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Understanding Invalidation

Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged. Invalidation is emotionally upsetting for anyone, but particularly hurtful for someone who is emotionally sensitive.

Invalidation disrupts relationships and creates emotional distance. When people invalidate themselves, they create alienation from the self and make building their identity very challenging.

Self-invalidation and invalidation by others make recovery from depression and anxiety particularly difficult. Some believe that invalidation is a major contributor to emotional disorders.

26 Comments to
Understanding Invalidation

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  1. My mom did this to me when I was growing up. I totally know what you are talking about. I would love to put this on my blog, but I am afraid my mom will see.

    • I’m sorry you went through that. :'(

  2. So I’ve been reading your book — slowly — because it makes me cry.

    You and Ms. Cook keep emphasizing how much parents mean well with some of the forms of invalidation, but it breaks my heart how harmful it is. I don’t have children because always I knew I was worthless and weird, and there was nothing about me that I wanted to risk passing on to any child. Other people cut themselves, starve themselves, or kill themselves because they feel that way.

    I really wish we required parenting classes, or at least “healthy relationship” classes, in school — probably more than once, as kids get better able to understand the issues. Parenting is the most important thing any of us is ever going to do, and we mostly have to depend on the model that was set for us by OUR parents, which is so often not a good one.

    Anyway, thanks for at least making a push to help people with this.

  3. When I read this, I finally found the word I had been searching for. The definition was my childhood and then some. It didn’t matter what I was feeling or why. My mother blew it off, telling me often my feelings and the reason for those, were just me over reacting, compared to what others dealt with. And almost always, that led to OTHERS which actually meant HER. She’s the NPD who loves the victim and martyr roles. No one appreciated her sacrifices, no one cared how tired she was. And on and on….Eventually, I said nothing. I wasn’t willing to face rejection again, most of the time I was forced to listen to her. She told everyone who would listen about our private lives, in her own twisted way. She belittled all of us.I learned what NOT to do as a mother. I CHOSE to have each of my children. They weren’t forced on me. I remember feeling guilt, shame, and the feeling of being tolerated as a burden.”Sacrifice” is a word I was very conscious of not using for this reason. Do we make sacrifices as parents? Yes. That doesn’t give me the right to expect my children to be forever bowing down in gratitude. Kids are busy being kids. Much of what my mother saw as ‘sacrifice’ is part of being a parent, as well.Like any other mom, I had nights with no sleep and a sick child. Goes with the territory. And my oldest started to THANK me for being there. He was about 7 yrs. old the first time…and I cried. I have a grown son who is ADD and dyslexic. Early on, teachers told me he just didn’t want to work and was basically lazy. I fought like a hell cat. Even after it was finally diagnosed, it was VERY difficult for him. His imagination and intelligence were off the charts. His self-esteem wasn’t. School was something to ‘just get through’. I told him again and again he would surprise himself and the world. And he did. He is now writing and directing for one of the major networks. He THANKED me. Because I had faith in him, encouraged him. My hyper child was in every dance and gymnastic class available. Without those, it wasn’t just her, but ME bouncing off those walls. Between the lessons, competitions and recitals, it was busy. And she THANKED for the experiences and the time.Children GET it. They see it. Their perception is amazing. I never EXPECTED those words.Even as parents themselves, their perception is likely to be different.I cherish those words and their purity. Every single one is stored in a very special place.I had my moments and they would happily tell that to anyone. I had a LOT of them. And stress? At levels only a mother can feel.I told them there was nothing they couldn’t tell me. Not every day is a good day and stuff happens. That’s life. They saw me on those bad days as well, I’m human. THAT I had to work on. It was second nature to hide my feelings. What each told me, stayed with me.Comparing us to one another was a favorite of my mothers’ hobbies. If I wondered what I was lacking, I only had to look at my siblings.Not one of my kids are perfect. I didn’t allow them to think that. But each are their own person and are beautiful in the way only each can be. For me, there was nothing TO compare.I would have preferred a POSITIVE example…but it is what it is.

    • This is such a beautiful comment I’m moved to tears. Thank you for posting this. It’s actually provided me with some much needed affirmation and an indirect solution to my own feelings of being invalidated and hurt.
      You are a Great Human xoxo

    • OMG, your comment deserves an article of its own. Your ability to share your life as a mom was amazing. Even better than that, is the fact that you’re telling YOUR story…
      I am truly moved and motivated at your ability to break a “cycle” instead of repeat it. I’m not a mom, but am still inspired by the things you wrote. Trying to better myself everyday, you’ve given me some new goals to set. My step dad ALWAYS tells me, “if you see something in someone that you like, copy it…become it.”
      Thank you for sharing. Know that you made a difference.

