Thoughts on recognizing the dangers of emotional invalidation and what you can do about it.
Years ago, I would meet up with a particular friend for dinner. We didn’t share many of the same interests, but we had mutual friends, so it would just be the occasional get-together and do what “girl time” was meant to do—mutual commiseration about our lives. We’d talk about boys, work, ambitions, and the like. She was always very complimentary toward me, which was appreciated and made me feel good.
Until I’d get home, and then, for some reason, I’d have this unshakable uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. I’d get home from the dinners feeling drained and sometimes even a little depressed. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.
That’s when I finally replayed the conversations in my head and attempted to pinpoint the exact moment when I started to feel crummy. And then, suddenly, like a lightbulb going off inside my dimly lit head, I’d see it. The emotional invalidation.
Amidst the flattery and laughter, I would find comments so small that they initially eluded me completely. But upon reflection, the little deflating daggers were everywhere. So, for example, in the middle of telling me how nice I may have looked that night, which always felt a little fake in the first place, there may be an immediate follow-up with a criticism.
“That shirt looks great on you! Did that not have any that would fit you properly?”
Once I told her about something that bothered me. It was an issue I’d been having for a while, and I shared it with her. She listened attentively, then quickly announced that I had no right to feel how I did about the issue. She took it a step further and offered me a hefty dose of shame for having these feelings in the first place.
Now, don’t get me wrong! I know that I am one big emotional bucket of a human. And yep, I can take my emotions way too far. I also know that I choose my feelings, period. I control them. They don’t own me. But I still have a right to feel how I feel and to decide how best to process those feelings.
I’ve learned that when I’m feeling something deeply, it’s typically the Universe showing me an area of my life that needs to be healed, as it was with this case. But being shamed for having feelings is quite another story. I immediately regretted revealing something personal about myself to her. It felt like I had handed her a dagger that she happily decided to use.
But, even worse were the daggers I threw at myself. She’s right. I thought. I have no right to feel that way.
Once I noticed it, I replayed most of our conversations in my head and was stunned to realize it had always been this way. It was time for a course correction and a bucket full of gratitude for the lesson.
After being abused for several years, blatant manipulation became easy for me to spot. Covert manipulators, on the other hand, not so much.
Emotional invalidation is when someone dismisses our feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Sometimes they may invalidate us all together. One day, I was standing in a circle with a group of men when another man walked up to join the conversation. He shook the hands of everyone in that circle and introduced himself. Except, he skipped me. When he turned his back to me, I went through the motions like I was shaking his hand and tossing my head back in silent laughter as my boyfriend watched. We both laughed. Who knows why he did it. It didn’t matter. It reflects more on him and not me. If you want to be team misogyny, knock yourself out.
But, with emotional invalidation, we can accept others’ feelings, thoughts, and opinions without fully understanding them. We can allow others to be who they are and feel how they feel without trying to change it or them. We can offer an ear or support but still maintain our own opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
Emotional invalidation tells us that our opinions, thoughts, and feelings are WRONG. In turn, it can lead to feelings of shame and worthlessness. Which sadly, in the case of a skilled manipulator, is exactly what they want. They think if they blow out your candle, then their candle will somehow burn brighter.
But the biggest danger to watch for is when we invalidate ourselves.
“I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. I don’t fit in. I’m always wrong. I always screw things up. I don’t matter. What I think doesn’t matter.”
Sometimes we may be going through something challenging. We may even share that with another person, then add the phrase, “But it could be worse.” Well, yeah, probably, but what you are going through matters because it matters to you. You don’t have to invalidate your experience. Processing difficult emotions begin with recognizing them in the first place.
It’s even okay if you handle those difficulties messily. You are learning, and there is no such thing as perfection. It’s all lessons, and they are unique to you.
When we have a strong sense of self and we can stand firm in our values, we will reject the invalidation of others. This is why we must understand the importance of validating ourselves, as I wrote about in a sister post here.
We can’t allow outside invalidation to belittle our existence, and we certainly can’t choose to invalidate ourselves. So instead, we decide to offer ourselves and others love and value. We may not understand a situation fully, but we can show love. We may not know why we feel a certain way, but we can offer ourselves love, patience, and trust that we will learn the necessary lesson.
And we must always advocate for ourselves. Yes, we can choose not to allow invalidation to affect us, but it’s also okay to distance yourself from people who are hell-bent on keeping you down.
Peace, love, and moxie!