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“Life sucks, but you just need to push on through it.” Oh, how sad it is that such “well-meaning” words can hurt so much. If you’ve ever been through trauma and had these words said to you by someone who was apparently trying to comfort you, then you know the pain and shame of hearing these or similar platitudes.
Essentially, what people are saying to you is to “get over it” and to “stop being so over-sensitive.” It’s adding insult to injury and causing more injury, as these words and similar phrases all tell you that your feelings don’t matter. You are given the loud and clear message that you are being stupid for feeling the way you do.
Your feelings become an area of confusion. After all, if everyone else tells you that you’re too sensitive, surely you are. Right? But what about the way you feel?
Emotional invalidation can cause great confusion and leads to personality disorders. All because someone else didn’t want to take the time to see you and what you are going through; in the end, they just tried to sweep your feelings under the rug.
What Is Emotional Invalidation?
Emotional invalidation is the very opposite of being seen and understood. It’s when your emotions are downplayed by others because they either lack the time or insight to understand you and your emotions.
Aside from not understanding your emotions, when you are invalidated by others, they judge you for what you feel and ridicule you for not feeling the same way as they do about things. This is the worst kind of rejection you can get from people.
While you’ve probably heard that you should only look to yourself to make you happy, it’s perfectly natural to look to others for approval or validation. We look to others to tell us if we’re on the right track with the world.
Humans are, after all, followers who naturally look for a leader or authority figure, such as their parents. Validation is when that leader tells you that you’re okay, you are doing okay, and your feelings are okay too.
The result when the “leaders” you look to don’t validate you or give you their approval or support is that you feel confused. Suddenly, what you feel doesn’t make sense to you, and you question yourself, except you don’t know what questions to ask.
The confusion and uncertainty will begin to cause serious personality disorders as you don’t trust yourself in the situations you experience daily, and you may start suffering from anxiety disorders. If our feelings are there to tell us that we’re okay with the world around us, but we then don’t trust those feelings, how can we know what to think of the world?
A fear-based reaction is to then avoid the world, to self-isolate, and not put yourself in a situation that could cause you more confusion. So, you cower away and hide from the things that make you feel.
This is not how life is supposed to be. Emotional invalidation by others can cause significant damage to your self-concept and world view. You may even start to invalidate your own feelings—telling yourself off for being sad or lonely (#everyoneelsedoesit).
Scientists have even created a way to measure your perceived emotional invalidation scale (PIES). This allows them to track the wide-ranging effects of being emotionally invalidated by people.
However, in plain terms, it hurts when you feel something and someone else tells you off for feeling that way. Unfortunately, people don’t light up with a red glow when they’re about to bash your feelings.
Instead, they may pretend to care and that they are only trying to help you feel better. You are more likely to believe someone who seems to be caring than you would believe someone who is clearly nasty, right?
So, you are caught off balance when their “concern” actually ridicules your feelings. Confused, hurt and anxious, you don’t know what to feel anymore. However, by knowing the signs that someone is invalidating your feelings, you can take steps to prevent the pain and fallout you will experience if you experience their rejection blindly.
Signs of Emotional Invalidation
If you are attentive, you will see signs that the person you are sharing your feelings with may be invalidating your emotions and experience. As soon as you see any of these signs, you need to stop sharing as you are behind enemy lines. A friend should be loyal, even if they don’t fully understand what you are going through.
Physical Signs that Someone Is Invalidating Your Feelings
Look for these physical signs or actions when speaking to someone and sharing your feelings. Sometimes these signs will be small and barely a flash across their face or a micro-expression—gone very quickly. It’s a sign the person has momentarily slipped their pleasant and polite exterior and what they say will ultimately invalidate your feelings.
Physical signs could include:
Other physical signs could include basic body language, such as when you talk to someone and they turn their body away from you, cross their arms over their chest, or fidget with their hands.
Typical Key phrases Used to Invalidate Someone’s Feelings
Those who don’t see the merit of your feelings tend to use certain key phrases that are meant to appease you, while at the same time making you feel silly. Sometimes, they may even tell you up front that you are being silly, only it doesn’t feel silly to you. It hurts. You hurt, but they are denying your pain.
