What Is Emotional Invalidation? Emotional Cause & Effects

Updated November 1, 2022 by ReGain Editorial Team

Validation is the foundation for feelings of safety in any relationship. It is a very important tool for healthy discussions, emotional intimacy, healthy love, and healthy emotions or feelings. Hence, emotional invalidation of your partner's feelings, or any form of invalidation, can be disrespectful to one partner in a relationship. Validating your child's emotions so they know their feelings matter is also very important. If you want to learn more about how to effectively develop a healthy home for your kids, try online therapy services.

Learn More About Psychological Invalidation Today

That is why it's the polar opposite, emotional invalidation, or making it seem as though a person's feelings don't matter is so painful and detrimental to the human psyche.

It involves the process of telling someone that their internal experience is not important and can be 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 emotional invalidation is happening, or worse, may not believe it is such a big deal.

Furthermore, emotionally dismissive people may not recognize their behavior of invalidating someone else's feelings, which makes it all the more insidious.

Some commonly asked questions about this behavior are:

What are examples of emotional invalidation?

You have probably seen many examples of emotional invalidation, even if you haven't recognized them. In fact, you may have experienced it in one way or the other, whether your feelings were invalidated or someone else's feelings were. Maybe a doctor medically reviewed this invalidation, or perhaps you still aren't sure it happened. So, here are a few examples that might sound familiar.

  • Aw, it could be worse! – The statement "could be worse" is emotional invalidation because a person dealing with an uncomfortable emotion is told that their emotion isn't justified. "It could be worse," says the person that they are only allowed to have feelings like they do if the very worst thing on earth happened. If that were the case, only a few people in the world would be allowed to experience their emotions. Everyone else would have poor mental health from suppressing their emotions and denying their feelings. Fortunately, that isn't the way things are. There are many people who will validate your emotions and your right to experience your emotions. If you need help with having your feelings acknowledged, you can talk to a therapist about it, as well.
  • Eye rolling – This nonverbal expression says that your feelings are ridiculous or untrue. If the rolling eyes are directed to a third party who laughs at your emotion, it may be even more damaging to your sense of self and your overall mental health and well being. Your feelings deserve to be respected because your emotions are important.
  • You're just too emotional! – When someone declares that you're too emotional, it may be a way to hint that you need to get yourself together and be stoic. It seems to say that emotions aren't worth paying attention to or should be denied. However, nearly anyone may be emotional when things are not going their way. In addition, many physical and mental health issues may heighten your emotions. That doesn't mean the emotion isn't real or doesn't matter. To deal with your emotions, you need to notice and recognize them and be acknowledged – not suppress and hide your emotions.

If you want to learn more about your emotional health, you can find many articles on emotions online. Your emotions are important, and you deserve to be able to express any emotion without being ridiculed, ignored, discounted, or invalidated in any way. Look for articles that have been medically reviewed to ensure they are authoritative and correct. Medically reviewed articles are evaluated by mental health professionals.

What does it mean to be emotionally invalidated?

Being emotionally invalidated means that someone is shutting down your emotional experience. Perhaps it feels uncomfortable to see your emotional pain. Maybe they want to control you by invalidating your true feelings that might expose them as a not-nice person. Maybe they just never thought about how their words about someone else's emotions might affect them.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that being emotionally invalidated means being told verbally or nonverbally that your feelings aren't real, your emotions don't matter, and your emotional well being isn't important.

Relationships where one person constantly invalidates the emotion of the other can be extremely uncomfortable and difficult to endure. In fact, if the person emotionally invalidating the other doesn't accept responsibility for what they have said or done, the couples often end up in breakups, divorces, or very dysfunctional relationships.

Is invalidation emotional abuse?

What causes emotional invalidation?

Emotional invalidation happens when someone in a relationship or any social interaction exhibits invalidating messages about the other person's experience of emotion. The person who is giving the messages may say the other person's emotions are not real or valid in some way. They may convey these messages face to face, on phone calls, through texts, or in any other type of communication. Or, they may show the same thing nonverbally.

Even compassionate people may sometimes make the mistake of causing emotional invalidation. The person who is invalidating the others' emotions may not even realize they are doing it. For example, they might be trying to cheer up the other person by saying that the other person isn't really sad. Unfortunately, if the person is sad, this can make their emotions take an even deeper turn.