    • I found what you wrote to be beautiful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing and being you.

  4. I have a question. I think you’ve also mentioned shame as an issue for emotionally sensitive people and as an issue in parenting in your book, and having read another book on shame and read up on emotional invalidation, I’m wondering if there is a distinction between them, or if they are basically the same thing under two different names. So much of what made me feel shame all my life turns out to have been invalidation. So now I’m curious about how to tell the difference, if there is one.

    • Hi,
      You are very close. The way I look at it, invalidation can result in shame. Invalidation is an action, shame is an emotion. There can be other emotional responses to invalidation as well. Best Wishes to you!

  5. While I agree that “intentional” validation isn’t warranted, and more often than not, people are unaware that they are potentially invalidating others, I would like to offer my perspective.

    While, I also have experienced much invalidation from others in my time, prior to better understanding it, I believe it is important for people to learn to self validate. Not that I should HAVE to clarify, but it is likely impossible to learn to become completely 100% unaffected by external stimuli.

    Sure, reflective listening can help the other person reflect instead of feeling invalidated, but is it everyone’s responsibility to spend all of their time helping other’s resolve their own feelings? That’s your job PH.D.

    However, what I feel causes issues for many is emotional scarring left from allowing themselves to feel based on external stimuli and running back to challenge invalidation.

    I’m going to invalidate one of your ideas in this article. In your example of someone looking at their watch while being spoken to is to suggest that the person looking at their watch is “wrong” to feel they need to accommodate someone elses feelings while prioritizing their day.

    I’m a busy person. Professionally and socially. I can not always place high importance and high urgency on listening to another person who is perhaps spending extra time to discuss. There is a way to say, “Listen, your time and ideas are important to me, but I have something urgent to take care of”.

    If I have to meet someone in 7 minutes and you stop me to ask a question and start a discussion, after 3-4 minutes, I’m going to be checking my watch.

    So you’re saying, I’m wrong to “feel” that deciding a task I have placed high importance and high urgency on in my own life to accomplish my own tasks is wrong if I’m not accommodating others? We disagree here.

    Some lessons I have the hard way: sometimes life is too busy for the long version, get to the point and don’t project your own feelings of being upset with me if you do not like my answer, don’t ask questions if you’re not willing to accept the answer: long or short.

    True confidence is believing in yourself and not needing external validation. Learn to self validate and not need others.

    Recognizing people who are negative influences and rejecting them from your life is not necessarily wrong, from my perspective.

    Also, I’ve noticed if I give an honest explanation, people “feeling rejected” will attempt to “fix” or “convince” me why I’m wrong to reject them and it’s often easier to just offer no explanation.


    “Never complain, never explain” it’s easier said than done, but it works.

    • See I kind of – KIND OF – agree with Count Mackula here.

      – It’s not my job to constantly validate others, nor is it their job to constantly validate me. I’m not very good at validating myself but I intend to improve on that.
      – It’s really, really easy to invalidate by accidentally saying the wrong thing, people are normally well-intentioned and if it’s the wrong thing to say it’s really the responsibility of the other person to tell you that so you can apologise and bear it in mind for the future
      – Looking at your watch while speaking to someone is rude, but it happens. It’s the responsibility of the watch-watcher to apologise and explain (‘sorry, I want to listen, but I have to go do this thing, can we catch up later?’), and it’s also the responsibility of the person speaking not to take it personally
      – I agree that if someone is being insensitive it is your job to walk away
      – I agree that everybody needs to learn to self validate, it is both pointless to rely on others (not everybody is nice) and unfair (not everybody can look after you all the time, we have our own lives)

      I say all of that as someone who does struggle to self-validate, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s my responsibility to learn it, it’s not others’ responsibility to treat me better. People will treat me however they want to treat me, it’s up to me to decide who I choose to be around and who I choose not to be around. Let others make their choice as to how they will treat you and if it’s not good enough (and you’ve calmly and politely explained just in case it was accidental), then chuck them out of your life.

    • The tough cookie suddenly appears, taking things as an attack–one of the main cause of people invalidating others.
      No one said you had to accord time to people. That’s not what validating means. Saying “I can’t talk right now. Sorry can’t help.” is as honest and as non-invalidating as non-invalidating comes.


      • Thank you Matt! Your response is exactly what I was going to communicate. Excellent insight and well written. Agreed.

