What Is Psychological Invalidation? How It Happens And Its Effects

By: Jenny Chang

Updated July 31, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

Emotional validation is the foundation for emotional safety in any relationship. It is an important tool for healthy communication, emotional intimacy, and love to flourish, and is also one of the most important things a parent can do to raise a psychologically healthy child.

That is why its polar opposite, psychological invalidation, is so painful, detrimental, and debilitating to the human psyche. It involves the process of telling someone that their internal experience is not important and is considered a form of emotional abuse that occurs in many social landscapes, structures, and relationships.

Because it can be so subtle, many people do not know when psychological invalidation 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 Psychological Invalidation?

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The definition invalidation means to dismiss or make not valid. It is the act to knowingly invalidate something or someone. Therefore, psychological 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. It is a damaging form of emotional abuse, and causes greater psychological distress, which makes the recipient filled with self-doubt. Manipulation control and psychological invalidation may be considered a strong control and psychological injury when done with such force that it causes long-lasting negative effects. 

Emotional abuse occurs whenever an individual is dictated on how to feel, told they are too sensitive or dramatic or advised not to feel a certain way. It denies the rich emotional repertoire that makes people wonder and complexly human.

Although this form of abuse is extremely hurtful to experience, it is particularly painful and degrading for someone highly sensitive, a survivor of abuse or trauma, or struggling with depression or anxiety. There are numerous ways to invalidate someone, including invalidating messages such as text, notes, or non-verbal physical cues. These are powerful non verbal invalidations that can significantly hurt the recipient of the invalidating messages.  

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

How Does Psychological Invalidation Happen?

Often, the person who invalidates 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 often does it invalidate unintentionally and ever so subtly. This is different from individuals knowingly invalidate the morals of someone. 

If a person is aware that they invalidate others, they do so as a way to manipulate and establish control over another individual. They try to make the other person question their thoughts and feelings and exerts effort to deny their experience, which is how gaslighting occurs. By implying that the other person is overreacting, emotional abusers skillfully blame their abusive behavior on someone else.

Reasons for psychological invalidation can range from an inability to empathize to not knowing how to validate others and express it effectively. Sometimes it is used as a power move to suppress an individual's feelings and control them. Intentional invalidators often defend their actions with accusatory statements and victim blaming; it is not them that is the issue, it is the victim who is in the wrong. A person who unintentionally invalidates, on the other hand, maybe uncomfortable dealing with another person's feelings.

Here are some ways invalidation can be verbally expressed or common invalidating 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 a 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.
  6. "I'm not going to discuss this with you." This statement may be accompanied by the silent treatment, a form of emotional denial, and makes the recipient feel like their feelings are not important, and neither are they.

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  1. "Why are you making such a big deal over it?" This phrase involves shaming the other person and making them feel abnormal and dramatic for feeling the way they do.
  2. "You're too sensitive." / "You're overreacting." This is a judgmental tactic that is used by manipulators to avoid responsibility for the offensive thing they did or said.
  3. "I'm sorry you feel that way." This statement avoids accountability and implies that how you feel is not important and has nothing to do with them.
  4. "You always have to make a fuss about things." This expression is a form of blaming, making the recipient feel as if they are being a burden or nuisance for feeling a certain way.

A person who emotionally invalidates may deny your experience altogether, saying that it never happened, that it doesn't make any sense, or telling you to stop making things up.

Moreover, psychological invalidation may include physical reactions, such as eye-rolling, walking out of the room while you are talking, or distracting themselves by looking at their phone.

What Are The Effects Of Psychological Invalidation?

Psychological invalidation causes serious psychological damage. Not only does it create emotional distance, conflict, violence, and disruption in relationships, but the recipient feels alienated, confused, inferior, worthless, and problematic.

It is believed that psychological invalidation contributes to emotional disorders and mental illnesses, with one study by clinical psychologist Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. revealing that being in an environment that is punishing or dismissive may cause borderline personality disorder. Another study indicated that it is associated with adult eating disorders.

Being in an invalidating 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.

Being raised in an emotionally invalidating environment can be extremely detrimental for children who grow up to believe that their feelings are shameful and will cause intimacy and relationship issues in adult life as they struggle to be emotionally authentic and vulnerable. They think that to be loved; they need to hide their feelings. This is especially true for men, who struggle with emotional vulnerability as a result of a parent who was psychologically invalidating. If they are told to, "Man up" when they are scared or feeling vulnerable, this can lead to him shutting down his emotions later in life, firmly holding on to the belief that he will not be approved of unless he suppresses his emotions.

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. It is the root of low self-esteem, a deep-seated fear of rejection, It can lead a child to believe that if his feelings do not matter, neither does he. It can also affect his or her life decisions and the ability to express and regulate emotions. Simple invalidations such as verbal invalidations the silent treatment is 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 a developing youth. 

If an individual invalidates themselves, it makes building healthy, positive self-esteem very challenging; if they are struggling with depression and anxiety, can make recovery even harder.

