Effects of Emotional Invalidation

Updated November 15, 2022 by ReGain Editorial Team

When you’re in a romantic relationship,it’s important to try to build your partner up. Oftentimes, however, we can unintentionally hurt our partners' feelings and their mental health through dismissive statements aimed at their emotions, even when we do not intend to do any harm at all.

This can be a sign of emotional invalidation of someone else's feelings. Whether it's intentional or not, this can cause a rift in both trust and communication within relationships. For help with emotional invalidation, you can seek the advice of an online therapist—they can help you work through any relationship issues and attain better emotional health.

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”We’ve all felt the sting of someone telling us that our feelings aren’t real or important – it hurts! When we downplay our partner’s feelings, we are essentially doing the same thing, and we are hurting them in the way that we have been hurt before. Feelings are just that, they are feelings; there is no right or wrong to them. It is okay to acknowledge our partner’s feelings and still disagree with them, but by acknowledging the feelings, we are also telling our partner that we love and respect them rather than putting them down.” - Dr. Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPCC

While we may mean well, behaviors like emotional "gaslighting" or invalidation can have negative effects on our loved ones and on our partners. In more extreme and pervasive forms, it can even be a type of psychological abuse.* Feeling this way is upsetting, and it’s perfectly natural to have emotions and feelings.

Emotional invalidation can cause an individual trauma, and emotional invalidation of your partner’s feelings can hurt your relationship, too. Relationships depend on open communication, and being able to address issues together is a critical communication tool to avoid toxic love.

*Abuse can come in different forms. Go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website to learn more about abuse or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.   

Emotional invalidationgenerally includes dismissing, belittling, or otherwise casting doubt or judgment on their feelings and emotions. When we emotionally dismiss our partners (even unknowingly), we express our feeling that their perception of their own experiences might not be accurate or faithful. This form of emotional invalidation can cause significant emotional turmoil and also damage your relationship irreparably, and is often know as belittling others psychology. This can lead to a toxic relationship.

Emotionally invalidating your partner's emotions can have a negative effect on not only our relationship with each other, but also our partner’s relationship to their own experiences. When you emotionally invalidate the way that your partner feels about something, you’re telling them that they’re wrong for having those emotions. When you invalidate their feelings, they start feeling unwanted in a relationship.

Emotional invalidation of this kind will make them feel as if their feelings and emotions don’t matter. Regardless of your intention, emotional invalidation is often the message on the receiving end. Many relationships struggle with healthy communication of emotions and feelings and emotional validation is a primary cause of this.

Dismissing Another Person's Feelings Or Belittling Them

Once emotionally invalidated by someone else, many of us start to question whether we’re “too sensitive” and may begin to suppress our emotions, effectively emotionally invalidating ourselves.

There are a variety of ways to dismiss others, but some common statements and behaviors can include things like:

  • Denying their reality; e.g., “You’re young, everyone feels like this.”
  • Telling someone they should just move on from what they’re feeling; e.g., “Cheer up!” or “Get over it.”
  • Ignoring them or making them feel unimportant when they are expressing their emotions to you, whether through intentional means, like giving them the silent treatment, or shrugging off their concerns.

The goal, instead, is to be a supportive partner who hears — and shows that they want to hear — their significant other. Doing so is a simple way to strengthen your relationship, provide emotional support, and create a happier life together.

Avoid Telling Someone Their Emotional Experience

A solid rule of thumb is to avoid emotional invalidation in relationships through behaviors and statements that might attempt to dictate how our partners should feel. As an outsider, we may have our own perspectives on the situation that differ from our partners, but ultimately it isn’t up to us to decide their emotions are accurate or if they deserve to feel a certain way.

However, when individuals knowingly dismiss someone else’s emotions, it can become a part of abusive relationship dynamics, too; emotionally abusive individuals will often use emotional invalidation to control someone’s emotions. This can be done to belittle a partner, to make a partner question their perception, reality, and knowledge, or for another reason altogether.

Many relationships have issues with addressing feelings and emotions. If you have questions about emotional invalidation in your relationship or in someone else’s life, you can read on for answers to frequently asked questions on the topic. You can also consult another article or blog post (like this one brought to you by BetterHelp).

What does emotional invalidation do to someone?

The effects of emotional abuse can be incredibly detrimental to a person’s feelings. When you have valid feelings, the reality is that the last thing you want to hear is something like “It’s not such a big deal.” Clearly, to you, it does matter. When you are emotionally invalidated you will have more self doubt and you may even feel that your self awareness is off. This is a form of emotional invalidation known as gaslighting, assuming your partner is intentionally engaging in emotional invalidation. It can be fatal to emotional intimacy and a healthy form of emotional communication in your relationship.

People who lack emotional validation may start to hold onto their own emotions, doubt their own emotions, and feel invalidated in general. Yes, it is that big of a deal, despite what the other partner may say or the certain way that they make you feel.

What does emotional invalidation look like?

Emotional invalidation can take many forms. It can be as extreme as emotional abuse or seemingly innocuous. It could be childish, like the silent treatment. One way of considering what emotional invalidation can look like is that it is the opposite of emotional validation.

