What Is Emotional Invalidation? Emotional Cause & Effects
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). This is called emotional invalidation.
Whether it's intentional or not, emotional invalidation can cause a rift in 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.
What Is Emotional Invalidation?
”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
Emotional invalidation generally includes dismissing, belittling, or otherwise casting doubt or judgment on another person’s 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 important, accurate, or faithful. This form of emotional invalidation can cause significant emotional turmoil and also damage your relationship irreparably, which can lead to a toxic relationship.
Emotionally invalidating your partner's emotions can have a negative effect on not only your relationship with each other, but also your partner’s relationship to their own experiences. People who are emotionally invalidated may develop feelings of insecurity, unwantedness, or distrust in future relationships.
A relationship with emotional invalidation results in a reduction of emotional safety, or the ability to trusting your partner with your emotional well-being. Even unintentional emotional invalidation, if left uncommunicated for a long time, can weaken the trust and comfort felt in a relationship.
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 emotionally unstable and 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. Since feelings are invalidated, emotional invalidation can make someone feel "I'm not happy in my relationship anymore."
What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like?
There are a variety of ways to dismiss others, but some common emotionally invalidating statements and behaviors can include:
Denying their reality; e.g., “You’re young, everyone feels like this.”
Telling someone they should just move on from what they’re feeling or that they do not “need” to experience a certain emotion; e.g., “Cheer up!” or “Get over it.”
Ignoring your partner or making them feel unimportant when they are expressing their emotions to you, whether through intentional means, like giving them the silent treatment, or unintentional means like shrugging off their concerns to focus on something else.
What Does Emotional Invalidation Look Like?
The healthy opposite of emotional invalidation is emotional validation, which is considered by many a standard part of a healthy relationship. 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.
Is Emotional Invalidation A Form Of Gaslighting?
Emotional invalidation is not so much a form of gaslighting as gaslighting is a form of emotional invalidation. Gaslighting is a specific type of emotional invalidation; it is a manipulation tactic 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 emotions by dismissing their feelings. This fills them with self-doubt and will make their partner feel unimportant or as if they have lost touch with reality. Behaviors like can have extremely negative effects on our loved ones and on our partners.
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.
How Do You Deal With Emotional Invalidation?
It’s important to talk to your partner about the emotional invalidation. 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.
Talk with them about the certain way that you feel when you are feeling invalidated. 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 whether or not you wish to continue the relationship.
One 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.
How To Validate Your Partner’s Emotions
The goal of emotional validation is to be a supportive partner who hears — and shows that they want to hear — their significant other. Doing so can strengthen your relationship, provide emotional support, and create a happier life together.
Avoid Telling Someone Their Emotional Experience
As an outsider, we may have our own perspectives on a situation that differ from our partners’, but ultimately it isn’t up to us to decide whether their emotions are accurate or if they deserve to feel a certain way.
If you have questions about emotional invalidation in your relationship or in someone else’s life, you may choose to do additional research by reading about the topic in psychological journals and online forums. You can also consult articles like this one or blog posts (like this one brought to you by BetterHelp).
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
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.
Research has found that remote couples counseling is just as effective as in-person counseling. It 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.
“Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think in a different way. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together.”
“Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling at the beginning, but I truly believe that it is making a difference for our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor.”
Emotional invalidation can erode the basis of trust in a relationship, making it harder for couples to communicate effectively and understand each other on a level that makes them both feel safe and comfortable. Learning to recognize what emotional validation looks like and how it can be done can help strengthen the relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Invalidation
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about emotional invalidation.
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 because, from their perspective, they need to shut down the conversation in order to feel safe. They may feel like they can’t talk because their 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. In order for everyone to feel safe and heard, it’s usually necessary to have an emotional connection. To experience invalidation via stonewalling can be frustrating.
What are some gaslighting phrases?
An invalidated person may be a 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”
“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.
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