Has anyone ever said to you, “Oh, don’t be so sensitive” or “You’re over-reacting“? These are all examples of emotional invalidation, and while they may appear harmless enough, they can have long-lasting consequences.
What Is Emotional Invalidation?
Emotional invalidation is the dismissal of a person’s feelings. It is saying whatever you are feeling or thinking right now is irrelevant. Instead of accepting and understanding a person’s emotions, they are questioned, ignored, or even ridiculed.
If emotional invalidation continues regularly, and for long enough, it can lead to self-doubt, low self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness. Research shows that daily validation confirms our understanding of the world and how we are perceiving it.
So what are the signs of emotional invalidation? They can be verbal or non-verbal.
20 Signs of Emotional Invalidation
Verbal signs include phrases such as:
- “Don’t be so emotional.”
- “Why are you always so sensitive?”
- “I was only joking.”
- “What’s the big deal?”
- “Stop acting like a wuss.”
- “Well, you shouldn’t have done that.”
- “We’ve all been through it. You need to get over it.”
- “You are being silly.”
- “Concentrate on the important things in life.”
- “Stop sulking.”
- “You know I didn’t mean it.”
- “Grow up.”
- “It could be worse.”
Non-verbal signs include things like:
- Eye-rolling when someone is speaking
- Walking away mid-conversation
- Ignoring the person when they are talking
- Playing on your phone and not listening
- Reading the paper when they want to talk
- Interrupting when the person is speaking
- Changing the subject to talk about yourself
Why Is Emotional Invalidation So Harmful?
“Psychological invalidation is one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse. It kills confidence, creativity and individuality.” Dr Anne Brown RNMS
When we are validated, we feel valued, useful, and accepted. We learn to trust our emotions, and this leads to a greater sense of self. Validation reinforces our identities. People agree with us, and this makes us feel confident in what we are expressing and subsequently experiencing.
Studies show that sharing our emotions serves as an important social service; it demonstrates our needs and wishes to others.
So when our emotions are invalidated, we feel as if we don’t matter, or that our opinions are not important. We feel as if we are not allowed to feel in a particular way. We believe that other people know better than us.
We start to question whether we have the right to feel the way we do. Perhaps we are being over-sensitive? Maybe we should learn to toughen up? We may have over-reacted and misjudged the situation.
Damaging Effects of Emotional Invalidation
The problem with emotional invalidation is that we eventually start to dampen down our feelings. Not only that – we begin to distrust our feelings. We must be wrong. However, distrusting your feelings can lead to several issues:
- Identity Issues: Over time, being emotionally invalidated can lead to low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in yourself. When your emotions are constantly questioned, you believe that your thoughts, feelings and way of viewing the world are wrong.
- Emotional Issues: We make many decisions based on our emotional response to a situation or person. If your emotions are always negated, you can start to distrust the way you feel. This leads to poor decision-making and bad life choices.
- Mental Health Issues: Eventually, the effects of emotional invalidation will affect your mental health. Constantly being told that what you are feeling is irrelevant or ridiculous can lead to anxiety and, in particular, depression.
What to Do If Your Emotions Are Invalidated?
It can be difficult to insist that your feelings are valid in the face of someone determined to quash them. But there are ways to combat emotional invalidation:
Stand your ground – You have a right to feel whatever you are feeling in the moment or afterwards. Just because someone says that your feelings don’t matter, or that you are over-reacting, it doesn’t mean they have the right to make you feel differently.
After all, how can someone possibly know what you are thinking?
Speak objectively – We are more likely to experience emotional invalidation during times of stress. When explaining your feelings, be objective. State the reason why you are feeling the emotion using hard facts, not emotion. For example:
“I am upset because you forgot my birthday, and that makes me feel as if you don’t care about me.”
Set boundaries – For the sake of your mental health, you need to set clear boundaries and not get drawn into a debate about your feelings. Your feelings are not wrong, they reflect the way you perceive the situation.
It doesn’t matter whether this person agrees with you or not. What they shouldn’t do is tell you how to feel.
Move on – If someone repeatedly invalidates your emotions and you can’t get them to understand you, you’ll need to make a decision.
Typically, the closer the relationship, the more we need to be emotionally heard and validated. The person might be important to you, but if they don’t have the emotional intelligence to change, you may have to move on.
What to Do If You Are Guilty of Emotional Invalidation?
We all tend to offer advice, give judgements or filter the conversation to fit our own experiences. It takes practice to validate another person’s emotions.
Listen – If someone is upset, stop and actually listen to what they are saying. Don’t rush ahead in your own mind, trying to come up with solutions or examples. Just take in their words and really try and see their point of view.
Repeat – It’s a good idea to repeat back what the person has said so that you clearly understand why they are emotional. For example; you could say,
“You have told me that you are angry because I am late again, is that right?“
Acknowledge – Acknowledging the emotion is validating it. For instance, you could say,
“I see that you are angry with me, what can I do to make you feel better?” Or “I’m sorry that I have made you angry, I’ll try and be on time in future.“
Remember, it’s not about being right or wrong but accepting the way the other person feels.
You wouldn’t think that emotional invalidation is so important, but it is. When our emotions are not validated, we question whether we have the right to feel a certain way. We feel dismissed, unimportant and useless. Validating a person’s emotions show that you are respecting and supporting that person.
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