Emotional validation involves an acceptance of the other’s feelings, allowing them to feel safe and listened to, engaging in the conversation with active listening, and generally respecting another person’s feelings.

How do you deal with emotional invalidation?

Emotional invalidation can be quite difficult to handle. You may be full of self doubt, struggling to believe your own emotions, feeling angry, hurt, etc.

It’s important to talk to the other partner about the emotional invalidation. Talk with them about the certain way that you feel when you are feeling invalidated. Your feelings and emotions matter. There are many well intentioned invalidators out there, but it doesn’t deny the reality of the situation—they are causing you to feel bad, unsure if you should even discuss emotion, and negatively altering your perspective of your own feelings.

Make sure you keep your partner’s feelings in mind, but don’t be afraid to openly discuss the issue. If they are a supportive partner, they will listen and attempt to change; if they are not a supportive partner, then that is a serious red flag and you should consider breaking up or you will continue to experience invalidation and get hurt.

Overcoming emotional invalidation can be tough, but it is essential to do so for your mental health. Paying attention to your feelings is important, no matter if doing so makes your partner feel uncomfortable.

Is emotional invalidation a form of Gaslighting?

It’s not so much emotional invalidation that’s a form of gaslighting as gaslighting that’s a form of emotional invalidation. Let me explain.

Gaslighting is a specific type of emotional invalidation. It is a (usually intentional) form of invalidating that drives a person to think that they are crazy and that their feelings must be wrong and not that big of a deal.

Gaslighting requires one partner to dictate another person’s emotion by dismissing their feelings. This fills them with self doubt and will make that partner feel unimportant—even crazy.

What is stonewalling in a relationship?

Stonewalling may simply sound like a refusal to listen or budge in a conversation, but it’s actually a specific phenomenon.

Stonewalling occurs when one partner feels overwhelmed. From their perspective, they need to shut down the conversation in order to feel safe. They may feel like they can’t talk because the emotion is running too high and they can’t cope.

People may learn stonewalling from a young age, particularly if they have aggressive or abusive parents. Look at this way, it makes sense that they would default to this behavior later on. That doesn’t make it less wrong, however. In order for everyone to feel safe and heard, it’s necessary to have an emotional connection, and emotional invalidation (such as the kind promoted by stonewalling) does the opposite. To experience invalidation via stonewalling can be frustrating and ruin a person’s emotional experience.

How does a narcissist invalidate you?

A narcissist may invalidate you in a number of ways, whether that’s simply saying that “It’s not that big of a deal” or by engaging in manipulative tactics such as gaslighting. A partner feels like a totally invalidated person in this situation. They may feel like their life has no future and that everything they feel is wrong. Denying a person’s emotional experience like this is wrong. Someone’s feelings do matter, and psychological invalidation can be quite detrimental to mental health and emotional intimacy.

How do I stop invalidating my partner?

To stop invalidating your partner, make sure you listen to how your partner feels. If they say something is a big deal, then it must feel like a big deal to them. Life can be tough, and it’s a horrible feeling to feel like your emotions are wrong and that your feelings don’t matter.

Well intentioned invalidators exist, but if you are asking this question then you are probably on the right track. Couples counseling can be beneficial as well was working with a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

Why does my husband not acknowledge my feelings?

Your husband may not be a bad person but ignoring your feelings and emotions and leaving you feeling invalidated is wrong. And when he does it, you will find yourself saying, "I hate my husband." He may not acknowledge your feelings for a variety of reasons. He may have absorbed a hypermasculine ideal where emotion and feeling is not discussed. He may feel like he’s too busy or tired or stressed to worry about his partner’s feelings. But the sake of your mental health and the health of your relationship depends on each person being able to feel like they can address their emotions.

A licensed marriage and family therapist who does marriage counseling should be able to help you in overcoming emotional invalidation and learning to respect each person’s emotional experience. It can’t just be one partner and one partner, each with their separate emotional lives. Instead, one partner should be able to approach the other and feel heard.

What are some gaslighting phrases?

An invalidated person may be victim of gaslighting, which is when one partner (or another person) makes them feel like their emotions are totally ridiculous and invalid.

Gaslighting phrases an invalidated person may hear include the following:

  • “You’re acting crazy”
  • “It’s not a big deal”
  • “It’s all in your head”
  • “You’re being emotional”
  • “Nothing’s wrong”
  • “That’s life”
  • “All your friends think you’re crazy”
  • …and many more

If you are experiencing gaslighting, get help from your friends and family. You might also consider seeking out a therapist to help you understand your emotional invalidation and how you can overcome this.

What is it called when someone dismisses your feelings?

When someone dismisses your feelings, it may be called emotional invalidation. Gaslighting is a specific form of emotional invalidation used by people to manipulate others into feeling like they are crazy.

Emotional invalidation can cause significant mental health issues, even from a young age. One partner may feel like they have no safe space to discuss the way they are feeling at a given moment, no matter how much help they need.

How do you get help with emotional invalidation?

