*Disclaimer: I am not a professional; and I do not wish to invalidate, downplay, or exaggerate any sort of emotional abuse. I am merely voicing my opinion about stories I’ve heard and seen from others.
“You’re acting crazy!”
“You’re too young to be depressed.”
“You’re being unreasonable!”
“That didn’t happen.”
“You’re remembering things wrong!”
Do any of these sound familiar? Emotional invalidation, unfortunately, is common within the numerous relationships we all have in our lives. It may not always be obvious, but emotional invalidation can frequently occur in the people we wouldn’t expect it from (family, friends, significant others, etc). In retrospect, these responses from loved ones may not always come from malicious intent—although, they do still elicit feelings of resentment, anger or shame. Keep reading to learn about the different types of emotional invalidation; how to cope as a victim, and how to change or improve as the instigator. People who claim to be inherently good aren’t always as transparent as that. You can have a good heart, but still not realize your own toxic actions. The depths of a person lies beneath how they react to and in certain situations.
What is emotional invalidation?
According to Kristalyn Salters, it can be defined as “… someone communicat[ing] to you that your emotions are not valid, are unreasonable or irrational, or should be hidden or concealed” (para. 1). It is another form of manipulation that can easily be overlooked if coming from someone you have a personal connection with, another word for this is gaslighting. Regardless, you can still suffer from this even with someone you aren’t close to. The difference between disagreeing and invalidating; is one insinuates that your feelings are wrong and the other expresses a different opinion. By minimizing your experience and silencing your emotions the abuser will attempt to find a loophole, in which they are the victim.
What can I expect?
Gaslighters and emotional abusers are master manipulators who will go out of their way to make you feel like you’re the one going crazy. There is no doubt that people of all ages can be victims to emotional abuse. Despite what some may think, a relative is more likely to emotionally manipulate a child. A good friend will know your strengths and weaknesses and use that to exploit you. And a partner can know you inside and out and still try to control you. We all treat these people in our lives like family, regardless if they’re blood related or not. We should be able to confide in them, take comfort in them for being a place where we can express discontent, have petty arguments, yet still be respected for the opinions and choices we make.
A common saying is “communication is key”. It is a critical aspect in any relationship (family and friends included) to openly express disagreements or feelings of uneasiness in a civil and understanding manner. No one makes it their plan to settle for an emotional abuser as their partner, family or friend. Research conducted by the University of Arkansas suggests that the impact of emotional invalidation “could increase emotional or relational distress (Markman & Hahlweg, 1993; Shenk & Fruzzetti, 2014). Emotion[al] invalidation might also cause an individual to question, inhibit or even invalidate his … her [or their] own emotions” (p. 12). However, because a person’s emotions are not exactly hard facts, people in these personal relationships can use that as an excuse to not treat it as a serious issue or concern. In Matthew Fray’s “8 ways Good People Invalidate Their Partners And Ruin Relationships”, he states that ignoring what your partner is feeling is because it’s only hurting them is a “convenient excuse to fall back on any time the topic was about something impacting … [them] emotionally but not affecting me” (para. 2).
Not all of society needs to share the same experiences as everyone else in order to be sympathetic. Most of my generation has done well on educating themselves on important topics, although, we still lack a large amount of compassion for other people, unless they’ve experienced said situation first hand. Our first reaction is to defend ourselves or avoid confrontation. Somebody could have good intentions when speaking to you and still not be able to pick up on emotional signs. For example, when you confront someone regarding an issue, it’s not to attack them, but to make them aware—in which they begin to make excuses for themselves. However, people don’t want excuses, they deserve to be shown reciprocation and to show us you care rather than “looking to put [us] on the defensive and draw [us] into a non-productive argument …” (para. 9). By adding fuel to the fire that could have been avoided through proper communication, it makes us feel as if we’re in the wrong for bringing it up first.
Ashanna Molkwu claims: “Friendship is NOT about telling the other person to ‘cut it out’ or ‘stop overreacting’ because you fail to realize… that just because something hasn’t happened to you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt them” (para. 7). I have witnessed many relationships go through this, where small arguments that should be insignificant, still matter in the long run. If somebody expresses to you that they have a problem, by dismissing it, you create a situation that you’re aware would provoke them to react negatively— you’re using their emotions as a tactic to win back power over the situation. The most common type of invalidator is someone who needs fool-proof evidence of these emotions before making the unconscious decision to invalidate it. It’s not the most blatant way of emotional invalidation, but is still manipulation nonetheless.
What can you do?
Finally, somebody’s experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have to agree or think they’re correct, however, you could communicate to them that their emotions and how they feel is valid. We must avoid becoming defensive on either side and giving unwanted advice. Nobody wants to feel targeted for their emotions, they want to be heard rather than analyzed. Moreover, reflecting their feelings, agreeing with them when they say something is painful, can help us remember how significant validation is when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships. Despite all the good people in the world, everyone is still capable of ignorance. We must learn to see what is true and honest in the opposite person’s point of view and respect it even if it’s different from yours. Emotional invalidation is never okay, if you need help in tackling these issues within friends, family, or significant others— search for a qualified professional for guidance. Please see below for resources and don’t be afraid to ask and search for help.