What Is Emotional Invalidation?

Updated December 20, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

Validation emotionally is the foundation for safety emotionally in any relationship. It is an important tool for healthy communication and love, and is also one of the most important things a parent can do to raise a child.

That is why its polar opposite, psychological invalidation, is so painful and detrimental to the human psyche.

Invalidating someone else can be extremely painful to the person on the receiving end. However, change is possible if you want it, through the help of a licensed professional and keep yourself accountable, change is definitely possible!

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It involves the process of telling someone that their internal experience is not important and can be considered a form of abuse that occurs in many social landscapes, structures, and relationships.

Because it can be so subtle, many people do not know when psychological unvalidation is happening, or worse, think that it is normal.

Furthermore, emotionally dismissive people may not recognize their behavior, which makes it all the more insidious.

What Is Emotional Invalidation?

The definition of invalidation or the definition of invalidate means to dismiss or make not valid. It is the act to knowingly invalidate something or someone.

Non-Validation: Emotional Invalidation Definition

Therefore, emotional invalidation is the act of rejecting, dismissing, or minimizing someone else's thoughts and feelings. It implies that a person's experience is not important, wrong, or unacceptable.

There are numerous ways to invalidate someone, including invalidation messages such as text, notes, or non-verbal physical cues.

These are powerful non verbal emotional non-validations that can significantly hurt the recipient of the unvalidating messages. 

Emotional invalidation can be perpetrated by oneself or by another person, such as a friend, romantic partner, teacher, colleague, parent, or family member.

How Exactly Does Invalidating Happen?

Often, the person who emotionally unvalidates is not aware or conscious that they are doing so; they believe they are genuinely helping the other person and do not purposely intend to shame their thoughts and feelings.

They think they can help the person feel differently by forcing them to brush aside their present emotions.

That is why emotional invalidation can be hard to confront-the perpetrator. 

If a person is aware that they emotionally unvalidate others, they do so as a way to manipulate and establish control over another individual.

Reasons for emotional invalidation can range from an inability to empathize to not knowing how to validate others and express it effectively.

Sometimes this is used as a power move to suppress an individual's feelings and control them. A person who unintentionally unvalidates, on the other hand, maybe uncomfortable dealing with another person's feelings.

Ssome common emotionally non-validating statements:

  1. "It could be worse." / "I'm sure it wasn't that bad." These statements minimize and marginalize someone's pain and force a toxic positivity on them.
  2. "You shouldn't feel that way." This conveys superiority over someone and denies their experience by making them feel small.
  3. "Just get over it." / "Just let it go." This is an extremely dismissive expression and makes the other person feel emotionally suppressed and brushed aside.
  4. "Man up." Men are persistently told this and are stereotyped into believing that burying one's emotions is "manly." This is completely false, and nobody, particularly men, should feel that their emotions are strange or unattractive.
  5. "I know exactly what you're going through." This is widely used and is a way of minimizing and dismissing the other person and refocusing the attention to the perpetrator.

A person who participates in invalidation emotionally may deny your experience altogether, saying that it doesn't make any sense, or telling you to stop making things up.

Invalidation Effects

Psychological invalidation or emotional invalidation causes serious psychological damage.

Not only does emotional invalidation can it create emotional distance, conflict, violence, and disruption in relationships, but the recipient of emotional invalidation can feel alienated, confused, inferior, worthless, and problematic.

Studies

Being in a non-validating environment has shown to have a negative impact on one's emotional self-efficacy, with a study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology revealing that it can lead to serious consequences.

A study found that children who experienced emotional invalidation such as psychological abuse, punishment, and minimization experienced chronic emotional distress in adulthood and led to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This study discovered that emotional invalidation can be the root of low self-esteem, a deep-seated fear of rejection.

Emotional invalidation can lead a child to believe that if their feelings do not matter, neither do they.

Invalidation emotionally can also affect their life decisions and the ability to express and regulate emotions.

Simple invalidations such as verbal invalidations the silent treatment can be psychologically harmful.

Moreover, invalidators often defend their verbal invalidations/the silent treatment as a way to “teach a lesson.”
 
Several psychology news journals and magazines dismiss these types of stressors and punishments stating they cause irreversible harm to developing youth. 

If an individual is non-validating themselves, it can make building healthy, positive self-esteem very challenging.

Ways to Be Emotional Validating

If you notice that you have been emotionally non-validating toward others, the chances are that you had a parent, teacher, or friend who did the same to you.

But the good news is, you can improve your emotional invalidation behavior and take the first step toward change.

The first thing you can do to validate someone is to acknowledge or reflect the other person's experience.

Let them know that you hear them and that it is okay and valid for them to feel that way.

"I hear you are feeling disappointed about what happened." 

It's important to remember that emotional validation is not about agreeing with someone; you can have different thoughts or opinions but still be able to empathize with the other person.

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Avoid giving unsolicited advice, and if you feel the need to, always ask them if they want help with this problem. If the answer is no, keep on listening. Remember, it is not your responsibility to fix anyone.

Validation means acknowledging, accepting, and understanding another's feelings and thoughts and that you support them in their perspective.

It allows another person's internal experience to exist without having to judge it or brush it under the carpet. For example, if a child is afraid of the ocean, an invalidating parent might say, "Don't be silly, the ocean is nothing to be afraid of."

A validating thing to say instead would be, "I hear that you are feeling scared. Can you tell me what makes you afraid of the ocean?"

If you have a habit of invalidating yourself, you can start by practicing simple affirmations that accept your feelings and experiences. Examples of these include:

"My feelings are valid, and they matter."

"I respect and honor my feelings."

"I accept my feelings as they are and acknowledge that they are not wrong."

What to Do About It

Emotions serve an important purpose and will almost always point to something that needs to be acknowledged.

They are not right or wrong-they are a reflection of your inner experience. If you are the recipient of emotional invalidation, know that you are not unreasonable or unstable-your thoughts and emotions are valid because they are real.

If someone is being non-validating to you, it is understandable that you defend yourself and increase your efforts to be understood.

Being the recipient of emotional invalidation can trigger a fight-or-flight response that can either make you act aggressively or defensively. However, this may only establish conflict and division and play into the perpetrator's plan of distracting you from the real issue at hand.

Instead of getting angry or defending yourself against emotional invalidation, try not to accept the invalidation. Let them know calmly using "I" statements how you feel, and be prepared to end the conversation if they do not hear you or want to hear you. Let them know that you will discuss the matter with them when you feel safe to do so. Be neutral and assertive and set clear boundaries with them.

If this person continues to pursue emotional invalidation, invalidate your feelings, and resist change, it may be wise to take inventory of the relationship and think about whether or not it is worth your time and investment.

Therapy is an effective way of dealing with the intense emotions of emotional invalidation and can help you reclaim your self-confidence and assertiveness emotionally.

A licensed therapist can also help you cope, offer support, and create a safe space for you to share how you feel without judgment.

The Overall Takeaway

Validation doesn't mean you lie or agree with another person, but to accept someone's experience as truthful for them. Surround yourself with people who support this, and who are kind, encouraging, and validating.

Equally as important is being in a compassionate relationship with yourself. Remind yourself of your inherent worth-that you are enough and that you matter, regardless of what others think or say about you. When you truly know this, it can be very powerful.

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