Validation is an essential part of human interaction. It's a critical communication tool and an expression of acceptance and connection within relationships.
Relationships that are safe and secure make space for each person to feel their emotions and those emotions are respected. Emotional invalidation is when those emotions are not respected and are experienced as irrational or unreasonable by the other person.
What Is Emotional Invalidation?
Invalidation means to dismiss or interpret something as not valid. Emotional invalidation is when someone's feelings are denied, rejected, or dismissed.
Invalidation makes someone feel as though their emotional experience is wrong. They may feel that their emotions are unacceptable, insignificant, or inaccurate.
This can lead to considerable confusion and self-doubt. The person who is invalidated may actually end up questioning their reality or their response to things. This can lead to self-blame and feelings of low self-worth.
Invalidation can be one of the most damaging issues in a relationship.
It can cause the invalidated partner to feel as though they're crazy.
While much of the time invalidation is unintentional, it can still leave the invalidated person feeling full of self-doubt and confusion when they leave a conversation.
Invalidation is often subtle and hard to notice.
Some people may purposefully invalidate others' feelings as a form of manipulation. However, many times emotional invalidation is something that happens due to cultural conditioning, experiences growing up, discomfort with emotion, and not understanding the value of emotional validation.
Emotional Invalidation In Childhood
Most children experience some degree of emotional invalidation. Whether it's being told to "brush it off" after crying when they fall down or being told to "go to your room" when they're upset.
Emotional invalidation can be seen even in the earliest experiences of a child. When a child is left to "cry it out" they may experience their feelings as invalidated, even from a very young age.
Although common, emotional invalidation can be very damaging to a child depending on the severity and the consistency of the emotional invalidation.
Research points to how damaging emotional invalidation can be in childhood. It can lead to things like narcissism and borderline personality disorder at the extreme. This is because when a child is invalidated repeatedly they may learn to stop trusting their inner world and look outside of themselves for validation which can result in these types of personality disorders.
However, most emotional invalidation results in more common psychological responses in children. Things like feeling as though emotions need to be hidden or feeling the need to please others.
Invalidating experiences in childhood can potentially contribute to the development of different attachment styles. A child may learn that it's safer to withdraw and not show emotions (avoidant type) or feel the need to please others with their emotions and be hypervigilant for disapproval (anxious type) when they experience invalidation.
(Interested to discover your attachment style? Take the Attachment Style Quiz Now)
What Invalidation Looks Like
Examples of invalidation include:
- "It's not that big of a deal"
- "You're overreacting"
- "You shouldn't feel that way"
- "I'm not talking about this"
- "Don't think about it, just get over it"
- "There's nothing to be afraid of" (or anxious, or worried about)
- "It could have been worse, at least it's not x,y,z"
- "Don't get upset" (or cry or get anxious)
What Causes Invalidation
Invalidation can be caused by a variety of factors. It can be intentional due to one person trying to manipulate and shut down the other person. However, much of the time emotional invalidation is unintentional.
Emotional invalidation often happens due to a lack of skill on the part of the person who is invalidating.
One partner may not have the capacity to effectively deal with strong emotions in other people. They may be uncomfortable with their own emotions. They may have been taught that emotions are not meant to be expressed, or they may get overwhelmed by their emotions when they feel them.
Any discomfort with emotions can lead someone to try to shut down emotional conversations and emotional self-expression.
How Invalidation Impacts Relationships
Feeling secure and safe in your relationship is one of the most important factors in relationship satisfaction. When you feel as though it's safe to be yourself and you are able to express yourself and receive acceptance in response, this will often lead to more emotional intimacy and connection within intimate relationships.
When emotions are repeatedly invalidated within relationships it can cause the relationship to feel unsafe. It can make one person feel misunderstood, dismissed, or confused about where they stand. It can engender mistrust in the self and create the feeling that their opinions don't matter to their partner. This can cause some people to shut down or feel helpless.
How This Impacts Finances
When one or both partners don't feel safe in a relationship, they most likely don't feel safe discussing money. This means that communication about money becomes a source of distress and mistrust. It can sometimes get so bad that one partner will completely give up on discussing money to avoid feeling invalidated in money discussions.
Some couples have decent communication skills in other areas of their life but have difficulty when it comes to discussing finances. They may not invalidate their partner's feelings all the time, but when the subject of money comes up they may default to an invalidating response.
Here's an example of what emotional invalidation looks like in regard to finances:
The fear and anxiety your partner is feeling around the debt in your relationship.
Emotional Validation: Wow sweetheart I see that you are feeling fear and anxiety about our debt.
Emotional Invalidation: Oh it's not that big of a deal, just stop spending so much and it will all work out.
What To Do About Invalidation
The first step to overcoming invalidation in a relationship is to become aware that it's happening.
Often when invalidation exists within a relationship one partner feels that the other is "too emotional" while the other partner feels misunderstood or bad about themselves for feeling the way they do.
The second step is developing empathy for one another. This is one of the most important aspects of overcoming emotional invalidation.
Empathy means validating the other person's emotional experience.
It's essential to realize that you can validate a person's emotional experience and understand why they might feel a certain way without agreeing with it.
Imagine Frank and Joan are in conflict about how to spend their vacation and how much to splurge on their trip. Frank tells Joan that she's being unreasonable and emotionally overreacting because she's getting emotional about wanting to "make the trip special". This makes Joan feel misunderstood and like Frank doesn't really care about her.
With help, Frank and Joan can shift the way they interact to come from a place of empathy.
Frank tells Joan "I understand that you're feeling strongly about this and that making this trip special is important to you". Simply by validating Joan's emotional experience Frank may find that Joan is more open to discussing why Frank wants to spend less on their vacation with an eye on their future savings goals. Joan can then express why making the trip is important to her because it's the 30th anniversary of when they first met. Meeting in empathy and understanding can them find a middle ground for moderating expenses while expressing the special sentiment that's emotionally important to Joan.
With the simple act of emotionally validating his partner, Frank has helped to open up the channels of communication between them. Both Frank and Joan feel seen and understood by their partner and that their views are at least considered. With this information then Frank and Joan can come to a mutually beneficial agreement on what will work for them both.
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