start trying to give you advice or order you around.
|The Role of Emotion Inhibition in
Thomas R. Lynch, Ph.D. , Duke University
Emotion avoidance and inhibition has been implicated as a common feature associated with borderline personality disorder. This presentation will discuss three studies that that have been recently conducted at the Duke Cognitive Behavioral Research and Treatment Program. The first study examined 127 participants to evaluate a developmental model in which chronic emotion inhibition mediates the relation between childhood emotional invalidation/abuse and adult psychological distress. Findings indicated that 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. The second study examined a model in which inhibition of thoughts and emotion was predicted to mediate the relationship between the trait of negative affect intensity and acute psychological distress. Using structural equation modeling hypotheses were supported in both clinical and non-clinical samples, indicating its generalizability. The third study examined the effects of emotion suppression on classical conditioning. Participants were randomized to a suppression (n= 22; show or feel no emotion) or a non-suppression (n = 24; no instruction) condition. Data indicated that discriminative learning (assessed by galvanic skin response) occurred faster and was more robust for suppressors. Suppressors also exhibited less extinction. Results suggest that active attempts to suppress emotion may increase associations to an aversive event, implicating a mechanism by which certain disorders (e.g., PTSD, BPD) retain features associated with greater conditionability. Finally, directions regarding future research from our lab examining borderline personality disorder and a brief overview of a current study examining emotion suppression among suicidal patients will be discussed. Key Citations:
Lynch, T.R., Robins, C.J., Morse, J.Q., & Krause, E.D. (2001). A mediational model relating affect intensity, emotion inhibition, and psychological distress. Behavior Therapy, 32, 519-536.
Lynch, T.R., Krause, E.D., Morse, J.Q., Mendelson, T., Crozier, J., & LaBar, K.S. (2001). Role of emotion suppression in classical fear conditioning. In T.R. Lynch (Chair), Experiential avoidance and psychopathology: Recent research and methodological developments. Symposium conducted at the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy 35th Annual Convention, Philadelphia.
Krause, E.D., Mendelson, T., & Lynch, T.R. (in press). Childhood emotion invalidation and adult psychological distress: The mediating role of emotion inhibition. Journal of Child Abuse & Neglect.
Krause, E. D., Robins, C.J., & Lynch, T.R. (2000). A mediational model relating sociotropy, ambivalence over emotional expression and eating disorder symptoms. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 328-335.
|Two out of three ain't bad
There is an old song that goes:
I don't think telling the person not to be sad, and "two out of three ain't bad" would help them feel any better!
|If you're feeling lonely, don't -- Lyrics from a song by Bryan Adams|
This is a song I listened to many times in my youth. But I never realized how invalidating it was. Of course, back then, no one had taught me what invalidation is. It wasn't something they taught in school. I am not sure if it is even now. The lyrics sound very upbeat and positive (and the music is also very upbeat), but I wonder how someone would feel if the words were said to them.
1. At the time I first wrote this was my own hypothesis. Later I was informed of the definition of "borderline personality disorder" which is based on invalidation. If you are aware of any scientific research on invalidation and the connection between it and later emotional problems, please let me know. See also section self-injury and invalidation.
3. Reference to R.D. Laing is from chapter 1 of Claude Steiner's book Achieving Emotional Literacy
|Well, duh - This is a common expression in the
Your point is?
check wallowing and pity party - add dwell