In other cases, someone will invalidate another person because they themselves have mental health issues. Or, they just might be cruel, wanting to hurt the other person.

No matter what the cause, it's important to learn to give emotional support, especially to the people close to you. Rather than pushing them further into their negative emotions, it's better to recognize that their feelings are valid.

This helps them experience their emotions so that they can deal with the way they're feeling. After all, the key to moving on from uncomfortable emotions is not to pretend they don't exist but to face, experience, and learn to manage those emotions.

When someone can go through that emotional process without being hindered by emotional invalidation, they can maintain or even improve their mental health. At the same time, if you have told someone their feelings aren't valid, it will help them if you accept responsibility for your words or actions and acknowledge the other person's experience. Then, your mental health will improve, too.

As for the cause of people feeling invalidated, it happens because having your emotions disrespected can harm your sense of self and cause you self-doubt. After all, if someone says your situation "could be worse," then they're saying your own emotions are wrong, overblown, or unreal. It can make you wonder about your own judgment and emotional stability. And eventually, if it continues, it can be harmful to your mental health as your self-doubt increases.

Talking with a therapist or psychologist who has been medically reviewed can provide help with finding the specific cause of your condition. Doctors and psychologists who work with mental disorders are medically reviewed on occasion to ensure that your treatment is appropriate for you and helping you achieve better health, whether mental or physical. However, whether your health provider is medically reviewed right away for your case or not, it's more important that they listen and validate you and recognize how you feel.

How do you fix emotional invalidation?

Fixing emotional invalidation can be extremely difficult if it has been going on for a long time. In that case, talking to a mental health therapist may be the best solution. Then, you can learn to manage your own emotions and discover how to reduce your need for external validation. By improving your own mental health, you become less vulnerable to other people's invalidating remarks.

However, it's relatively easy to fix emotional invalidation if you realize quickly that you've said something to invalidate someone's feelings. Compassionate people occasionally say something that they later realize made someone feel bad. Suppose you gave them unsolicited advice or acted like their emotional responses were no big deal. Maybe you told them "It could be worse" when they told you about a painful experience.

When that happens, you can accept responsibility for pushing unsolicited advice at them when they are dealing with difficult emotions. Then, you show empathy for what they're going through and the emotional responses they are having to it. By showing them that you truly do care, you allow them to work through their emotion in their own way. When they feel accepted, their self-doubt may begin to ease, and they may begin to find their way through their negative emotions.

What is stonewalling in a relationship?

Stonewalling happens in relationships when one partner gives the other partner the silent treatment or otherwise refuses to engage in a discussion with something important to their partner. This cruel technique is often handed down from parents to children as if it were a good way to deal with emotion.

What is traumatic invalidation?

Traumatic invalidation happens when someone's feelings are constantly denied. The environment is such that the people you deal with every day continually say your feelings don't matter or aren't real.

Many people have grown up in such environments. A medically reviewed study of people with borderline personality disorder found that there was a significant connection between the development of borderline personality disorder and invalidating parents, particularly the mother.

Being constantly told that you don't know your own feelings or that your emotions aren't important can lead to self-doubt and low self-esteem. The invalidated person who develops borderline personality disorder then has to deal with mental health issues in the long term.

If your feelings were always invalidated by your parents or other caretakers, you could get help in your community or online. Psychiatrists can diagnose your condition and prescribe medications if needed. Psychologists and therapists will acknowledge your feelings and help you learn how to better manage your emotion. Doctors may be medically reviewed to ensure they are providing the best treatments for you. Then, medically reviewed doctors, as well as therapists, can help you in many ways to manage your emotion and learn better ways of expressing your feelings and getting validation for your feelings.

What is emotionally neglected?

Being emotionally neglected means that a child is not receiving understanding and support for their emotions. A mother or father who neglects their child emotionally could cause serious damage to their emotional growth and health.

The parents never acknowledge or empathize with their feelings, always downplaying their emotions, saying their feelings don't matter, suggesting that they should feel differently than they do, or ignoring their feelings altogether.