If your feelings are dismissed by your partner and it’s only your partner’s feelings that seem to count, you are experiencing emotional invalidation.

If this is the case with your relationship, change is necessary. You can’t go on your whole life feeling like your feelings and emotions don’t matter.

One smart way to get help in this situation is by seeking out a counselor or therapist. Many of them now work via telehealth so you can get convenient help wherever you are. Your sessions could even be phone calls if you prefer. No matter the format, therapy is a critical communication tool that can empower you by providing you with an objective perspective on your relationship and on your life.

While no one person can perform miracles, a therapist can be a great person to speak with about any issues you may be having with your personal or professional relationships, including emotional invalidation. You can also learn about emotional invalidation by reading a blog post or other internet article, such as those available through BetterHelp.

How do you fix emotional invalidation in relationships?

If your relationship or relationships are affected by emotional invalidation, don’t worry. You’re far from alone. Nearly everyone at some point in life experiences issues relating to feelings and emotions. If other people validate your emotions and feelings, it’s completely reasonable to be upset.

While it’s true that not all feelings need to be articulated, and some of them may even be irrational, consistent suppression of emotions and feelings will only lead to frustration and poor mental health.

Your relationship (or relationships) should allow for free expression of any kind of feeling so that you can have a healthy and open stream of communication.

To better communicate your emotions, and to ensure that they are accepted as valid, it can be a good idea to see a relationship counselor. Doing so will improve that relationship as well as your other relationships as you will have a much better feeling about expressing emotions.

Don't Dismiss Emotional Experience

Dismissing someone’s feelingsis another form of emotional invalidation;you don’t have to tell someone outright that they’re wrong to cause emotional invalidation. Emotional invalidation can include being inattentive when they’re telling you about their feelings / emotions or letting them know that what they’re going through is not that big of a deal.

Well intentioned invalidators often defend some dismissive behaviors as simply putting situations into perspective, but this can be unhelpful when it’s not specifically asked for, and it might leave your partner feeling bad about their resilience — or the perceived lack thereof. 

The Blame Game Never Ends Well

The Emotional Invalidation

Your partner might be feeling angry about something, and you may try to shift that blame by saying, “I don’t understand why this is such a big deal,” “You should know that I didn’t mean it like that,” “I don’t have to explain/apologize/etc.,” or, “If you weren’t like this/so sensitive/etc., it wouldn’t be a problem.” 

Instead, you might say something like, “I want to understand better.” This is best for situations where a partner is, say, hurt over something you said or did. Your relationship or relationships can instantly improve by improving your communication. You’ll start having the feeling that you can express yourself freely without fear of invalidation in your relationship or relationships.

Often, it’s emotional invalidation to tell someone that they should know where you were coming from or that they’re being too sensitive. This is a bad feeling to have, and so it’s best to be cautious and attentive to other people’s emotions and the way they are feeling at a given moment.

Hidden Feelings Lead To Emotional Invalidation

When someone continually causes emotionalinvalidation for their partner, they might start bottling up those feelings.

Repression may negatively impact health (both physical and mental), and it can pull you apart from one another, too, making your partner feel like they can’t talk to you or like they aren’t understood by you. A feeling of alienation may even develop in your relationship.

Embrace your partner’s emotions and try not to make them feel as if they need to hide things from you by actively paying attention to emotional invalidation.

Removing Invalidation

When we’re young, we often learn how to engage with difficult emotional situations in ways that are inherently emotionally invalidating, whether it be from our parents, siblings, friends, or simply from our experiences with the world at large. This can lead, sometimes, to us using emotional invalidation on other people the way that we were invalidated. This doesn’t mean that it’s something to excuse, but it is something you can unlearn and change. Give yourself compassion and let yourself restructure the way you engage in conversations about emotions.

One of the first things that you can do is apologize to your partner for the emotional invalidation. If you feel badly about your previous emotional invalidation, then letting them know that you are genuinely sorry and want to handle things differently is a great place to start. You can then work on learning how to discuss feelings in healthier ways, without emotional invalidation. This does not come naturally to everyone, but you can choose to seek out professional support to change this pattern. 

Here are some ways to put it into action and follow through:

Talking About Invalidation

Practice Validating

More than just keeping yourself from repeating harmful behaviors like emotional invalidation, becoming better listeners can help us practice validating behaviors. Listening attentively to your partner when they express their feelings may seem like a basic step, but it goes a long way in making sure they are being genuinely understood.

Additionally, behaviors like summarizing and providing reassurance can be helpful in validating a loved one’s feelings. 

Online Counseling Can Be Healing For Emotional Invalidation

Need Advice On How To Become More Emotionally Supportive?

Consider signing up for online couples counseling today to help with emotional invalidation or other concerns in your relationship. When you sign up for an online counseling platform like ReGain, you’re matched with a therapist in as little as a few hours or a few days, where seeking a therapist to work with face to face can take months due to waiting lists and other possible barriers. 

Support From Someone

Couples counseling, whether remote or face to face, can help couples work through emotional invalidation, including better communication, understanding one another's emotions more effectively, improving emotional intimacy or emotional affection, and more. 

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