  6. Thank you for writing and publishing this all important information. There must be groups of people lobbying to get emotional intelligence topics taught in the public school system so children, eventually adults, can come to better understand, and regard, them selves and others…. Id love to support organizations working hard to educating people, empowering the human race to seek understanding rather than attempt to outrun the sheer, splintering terror of insecurity.

    Thank you again! Best to you.

    • I agree. This is the VERY best site I’ve seen in ages, and I’m sooooo impressed with the wisdom! I believe that this ought to be taught in schools too.

  7. My best friend has an emotional disorder and I know that I have been invalidating, trying all the above tactics that I thought may help. Have you written another article about how to respond (as opposed to how not to respond) when the person you are with is depressed or anxiety has clouded their thoughts? It seems like if I don’t agree with her, I’m invalidating her. How can I help; what can I say?

    • I’m replying, not as a professional, but as a woman who’s both experienced invalidation, and hence I’ve studied it intensively.
      The go to answers for providing support without invalidation are:
      I’m sorry that this is happening to you. I imagine it must be really hard for you.
      Is there anything I can do to help you?

      Usually there isn’t anything one can do to SOLVE the problem, but as a friend, the best thing you can do is listen, ask questions about their feelings, offer solutions only if asked to, empathise, and be kind.

      Accept that feelings aren’t debatable.

      And just the fact that you wrote and asked for advice shows that you ARE a GOOD friend.
      Most people don’t have any interest in learning about invalidation, let alone attempting to find a way to employ it as part of their lives.

      I used to invalidate others to.
      Now that I don’t? The friendships that I have are far more meaningful than ever, and I appreciate not feeling uncomfortable because I can’t actually provide “help” – I know that my ability to listen and hug are helpful in and of themselves.

      Good luck to you!! xoxo

      • Excuse any spelling errors please. I am having a terrible vision issue as of late.

      • I love the sentence that you said, “Accept that feelings aren’t debatable”.

  8. To Count Mackula.

    “I’m a busy person. Professionally and socially. I can not always place high importance and high urgency on listening to another person who is perhaps spending extra time to discuss. There is a way to say, “Listen, your time and ideas are important to me, but I have something urgent to take care of”.

    If I have to meet someone in 7 minutes and you stop me to ask a question and start a discussion, after 3-4 minutes, I’m going to be checking my watch.

    So you’re saying, I’m wrong to “feel” that deciding a task I have placed high importance and high urgency on in my own life to accomplish my own tasks is wrong if I’m not accommodating others? We disagree here.”

    I guess maybe being actually mature and explaining the situation, that you don’t have time to talk, would have been the thing to do if you had the courtesy and confidence. But I guess some people need to justify, rationalise their usual rudeness and arrogance so as to not take any responsibility of their own behavior.

    • Thank you, someone else said it!

    • Well said. It’s about clear communicate with courtesy.

  9. I found this article as the consequence of the inability to grasp the meaning of emotional “invalidation”, and am still confused and would like clarification – if someone could offer it to me.

    First and foremost, the term “invalid” brings up a meaning for which I tend to identify it as a basic quality in logic – if something cannot be false if the premises are true, it’s logically valid or sound. Otherwise, and in the case of induction, the proposition is invalid. However, I acknowledge this isn’t formal logic. Still, this brings up the idea that somehow I am to be led to believe that any external action or idea given to the person who is said to be invalidated is somehow capable of doing so.

    Though external stimuli affect our subjective experiences, such as emotions, it doesn’t really make sense to say that external stimuli “x” can be said to supersede subjective experience “y”. That is to say that regardless what may be objectively the case in any given situation, an experience cannot be said NOT to have been experienced simply for the sake of that objective phenomenon. Thus, I can’t seem to understand how a feeling can be “invalidated” unless by the person for whom beholds said experience.

    Furthermore, I don’t think a person intends to say anything about the experience a person has when they say something such as, “You shouldn’t feel that way”, despite the literal meaning it ought to imply. Bear with me, as it’s anecdotal in this case. However, it has always seemed to be as an expression which actually intends to signify the idea of how one ought to direct that emotion. I digress on that point on the grounds that perhaps I’m alone on that, but I suspect it’s perhaps a miscommunication.

    Looping back around to the point, I’d like to clarify that I’m not arguing against the idea of invalidation, so much as trying to understand how it is distinct from what I’m inclined to speculate on what seems to be a semantic basis. It just seems ambiguous enough to warrant the possibility that it could represent a null interpretation of interactions, but I’d rather approach it as something to be aware of in social interactions myself without this problem at my feet.

