Invalidation: Things Not to Say
Invalidation is as powerful as validation. This is why validation is key in DBT in order to help people with issues they might be struggling with in their lives. Validation is a very important tool for communication with people. It also is important for expressing both love and acceptance in personal relationships. On the other hand, invalidation is one of the more damaging ways of emotional abuse of a person. The scariest thing is that it can be very subtle and even an unintentional abuse. When you deny the feelings and the emotional experiences of someone else you often will make them feel as if they are going insane. They often can leave the conversation feeling different about themselves and even start to question themselves.
There are some people who will use invalidation deliberately. They do this in order to control, manipulate, and cause injury psychologically. Possible reasons for this could be that these people have a very low ability to show compassion and empathy. They may not understand or value how important validation is. They also might not know how to express validation effectively.
Those who unintentionally use invalidation could be well-intentioned and often will defend themselves by believing that their goal is simply to try and help someone feel better about an emotion they may feel is a far better and accurate or a more valid one.
Invalidation – Things Not to Say
If you are trying to support someone, it’s important that you make them feel validated for how they are feeling. You can’t do this if your speech is in a manner of invalidation. Here are a few things to consider not saying when you are trying to support someone.
“Be glad it’s at least not..” or “You know things could be worse.”
Watching someone else suffering can really cause discomfort for the person who is witnessing it. Those who are compassionate really do want to try and help make it better for those suffering. If someone is crying, they’ll offer a tissue or a tender smile. If that doesn’t work one may try more in order to help bring some relief to the person who is suffering. The most important thing to understand is that if you can’t find the right words, just show empathy and understanding.
“I am really sorry you’re feeling this way.”
Most of us don’t really know that by saying we’re sorry someone is feeling a certain way is just a socially acceptable manner of really saying “I really don’t care about how you are feeling.”
“You really shouldn’t feel this way.”
This pretty similar to the comment above and in a way it is. But there is a difference when it comes to invalidation. When you say shouldn’t you are sending a message that you are actually disregarding how the other person is feeling. It also is a sign that their emotions are not valid. You can’t decide how someone shouldn’t or should feel. They are the only one that can do that. When a person starts denying their perspective can sometimes make that person feel like they might be crazy. It also can make them feel small or invisible.
“Don’t worry about it, just get on with your life.”
When it comes to emotions, many people will tell themselves as well as others to just dismiss feelings and to get on with their lives. There are some situations when we will have to put these feelings aside in order to be able to function effectively. However, we simply can’t do this all the time with our emotions or others emotions. When we make a habit of dismissing our emotions it can be harmful and cause even more distress. By trying to trivialize, disavow, or minimize peoples feelings, this invalidation will cause their emotions to just grow even more. It can also lead to experiencing aches and pains, emotional eating, panic attacks, and substance abuse.
“We’re not going to have this discussion!”
No matter who we are, we’ve all experienced and have fallen victim to non-verbal invalidation. Things such as getting a silent treatment, walking out of the room, rolling of the eyes, or ignoring text messages/phone calls. This is all invalidation of a person. It’s important that even if we disagree with someone that we try and resist any urge, no matter how right it could feel to us, it doesn’t make the other person feel validated. Just by being present and show that we’re listening can help the person feel they exist and matter.
How to Validate
Understand that by validating a person’s emotions they are experiencing doesn’t mean that you agree with it or you think they are correct. However, it does communicate that their emotions are valid. Always remember that emotions are far different from their behaviors.
Try to avoid becoming defensive at any time during a conversation. Don’t try to offer advice that’s unwanted or asked for. If you happen to be the actual target of their emotions it’s especially important that you don’t go on the defense. It’s best that you try to to accept at least part of the responsibility for part of their complaint. Make sure to ask them if they need your help and if they answer no then just focus on listening to them.
You need to realize that your understanding needs to come before any intervention. Try to really listen because when you truly listen to a person it also means that you are also trying to better understand the position they are in. The more that you understand where they are really coming from, the more validation that you are giving them.
Really reflect upon what they are saying and let them know you can see that they are really upset and assure them that you understand how painful it must be for them.
Finally, summarize what they are experiencing. You might say something like “I completely understand you’re truly upset about what I did and I understand that it was irresponsible and rude of me.” Or you might say something like “This really must be very painful for you, it is really a devastating to have to experience a loss like this.”
Invalidation can be harmful and can end a conversation before it even truly starts. So it’s important that if you truly want to help someone that you remain open, empathetic, compassionate, understanding. Remember, to treat someone the same way you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.