Leading to low -self-esteem and an inability to express one’s self.
When a person is told that their ideas, desires and thoughts are wrong, stupid or not worth considering, that person can feel invalidated, i.e. they can feel unheard and discounted.
When a person finds that all their thoughts are always judged to be silly or not worth consideration, they can be said to be experiencing chronic, or long-term invalidation.
A growing child must of course defer to their parents better judgement, but there should be some areas of their lives that they can feel in control of. As a child grows, they naturally wish to express themselves, and decide things for themselves; they may have opinions on what they wear, what haircut they get, where they go and what they spend their time on.
As a child grows they will develop political, religious, philosophical, and practical opinions of their own, and now we are really discussing a young person, rather than a child.
If a young person is heavily criticised for having differing opinions to those of their parents / guardians, they can feel that they have had their rights to free thought removed, they may find that nothing they do or say garners favourable attention, they can be left feeling confused and unappreciated, even unloved, for who they are.
Linehan (1993a) investigates ‘invalidating environments’ and relates them to self injury:
“An invalidating environment is one in which communication of private experiences is met by erratic, inappropriate, or extreme responses. In other words, the expression of private experiences is not validated; instead it is often punished and/or trivialized. The experience of painful emotions disregarded. The individual’s interpretations of her own behavior, including the experience of the intents and motivations of the behavior, are dismissed…”
Abusive language is abuse
If a young person expresses their opinion, or personality (through clothes etc.) and is subsequently ‘shot down’ and belittled by their loving parents, it can lead to an identity crisis, they may wonder ‘who am I to have these thoughts that cause such anger in my parents?’.
Examples of daily invalidation:
Mother: “What’s that gunk on your face? You look a mess!”
Daughter: “It’s just dark eye-shadow, it’s how I like to look…”
Father: “Queers are always ramming their lives down our throats.”
Daughter: “I think gay people are just seeking equality, it’s a free country.”
Father: “Are you a queer-lover now? Jeez, what is wrong with you these days?”
Son: “I’m becoming vegetarian, I’m not comfortable with eating animals.”
Father: “Who’s been filling your head with this Liberal rubbish? You’ll eat what you get while under my roof.”
Young Girl: “Can I have the new Hotwheels AccelleRacers for my birthday please?”
Guardian: “I was thinking of getting you Lego Clikits, you get to make your own jewellery, won’t that be fun.”
Loss of external self-expression can lead to internal self-expression, and self-injury
Self harm can be seen as ‘communication to one’s self’; a person who self harms may feel that the only way to have a voice, is to keep it silent and private, to express their feelings directly on their own body.
If there is no one who will listen to the emotional outbursts of a frustrated and distressed person, they may turn to self harm as a form of emotional expression. By creating physical harm to themselves, they seek relief from the emotional distress# that they are forbidden to express publicly.
“One factor common to most people who self-injure, whether they were abused or not, is invalidation. They were taught at an early age that their interpretations of and feelings about the things around them were bad and wrong. They learned that certain feelings weren’t allowed. In abusive homes, they may have been severely punished for expressing certain thoughts and feelings.”
Physical pain can seem easier to deal with than the emotional pain that is trapped inside an invalidated person, and it detracts from the emotional distress therefore offering some kind of temporary relief.
Chronic invalidation is not only experienced by young people, it can effect people of any age, in situations where a person in power, or a group of people, continuously discount and ignore a person. This sort of passive bullying can often be seen in the work place*.
If you feel that you suffer from chronic invalidation at the hands of other people, there are things you can do about it, although, one must consider the dangers of confronting a physically abusive care giver, and you will have to gauge just how much you can raise your profile safely.
Demonstrating maturity and competence are the first things that guardians and parents tend to look for to judge a child as ‘responsible’. Demonstrating responsibility can promote pride from your guardian or parent.
Invalidating language can be challenged, if done with respect and sensitivity.
If someone accuses you of ‘always being silly’, you could reply with something like: “I’m not always silly, although I can see how my behaviour today could be seen as silly.”
If someone calls you ‘stupid and incompetent’ you can reply with: “I’m not stupid, I’m having trouble with this thing, but I will learn, perhaps you can help?”
If you are told that you’re ‘crazy to think such a thing’ you can say: “I’m just thinking it through, this is my opinion based on what I know, if you can give me more information, I’ll think a bit more.”
By always explaining a little more after denying the insult, you show that you are willing to respect and listen to their opinion; something that they may not expect from you!
“When your awareness rises, you’ll begin to notice such comments on a regular basis. Together, they take their toll on us. We wonder if there is something wrong with us for feeling how we do. It seems fair to say that with enough invalidation, one person can figuratively, if not literally, drive another person crazy. This is especially possible, I believe, in the case where one person has long-term power over another. Examples of such relationships are parent/child, teacher/child, “spiritual” leader/follower, boss/employee, spouse A/spouse B. Such a sad scenario appears to be even more likely when the person being invalidated is highly sensitive, intelligent and has previously suffered self-esteem damage.”
- Be sure to check out how to address invalidating criticism using CBT techniques.
- 8 Steps To Self Confidence from iVillage
- Kick the Habit of Self-Criticism from iVillage
- Invalidation by Deb Martinson at Secret Shame
- Invalidation by Steve Hein at Emotional Intelligence
Linehan, M. M. (1993a). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: The Guilford Press.
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