    Thanks in advance for any clarification/retort.

    • For the sake of clarity, I am confused by the introduction of formal logic terms and will throw them out (not because they’re useless or less but) so I explain them in terms I find the most comfortable. The term emotional invalidation is a verb or an action. One can validate or invalidate an emotion/idea in self or others. This does not mean the emotions/ideas themselves are ultimately considered valid or invalid by the person generating said emotions/ideas, but the act of validation or invalidation will impact how the person reacts to having the emotion/idea. For example, I immediately feel “x”, but have heard that feeling “x” in this situation is not as good as feeling “y” and I aught try to feel “y” or I’ll be less than if I hadn’t tried. If you get good enough at it, it goes, you feel “x”, unconsciously invalidate feeling “x” by saying, “I’m thinking I actually feel “y”,” and then you end up feeling “z” from being unable to generate feeling “y” after feeling “x”. So instead of irritated to get an unexpected call from a friend, realize I should (and therefore aught to try to) feel happy, and ultimately feel frustrated about not feeling happy, even though I’m putting in a huge amount of work to try to do so.

      All human experience is subjective. Emotions/ideas can only be experienced subjectively, so yes, in order to invalidate an emotion/idea, it must be internally. However, in the course of a conversation, subjective ideas/emotions are verbalized objectively and then internalized again in the subjective experience. Conversations between people are subjective experiencers (people) trying to communicate their subjective ideas by using representative objective sound waves. An example of objective invalidation would be saying something for the purposes of trying to get another to invalidate their ideas/emotions. While one must be willing to accept the external stimuli and internalize it for invalidation to occur subjectively, it is callous to assume the person with whom you are talking cannot invalidate their own ideas because of something you said.

      Intentions are some of the most confusing and unintentionally violent aspects of communication for me. IMHO, if you mean to communicate “the emotion (which I’m validating) you’re experiencing should be directed like this,” then please say that phrase instead of the one with multiple meanings (one of which gives me an overwhelmingly negative feeling). It is not so much that using the phrase “you shouldn’t feel that way” is inherently wrong, evil, or even invalidating. If, like me, you’re interested in clear communication of positive intent, wouldn’t it make sense to change the part of the conversation I’m responsible for to help conversational companions feel more at ease? I can easily change my word choice, not so much how people hear a phrase I’ve been using and won’t change despite the change in its definition to me.

      These are concepts which allow me to explain certain behavior outside of a judgmental frame, and so the semantics aren’t quite as important personally. The lessons I found the most important were: invalidation is an action of putting/tearing down while validation is constructive. I can forgive the differences in people (and myself sometimes?) because I can choose to accept the first idea that pops into my head (without having to consider if I need to kill said thought) instead of operating with skills learned from avoiding agony (don’t say or do what you’re thinking in favor of the “ideal” response).

  10. Aren’t you invalidating people’s emotions by labelling them ’emotionally sensitive’? I find this judgement you are making to be hurtful. Have you tried thinking of a different career path?

  11. What you label “hoovering” is not the common / accepted meaning, where the person who is no longer in a toxic relationship gets sucked back into hell, by hearing all the right things, from the narcissist they escaped.

    Also, labeling people who are capable of empathy, as “sensitive” is not conducive to understanding or growth, as it implies a negative characteristic (ie:oversensitive). If this is your chosen field, perhaps be more gentle with those who are already hurting.

    • It’s funny how differently people can hear the same statement. I for one find the term “emotional sensitive” itself validating and respectful. I can say, “Yes, that is exactly it. I am so glad that someone knows what it is really like and treats the state as real and true.”

  12. I find the concept that’s talked about above a very difficult one to grasp, but being someone who was once very emotionally unstable I know that you can come out better on the other side. Of course, given you don’t experience something really terrible, but now I’m talking about actual high-grade violence and not mean words.

    In my mind this displays weakness, and weakness should be overcome and not catered to. In the end you can only rely on yourself and not others, so why should you expect others to try and act the way you want them to?

    Feel free to correct me, but I feel like the best solution is to gain some confidence in yourself and practice ignoring oppinions you don’t agree with rather than letting them affect you so much. Practice makes perfect, after all.

  13. So how do you validate with out tripping over invalidating?

    It’s like a double edged sword and we are left to fall on it regardless.

    But what happens when you try to find ckmmon ground and they invalidate you. Calling your opinion as not important. What’s the course of action?

    Mine? I hung up. Because tobkeepbgoing means only to become angry.angry that yet again my opinion didn’t matter.


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