A child whose emotion is neglected constantly does not have the opportunity to learn how to deal with their emotions. Later, when an emotion comes up, they may squelch it down and pretend the emotion doesn't exist. Or they may have frequent crises with their emotions because they have never been allowed to practice managing emotion.

If the person who is being invalidated is still a child, their doctor might make sure that their case is medically reviewed when they come in for a checkup. Once it is medically reviewed, the doctor might talk to the parents about getting professional family counseling.

What's an example of gaslighting?

As part of the psychology of bullying, gaslighting means telling you that you haven't experienced what you thought you did. The experience could be a physical event, or it could be your emotions. It's a way of playing with your feelings, and it's usually done specifically to harm you. Here's an example of gaslighting:

Suppose you and your boyfriend have agreed not to see other people. However, you found out that your boyfriend was texting his ex girlfriend, saying intimate things, and sharing his innermost feelings with her. Then, you hear phone calls between them, with him inviting her over for the night. Naturally, you have an emotional response. Your feelings are hurt, and you are very upset. You tell him this, expecting to talk it out and decide what to do. Yet, he says you're being too emotional. He downplays your feelings and tells you it's nothing to be upset about. Maybe he even tells you that you misread the text or misheard the calls. This makes you doubt yourself and feel like there's something wrong with you. You have just been emotionally invalidated. Relationships that continue along such a course – with gaslighting as a feature – often break up or become more abusive.

What do you call someone who turns things around on you?

What Is Emotional Invalidation?

The definition of emotional invalidation or the definition of invalidate means to dismiss or make not valid someone else's feelings. It is the act to knowingly invalidating your partners feeling and even others.

Non-Validation: Emotional Invalidation Definition

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

Actions can include texting or non-verbal cues such as the silent treatment or emotional neglect. These powerful non verbal emotional invalidation that can significantly hurt the recipient of the invalidating 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 Invalidation Happen?

Often, the person who participates in emotional invalidation 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.

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

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

Reasons for this behavior can range from an inability to empathize to not knowing how to validate others and express it effectively. Some individuals may learn emotional invalidation from a young age from their parents, which is why self awareness is very important if you want to be a supportive partner, friend, or offer support to family members.

Some common non-validating emotional statements:

  1. "It could be worse." / "I'm sure it wasn't that bad."
    1. These statements minimize and marginalize a person's emotional experience and force a toxic positivity on them.
  2. "You shouldn't feel that way. It makes me feel disrespectful towards you."
    1. This conveys superiority over someone and denies their experience by making them feel small.
  3. "Just get over it." / "Just let it go."
    1. This is an extremely dismissive expression and makes the other person feel emotionally suppressed and brushed aside.

A person who participates in invalidation emotionally may deny your experience completely or tell you to stop making things up.

Invalidating Effects

Psychological invalidation causes serious psychological damage. Here are some of the effects of emotional abuse:

Not only does it create emotional distance, conflict, violence, and disruption in relationships, but an emotionally invalidated person can feel alienated, confused, inferior, worthless, and problematic.

Studies on Other's Feelings and Relationships 

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 (call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE for help anytime), 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.

This can lead a young child to believe that if their feelings do not matter, neither do they. That's why it's so important to validate a loved one's feelings and show them that their feelings matter.

Ways to Show 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 emotionally invalidating 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.

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.

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

A supportive partner won't make you feel uncomfortable for sharing your feelings. They may understand that having a productive conversation can help them understand you better and listening is a critical communication tool.

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 are important."

"I respect and honor my feelings."

"I accept my feelings and acknowledge that they're 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 and your feelings matter. While your feelings may not seem important to that person, they may be a big deal to you, and being able to express yourself in a relationship is a critical communication tool.

Being the recipient of emotional invalidation can often 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. If someone is being non-validating to you, it is understandable that you may be feeling angry, may want to defend yourself and increase your efforts to be understood.

Instead of getting angry or defending yourself against this invalidating behavior, 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 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 intense emotions, can help you reclaim your self-confidence and assertiveness emotionally, and help you in overcoming emotional invalidation.

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 thatyou matter, regardless of what others think or say about you. When you truly know this, it can be very powerful.

FAQs

How do you respond to psychological invalidation?
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What is chronic invalidation?
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