Some other phrases that may be used to mock, appease, quiet, and reject your emotions include:
Some key phrases may sound sympathetic, such as “I’m sorry you’re feeling like this.” Yet, it denies the person’s feelings.
Saying, “I am sorry for this terrible situation that is making you feel upset” sounds much better and is encouraging. Tone of voice and cadence also contribute to the effect of a particular phrase.
5 Steps for How to Deal with Emotional Invalidation and Gain Emotional Validation
If we were all emotionally mature, we may act with real and shared empathy. But we’re not. There are always going to be people who will make light of your pain because the opposite is to see it, experience it as you do, and share in that feeling. That takes courage.
Instead, people try to “cheer” you up, while trying to convince you that it’s not as bad as you’re feeling. So how do you deal with that? (Becoming a hermit on an abandoned island isn’t an option, even though it may sound idyllic.)
Step 1: Be Mindful of Words
While we’re not all wordsmiths who can say the perfect thing at the right time, we can try not to be rejecting in our choice of words when responding to someone’s feelings. People who invalidate others don’t use their words carelessly—they have intent.
Even if someone invalidates your feelings by accident, there is an easy way to avert the crushing pain that comes from this—identify invalidating words and tell the person they are not validating your experience.
If they have invalidated you accidentally, they will instantly reconsider and become more supportive. However, be careful of those who make excuses— “I didn’t mean it like that.”
It is possible to learn mindful communication, and you can learn real empathy too.
Step 2: Stand Your Ground
When someone backpedals if you point out they are invalidating your experience and feelings, you can reassess whether you want to continue sharing with that person.
However, those who keep insisting you are being “too serious” or “misunderstanding them” are likely invalidating you on purpose. They lack the emotional maturity and awareness to acknowledge and see you.
Don’t buy their excuses—stand your ground and stick to the validity of your feelings. You are entitled to feel what you do. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. It’s YOUR reality, so you can honor what YOU feel.
Step 3: Be Logical and Vent in Private
If you let yourself become hysterical about a situation and rant and ramble on, you will encourage invalidation by others. State your feelings and your reasons for feeling what you do with clear logic.
Nobody likes to listen to an unsettled person who can’t explain what they feel. First get your mindset on your side before you share with others.
Keep your ravings to private areas, and once you have calmed down, you can then share what has happened to you and how you feel about it. Try to remain objective in your explanation.
People are more likely to believe you when you can stick to facts and simple words to tell them how you feel about something.
You can even use music to help you unload the worst feelings before you speak to others. This is a good way to rebalance yourself.
Step 4: Use “I”
By making people aware it’s YOUR feelings and YOU are the one who is feeling in this way, you can also make people understand you won’t put up with being invalidated by them. Use statements like “I am feeling upset by this event” or “I feel wronged by being passed over for promotion.”
Use “I” and keep the focus on what you are feeling. People may all too easily tell you how they’d feel in that situation (and usually it’s the opposite of what you’re feeling). When they know it’s about you and your feelings, they will be less likely to undermine your experiences.
Step 5: Don’t Hang Around
Your time and your feelings are precious. Don’t waste either on people who invalidate your emotions. Nobody has the right to tell you how to feel, so if someone tries, it’s your exit sign.
Don’t let others make you feel silly or small for feeling what you do. Honor your feelings by defending them. If someone you regularly talk to keeps putting you down with invalidating remarks, avoid that person.
Final Thoughts on Emotional Invalidation
Feelings are complicated experiences for your mind and heart to deal with. When you feel a certain way, you are entitled to have those you share things with acknowledge your feelings instead of putting you down for being “over-sensitive” or seeing things the “wrong way.”
You also need to be aware of falling into the trap of invalidating your own feelings because you’re so used to others doing it. Start validating yourself and accepting your own emotions and you will be able to stand up against those whose words strip your feelings away.
Recurring emotional invalidation can take a toll on your mental well-being, as well as your physical health, by leading to depression and anxiety. It can drive anyone crazy. Don’t let that happen to you! Read all about emotions and how to honor them in our article discussing the dangers of a nervous breakdown and how to avoid it.
Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.