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Dealing With People Who Invalidate Us

Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions.

Invalidation is hurtful.

Invalidation is hurtful.

When we experience loss, go through trauma, have a chronic illness, or are depressed, we often turn to people around us for support. We expect empathy, encouragement, and validation. Unfortunately, some invalidate our pain by rejecting and dismissing it, ignoring us, not believing us, or minimizing our situation.

Offenders want us to get our heads out of the clouds and face the “facts” that we are unworthy, without talent, and failures in life. Some people try to dismiss our dreams as worthless and scoff at our successes. A few are mean-spirited haters who enjoy putting down others and destroying their dreams.

Some people may have good intentions such as trying to cheer us up or calming us down when we are upset. Discouraging words are meant to help steer us away from pursuing the wrong goals. They want to help us to move past our hurt or grief.

Types of Invalidation

Invalidation can occur in several areas:

  • Denying negative emotions are valid
  • Dismissing our feelings as unimportant
  • Accusing us of exaggeration and blowing situations out of proportion
  • Discrediting our talents and abilities
  • Discouraging us from pursuing our dreams
  • Downplaying our accomplishments and successes
  • Expressing that they do not believe in us

Gru’s Mother: An Example of Invalidation

There are moments in the Despicable Me movies that show how the supervillain Gru’s mother invalidated the poor guy. In one flashback sequence, Gru remembers how he proudly shared his dreams and showed off his rockets and other amazing inventions to his mom. He expected her to smile and praise his accomplishments. Instead, his mom mostly retained her grim expression and grunted “eh.”

Like Gru, there are times when we want to share our accomplishments with others. We expect people to support our dreams and celebrate our successes. We hope they will acknowledge and praise our skills. Words of encouragement can confirm we made the right decisions and that our lives are going in the right direction. Just getting an ”eh” hurts and lowers our self-esteem.

Reasons Why People Invalidate Us

They Feel Uncomfortable with Negative Emotions

“You’ll get over it.” “You shouldn’t feel like that.”

Strong emotions such as grief make some people uncomfortable. They do not know how to respond, so they resort to platitudes and cliches. They are evasive and quickly change the subject. These people do not understand our pain and despise us. Others who invalidate us may even criticize and put us down for talking about our situation.

We may feel that we do not have the right to the way we feel or to receive praise for our successes. This situation can cripple our enthusiasm and instill a fear of failure.

They Think That Emotions Should Be Suppressed

“Stop talking like that.” “You take things too personally.”

Some believe that it is wrong for us to talk about our negative feelings and are embarrassed when we do. They are quick to shut us down. They despise us when we express our hurt.

Some people doubt that the pain from invalidation is real.

Some people doubt that the pain from invalidation is real.

They Do Not Believe Our Pain is Real

“I am sure things are not as bad as you say.” “You’re exaggerating.” “I don’t see the problem.”

Offenders do not want to believe what we are saying. Depression is dismissed as weakness and moral failing. Our physical pain and mental anguish is all in our heads. The symptoms of chronic illness are our fault; we did not eat right or exercise enough. We are to blame for every bad thing that happens to us.

They Do Not Believe in Us

“You can’t do that.” “That’s just a pipe dream.” You don’t have the talent to make it.”

Some people do not believe we are capable of being successful in some areas. They view our aspirations as delusions that they feel compelled to discredit. Some offenders think that they are doing us a favor and are bringing us back to “reality.” Others may dislike us and are quick to put us down.

They Want to Control Us

“You’re being too sensitive.” “You shouldn’t worry about that.” “That is a bad idea.”

Some individuals will use invalidation to manipulate us. Offenders may also threaten to withdraw financial support or cut off contact to maneuver us into fulfilling their agenda. Sometimes they shame and embarrass us to get what they want.

Talking About Our Feelings Trigger Their Own Pain

Individuals may be so caught up in their own emotional pain that they are incapable of handling other people’s emotions. Sometimes, hearing about our emotional state triggers their own hurts. Minimizing us can be a way for them to suppress their own pain.

The Impact of Invalidation

It hurts and is very distressing when the people we look to for support do not understand how we feel. We think something is wrong with us. Inadequacy makes us question whether our feelings are valid or we made the right decision. In some cases, we may even question our sanity.

Our self-esteem takes a nosedive when people ignore us, are indifferent, and tell us our feelings do not matter. We are insecure and anxious, not trusting ourselves to make the right decisions. Handling our emotions is difficult. We may end up suppressing our feelings because we do not know how to process them.
This state can lead to depression and other types of emotional dysregulation.

Responding to invalidation can be challenging.

Responding to invalidation can be challenging.

Our Response to Being Minimized

During the Despicable Me movies, watching young Gru’s face falling while his mother minimized his dreams and his accomplishments made me wince. Many of us can relate to his emotions. Invalidation is painful and erodes our self-worth.

We need to recognize signs of invalidation and not allow them to erode our self-esteem, diminish our accomplishments, and stomp on our dreams. Offenders’ comments should be challenged and, in some cases, investigated.

There are several ways we can deal with offenders:

  • Ignore them and do not let their words drag us down
  • Do not take their comments personally
  • Change the subject
  • Ask them to stop talking about the topic
  • Walk away if they do not shut up
  • Take a stand against their ideas
  • Confront them about their behavior
  • Set boundaries around specific topics
  • Avoid them in some cases

When offenders challenge us, we should have a strong group of friends and supporters who can reaffirm our worth, encourage us to pursue our dreams, and applaud our successes. Their non-judgmental constructive criticism can help us to make life decisions. Mental health professionals can also help us navigate the treacherous waters of serious invalidation.

Concluding Thoughts

In the end, we have the right to express ourselves without being minimized and shut down. It is up to us to recognize where we might be wrong and adjust ourselves accordingly. Our self-esteem and confidence in our abilities should weather any storms that people who invalidate us can stir up.

References

Emotional invalidation, when others minimize or ignore our feelings, Psychology Spot, Jennifer Delgado
The Need for Validation and the Consequences of Invalidation, Khiron Clinics
What Is Emotional Validation?, Verywellmind.com, Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD
These 5 subtle signs prove that you’re being invalidated by your partner, Healthshots

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Carola Finch