How To Psychologically Validate Someone

If you notice that you have been psychologically invalidating 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 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." Then, try to empathize and see things from their perspective. A helpful thing to say is, "I can understand why you feel that way." It's important to remember that 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?"

When you are around someone who is validating, you feel that it is safe for you to be yourself.

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."

"I will be compassionate with myself and listen to what my feelings are telling me."

"I choose to be around people who are loving and support my healing and growth."

How To Deal With Someone Who Is Psychologically Invalidating You

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 invalidation, know that you are not crazy or unstable-your thoughts and emotions are valid because they are real.

If someone is emotionally invalidating you, it is understandable that you defend yourself and increase your efforts to be understood. Being the recipient of invalidating comments triggers a fight-or-flight response that will either make you act aggressively or defensively. However, this will 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, do not accept the invalidating statement. 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 emotionally abuse you, 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. If you state clearly to that person how you want to be treated, but he or she is unwilling to communicate and compromise with you respectfully, perhaps it is time to walk away from the relationship to protect yourself. Therapy is an effective way of dealing with the intense emotions of being emotionally abused and can help you reclaim your self-confidence and assertiveness.

Remember that emotionally healthy and intelligent people do not invalidate and shame others repeatedly, and they are aware of the impact of their words and actions.

The 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.

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

If I Disagree With Someone's Perspective, is That Psychological Invalidation?

Often, someone's opinions, experiences, and feelings may come into conflict with yours. However, it's not psychological invalidation to disagree with someone. Someone who validates will still listen, empathize, and try to come to common ground with someone, even if they disagree. Meanwhile, someone who practices psychological invalidation will ignore or dismiss one's experiences upright. It's important to know the difference.

What is An Emotional Experience?

An emotional experience is something that has made you feel a certain way, and it's usually something that builds onto you. For example, you may have had an emotional experience when your child is born, or when you experienced emotional abuse. Our experiences make us who we are, and it's important we express our experiences and all grow as people.

Can Family Therapy Help A Family Member Who Is Emotionally Invalidating Me?

A family member who is invalidating your emotions can be frustrating to deal with. This can happen in all stages of life. A teenager who is experiencing negative emotions may be invalidated because the parent thinks they have no real problems. A struggling adult who is unable to find a job may be invalidated by older family members because it was easier to find a job in their time.

Often, emotional invalidation can be caused by the generational gap. Some people don't care about the problems of a younger person naturally. However, just because one doesn't understand the younger generation doesn't mean they shouldn't feel anything for them. Of course, younger people may dismiss the emotions of older people as well. It goes both ways.

Family therapy can help bridge the generation gap and allow everyone to be on a common ground.

Why Is "You Shouldn't Let it Bother You" Invalidation?

When you tell someone they "shouldn't let it bother you" when they are expressing a grievance, this can be an act of invalidation. Your intentions may be pure, as there's oftentimes cases where not letting something bother a person is a good move to make, but the mind doesn't work that way. Listening to a person and giving them helpful advice to handle the problem is a much better solution.

Why is "You Shouldn't Feel That Way" Invalidation?

When you tell someone not to feel something, you are invalidating. Often, this can be due to a reaction you think is extreme. For example, someone hating a family member for something they've done in the past. While you may believe their emotions are extreme or that they're overreacting, it's important for you to speak to and listen to the person to see why they feel the way they do. Even if you don't feel their emotions, listening and being empathetic is the way to go.

Is Leaving the Room Bad When Someone is Expressing Their Feelings?

Yes, it shows that you don't care about them at all, or think their emotions are such a big deal that you can't handle being in the room with them. If you are emotionally exhausted, tell the person you'll speak to them later. Do something to show that you still care.

Can Dialectical Behavior Therapy Help With Invalidation?

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, can help if you're known to emotionally invalidate. Also known as talk therapy, it uses mindfulness and other techniques to help you improve your mental health and your relationship with others.

How Can I See Things From Another Point of View?

One of the building blocks of empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of others. It allows you to figure out someone's feelings much better. However, it doesn't come naturally for some.

Take a deep breath and put yourself into their perspective. If you must, adopt a childlike perspective and treat it like a story. Set your own thoughts, feelings, and ideas aside, your own rights reserved for now, and go into it with a neutral point of view. This can help you be much more empathetic towards others. Therapy is another solution to this as well.

What is Psychological Invalidation?

Psychological invalidation is basically when you tell someone that they shouldn’t feel the way that they’re feeling. You try to talk someone out of another’s subjective reality by telling them that their experiences or emotions aren’t real with invalidating statements. You might say things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I don’t agree with your emotions.” This is hurtful to the other person, because it can really upset someone’s emotional perspective. You might not realize that you’re doing it, but you’ll be quick to notice is someone does it to you.

Validation is a critical part of our emotional experiences. Psychological invalidation can lead to or exacerbate an existing anxiety disorder and lead to panic attacks. Invalidating statements also undercut a person’s emotional understanding of reality. So, psychological invalidation is often used as a form of manipulation.

What is Traumatic Invalidation?

