The Need for Validation and the Consequences of Invalidation

invalidation

Validation: The recognition of a person’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviours as valid and understandable.[1]

Invalidation, then, is the rejection or dismissal of a person’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviours as being valid and understandable.

Invalidation can cause significant damage or upset to a person’s psychological health and well-being. When a person feels invalidated, it creates the belief that their subjective emotional experiences are unreasonable, unacceptable, or insignificant. The effects of invalidation can impact anyone, regardless of age, sex, or culture, but children are the most susceptible the negative impact of invalidation, as their awareness and understanding of the world are still in development just like their brain and nervous system. The invalidated child is likely to develop pervasive feelings of insecurity and later difficulties in healthy emotional expression.

In both children and adults, invalidation can be traumatic. It jeopardises one’s sense of existence and self-worth, leading to feelings of anger, shame, guilt, and worthlessness. Such feelings can negatively impact an individual’s day to day functioning, and can lead to psychological health conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Invalidation can cause an existential wound that goes so deep that can be perceived as threatening once right to exist. This can scar and stay with a person throughout their lives if not addressed and healed through adequate psychotherapy, psycho-education and effective tools for self-management and self-validation and of course healthy relational validation.

 

Invalidation: Origins in Childhood and Adverse Effects

Feelings of invalidation or worthlessness generally have their roots in a person’s early years, where, as a child, one’s caregiver ignored, minimised, or even punished the child’s inner emotional experiences.[2] The meaning made out of such experience can follow an individual into adulthood and affect their personal well-being and interpersonal and professional relationships.

Invalidation often leads to emotional distancing, conflict, and disruption in relationships[3], as well as feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, confusion, and inferiority in the affected individual.

Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan, Ph.D, observed that growing up in an environment where one’s inner experiences were invalidated, punished, or ignored was a potential cause in the onset of Borderline Personality Disorder.[4]

A 2007 study on eating disorders in women highlighted the impact of parental invalidation on one’s ability to tolerate distress and their eating pathology.[5]

Invalidation can reduce a person’s ability to manage their own emotions and behaviours. According to a study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, perceived invalidation by peers and family members was found to increase the likelihood of suicidal events or instances of self-mutilation in participating adolescents.[6]

Another study, published in 2003, investigated the relationship between emotional invalidation in childhood and psychological distress in adulthood. The results of the study highlighted that childhood emotional invalidation, like psychological abuse or minimisation of experiences, related to ‘chronic emotional inhibition in adulthood’, which in turn significantly predicts psychological distress, particularly in the form of depression and anxiety-related symptoms.[7]

Invalidation, as explored in the above studies, causes a significant negative impact on an individual’s psychological, emotional, and behavioural health and well-being. It generally results in a disconnection from one’s sense of self-worth, and distances individuals from the reality that we are inherently valid – in that we intrinsically belong to the world around us.

 

Reasons Why People Invalidate

 Unfortunately, often people are unaware that their words or behaviours are invalidating. Instances of invalidation may be perceived by the invalidator as an attempt to help a person move on from a difficult emotion or experience. However, sometimes people are aware of how their words and behaviours are invalidating, and continue to speak or behave in such a way as a means of manipulating or abusing another person.

Other reasons why people invalidate others’ thoughts, feelings, emotions, or experiences include an inability to understand or empathise, or as a result of feelings of discomfort in relation to another person’s emotional expression triggering unprocessed material in the invalidator.

 

Healing from Invalidation, or Validating the Self

Education and awareness are also important tools in healing the wounds of invalidation. As adults, we can’t always rely on others to validate our feelings and experiences, so it’s important that we learn how to do so for ourselves. This is easier said than done, but self-validation is something that can be learned with practice and conscious effort.

Of course, we can’t control others’ behaviour, but we can control how we respond to them. In The Invisible Lion, author and psychologist Benjamin Fry writes about the use of boundaries and containment[8] in promoting and ensuring our well-being. Boundaries, Fry explains, are shields which serve to lessen the impact of external stimuli on our emotional and psychological well-being, while containment concerns how we manage our responses or reactions to those stimuli. Once we become aware of the signs of invalidation from another person through adequate education, we can implement boundaries and containment where we see fit, reducing our vulnerability to triggers.

Ultimately, dealing with invalidation comes down to developing a sense of self-worth, esteem, confidence, and assertiveness. These traits can often be cultivated in a therapeutic setting. For those affected by, or concerned about potentially being affected by invalidation, it may be somewhat helpful to remember that healthy, intelligent people are generally morally just, and aware of the impact that words and actions can have on a person’s well-being.

If you believe that your quality of life has been negatively impacted by invalidation from another person, remember that compassionate, professional help and guidance is available, as are the skills and tools necessary to overcome such feelings.

 

Get in touch

If you have a client, or know of someone who is struggling with feelings of invalidation, or equally can’t find the right help for any form of mental health issue, please know that these are themes largely addressed at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and out-patient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours)

 

Sources

[1] Hall, K., 2012. Understanding Validation: A Way To Communicate Acceptance. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201204/understanding-validation-way-communicate-acceptance> [Accessed 18 May 2020].

[2] Linehan, M., 1993. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Publications.

[3] Chang, J., 2020. What Is Psychological Invalidation? How It Happens And Its Effects | Regain. [online] Regain.us. Available at: <https://www.regain.us/advice/psychology/what-is-psychological-invalidation-how-it-happens-and-its-effects/> [Accessed 18 May 2020].

[4] Linehan, M., 1993. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Publications.

[5] Mountford, V., Corstorphine, E., Tomlinson, S. and Waller, G., 2007. Development of a measure to assess invalidating childhood environments in the eating disorders. Eating Behaviors, 8(1), pp.48-58.

[6] Yen, S., Kuehn, K., Tezanos, K., Weinstock, L., Solomon, J. and Spirito, A., 2015. Perceived Family and Peer Invalidation as Predictors of Adolescent Suicidal Behaviors and Self-Mutilation. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 25(2), pp.124-130.

[7] Krause, E., Mendelson, T. and Lynch, T., 2003. Childhood emotional invalidation and adult psychological distress: the mediating role of emotional inhibition. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27(2), pp.199-213.

[8] Fry, B., 2019. The Invisible Lion: Flatpack Instructions For Life. 1st ed.

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