Emotional invalidation, when others minimize or ignore our feelings

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Robert Maurer


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"It's not that bad", "you shouldn't feel that way" or "it's time to move on". These are some common phrases that are meant to relieve suffering but are actually incapacitating. When people important to us don't understand us, but downplay or even ignore our feelings, we not only don't get the emotional support we need, but we can also feel inadequate and even question the relevance of our emotions.

What is emotional invalidation?

Emotional invalidation is the act of rejecting, ignoring, or rejecting a person's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. It conveys the message that your feelings don't matter or are inappropriate.

Emotional invalidation can manifest itself in different ways. Some people intentionally use it to manipulate others because they subordinate their attention and affection to the submission of the other. Others emotionally invalidate others without realizing it.

In fact, on many occasions emotional invalidation is the result of an attempt to cheer us up. Phrases like "don't worry", "it's time I got over it", "sure it wasn't that bad", "you're exaggerating", "I don't see any problem" or "you don't have to feel that way" have good intentions, but in fundamentally invalidate the feelings the other person is experiencing.

Obviously, this is not a good strategy to calm the other down. Quite the exact opposite. A study conducted at Harvard University revealed that disabled students after expressing their emotions in a stressful situation felt worse and showed greater physiological responsiveness.

There are also those who blame each other for feeling a certain way. Phrases such as "you are too sensitive", "you take everything too personal" or "you give it too much importance" are examples of emotional invalidation in which the person seeking understanding and support is criticized and rejected.

Of course, emotional invalidation isn't just verbal. Indifference to the other's pain or worry is also a way to invalidate his feelings. Not paying attention when a person is talking about a significant topic or belittling it with gestures or attitudes is another way of invalidating.

Why do people invalidate feelings?

Emotional invalidation often occurs when we express our feelings or talk about an experience. The truth is that most people become disabled because they are unable to process the emotions the other is giving them.

Emotional validation involves some degree of empathy or empathic resonance. It implies knowing how to put yourself in the other person's shoes, understand him and live his feelings. On many occasions, these feelings can be too overwhelming for the person or just plain unpleasant, in a way that rejects them and, with it, invalidates the person experiencing them.

In fact, it cannot be ignored that we live in a deeply invalidating society from an emotional point of view in which affective states are even considered an “impediment” while reason is worshiped. In a society that encourages moving on quickly, where hedonism is adored and suffering is sought to hide because it generates too much distress, it is not surprising that many people are unable to handle their negative emotions and are unable to provide emotional validation.

In other cases, the invalidation results from the person being too preoccupied with their problems to step out of their perspective and put themselves in the other's shoes. It may be that this person is really having a hard time and is so exhausted that they cannot provide emotional validation. Or they may simply be too self-centered people to focus on each other's emotions.

The consequences of emotional invalidation

• Problems in managing emotions

Emotional invalidation often generates confusion, doubts and distrust of our emotions. If when we express what we feel, a close and meaningful person tells us that we shouldn't feel it, we can begin to distrust the validity of our experiences. However, questioning our emotions will not make them disappear, it will only make it difficult for us to manage them assertively.

Indeed, it has been found that when invalidation inhibits the expression of primary emotions, such as sadness, it often leads to an increase in secondary emotions such as anger and shame. A study conducted at the University of Washington revealed that people who already have difficulty regulating their emotions tend to react more aggressively when they do not receive the emotional validation of sadness.

• Emergence of mental disorders

Emotional impairment can contribute to a susceptible person developing mental health problems such as depression or aggravating symptoms. When the invalidation comes from the closest circle and is a pattern that repeats itself over time, that person will learn to repress their feelings, which will eventually affect them. You are also likely to feel deeply alone and misunderstood. In fact, a study conducted at Wayne State University revealed that the emotional invalidation of the partner in a systematic way can predict the appearance of a depressive picture.

Psychologist Marsha M. Linehan believes that emotional impairment can be particularly harmful to emotionally vulnerable people; that is, those who are more sensitive react with greater intensity and find it more difficult to find normality. In these cases, being told that their emotional responses are incorrect and inappropriate can trigger emotional dysregulation.

In fact, it has also been found that people who suffered emotional impairment in their childhood are more likely to suffer from borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by impulsivity, emotional lability, chronic feelings of emptiness, and emotion management problems. . In adolescents, emotional impairment has been linked to an increased risk of self-harm.

How to validate emotions?

We must keep in mind that emotional reactions to events are never correct or incorrect. What may be inappropriate is their expression, but not their appearance. Therefore, there is no reason to condemn, ignore or reject emotions, whatever their value.

To validate someone else's emotions, we must first open ourselves to their experience. This means being willing to listen carefully and being fully present. We need to put aside all distractions and try to connect emotionally.

It also means being willing to put our problems aside in that moment so that we feel empathy for the person in front of us.

Finally, it involves using more affirmative and understanding language in which phrases such as "it could have been worse" disappear to give way to "I'm sorry about what happened to you", saying "it seems frustrating" instead of "you're exaggerating. "Or" what can I do to help you? " instead of "you have to get over it".

Emotional validation is a learned art. We just need to be patient and understanding.

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