Traumatic invalidation is basically when you refuse to acknowledge and person’s emotional response to a trauma that they experienced. Traumatic invalidation occurs either when you refuse to validate or accept the person’s emotional response to the trauma, or when you refuse to acknowledge the trauma itself. You might downplay the traumatic event, saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but it really wasn’t a big deal.” Or, you may dismiss their anxiety disorder treatment, eating disorder therapy, or depression therapy as a hoax or way of getting attention, when in fact, it is the response to (and sometimes the cause of) trauma and stress that they’ve experienced.

A refusal to accept and process your own trauma will often end up with you in depression therapy, eating disorder therapy, or a substance abuse disorder therapy. These examples of disorder therapy are often the result of keeping trauma bottled up. You might be keeping this inside because you haven’t found the validation that you need from your family and friends. However, these therapies can help you fully process and feel those emotions, and set you on your way to healing from the trauma.

How do you Respond to Emotional Invalidation?

The best way to respond to emotional invalidation is to make it clear to the other person that they’re emotionally invalidating you. If someone says you shouldn’t feel a certain way, tell them that it’s wrong and hurtful when they say that. Explain your emotional state instead of acting like you don’t care. If you’re really upset and it’s hard to communicate these things, start with a short explanation.  Tell them to give your emotional state a space to be felt and dealt with. Even if they can’t agree with another’s subjective reality, you can ask them to respect yours.

If this doesn’t work and they don’t see the importance of validation from your explanations, then you can turn to therapy DBT. Therapy DBT gives your feelings a space to exist. You can talk through all of the psychological distress and construct clearer understandings of your own emotional state. When you give your emotional state a space to be explored and accepted, you can be surer of your own feelings and respond more effective to emotional invalidation.

Why do People Invalidate Feelings?

People invalidate others’ feelings for a multitude of reasons. The most innocuous reason is that they might not realize that they’re doing it. They might be trying to cheer someone up or help them see the sunny side, but actually they’re belittling and dismissing the other person’s negative emotions. This situation can often be set right by having an open and honest conversation with that person; if their intentions aren’t malicious, they’re usually happy to improve their behavior and think a bit more empathetically.

However, people also invalidate others’ feelings as a form of manipulation. This is the first step in a process called “gaslighting.” If someone is gaslighting you, it means that they are manipulating you by making you think that you’re not sane. This can be done with small, offhand comments like, “You’re overacting.” It can also be as drastic as them telling you that you’re crazy and denying every aspect of your experiences and perceptions. The goal of the gaslighter is to make you doubt your own sanity so that you will agree with them and their perspective. Ultimately, they want you to doubt yourself to the point that you never doubt them and always go along with what they want. Their goal is to gain power over you. Invalidating your feelings or experiences is just the first step towards that goal.

What is Dismissive Behavior?

Dismissive behavior is one of those topics that comes up a lot in therapy family therapy, couples therapy, and life coaching. Think about it like this: imagine that your friend or partner has a broken leg. You don’t have a broken leg, but you know that it must hurt a lot. Instead of saying, “Wow, that must hurt a lot; I hope you get better soon!” dismissive behavior says, “I’m sorry your leg is broken, but I don’t think that it hurts as much as you say.”

Dismissive behavior belittles the other person’s emotions, and sometimes even leads them to feel guilty about the normal and healthy reactions that they’re having to pain, trauma, or an anxiety disorder. It’s important to give your friend or partner’s feelings a non-judgmental space to exist. Otherwise, you’re practicing dismissive behavior.

What does Invalidation Mean?

Invalidation basically means refusing to accept. There are a lot of things that people refuse to accept: just ask anyone who has ever been in therapy family therapy, couples therapy, or life coaching. A lot of the people who seek these treatments are either dealing with their propensity to invalidate others’ emotions and traumatic experiences, or else they’re trying to process the feelings and trauma that the people around them are invalidating.

People who continue down the path of invalidation often find themselves in depression therapy, eating disorder therapy, or a substance abuse disorder therapy. These examples of disorder therapy are often the last stop on a long road of refusing to accept the patterns in their life and invalidating their own behavior and experience for a long time. Or, they’ve been exposed to such invalidation from friends and family for a while.

How do you Emotionally Validate Someone?

The first step to emotionally validating someone is to recognize that another’s subjective reality is just as real and correct as your own. Their feelings also need a state to exist and be felt and named. Even if you don’t agree with another’s subjective reality, you should validate their feelings and their understanding of their own emotions. You need to give their emotional state a space to exist along with your own. The importance of validation cannot be overstated!

If you want to emotionally validate someone, empathy is a critical communication tool. This means that you need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from their perspective.

How do you Invalidate Someone's Feelings?

The most common way that you might emotionally invalidate someone is by saying off-hand things like “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I don’t think that’s how you really feel.” There are other ways to invalidate someone’s feelings, too. For example, you might belittle a person’s emotional reaction to trauma by downplaying or expressing that you didn’t care about the experience that caused the trauma. This, in turn, belittles the person’s emotional state that is the result of the trauma they experienced. Essentially, emotional invalidation occurs when you refuse to recognize another’s feelings and perceived subjective reality as real.

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