What is it that allows others to invalidate our experience?
When we say we feel sad and are told we should be happy and/or grateful. When we say what we want, and we are told to want something different. When we act on behalf of our own self-care and are made bad or wrong by those around us. Why don’t we stand up for ourselves? Does our feeling of invalidation go underground where it can’t be recognized, or is it hidden in the background like the music playing in the elevator we take every day?
Invalidation means that we are made wrong (belittled, criticized, ignored, made fun of, humiliated, etc.) for requesting what we want or don’t want. When our desires are not honored, when our experience is ridiculed or criticized, or our emotions are made out to be a problem by others, our inner experience is being invalidated.
It may have sounded something like ‘stop crying or I’ll give you something to really cry about’, ‘nice girls don’t do those things’, ‘why can’t you just be happy?’, ‘don’t be such a baby’, ‘you are so fussy’, etc. When this happens, many of us go into one of the major fear responses – fight, flight or freeze.
The danger of this inner-stuckness is the anger and rage that can build up in the body when these feelings are not fully recognized and expressed in healthy and responsible ways.
Some of us decided that there is nothing we can do about it, so we just ignore the invalidation from others or discount what is being said as if it doesn’t mean anything. Others feel it like a sharp open wound every time their desire is thwarted yet they feel stuck and powerless to do anything about it. The danger of this inner-stuckness is the anger and rage that can build up in the body when these feelings are not fully recognized and expressed in healthy and responsible ways. This is often why teenagers struggle to communicate what they are experiencing to their parents fearing the invalidation that often comes when parents view their children as still helpless and dependent, which is rarely true. What is true more often is that those teenagers are capable of learning from their own experiences if we can hold space for them instead of sending the energy of our worry to them. That type of worry projected onto our children has them question their own capabilities as they pick up our energetic, and sometimes verbal, concerns about what they are doing. Instead of worrying, one way we can support others is to picture them fully capable and help them feel fully seen and heard when we are engaging with them.
When we decide that everyone’s experience is valid and valued and that everyone is responsible for their own experience, we turn our attention back to ourselves and become responsible for our own well-being. In the end, only WE can invalidate our own experience. If someone says to me ‘you are being a baby’ as I ask them to stop doing what feels uncomfortable or hurtful to me, I have many choices in that moment to value myself and not make them bad or wrong. I can acknowledge what they are up to; ‘I understand you think my asking you to stop isn’t necessary or that I’m being oversensitive’. Then I can acknowledge what is happening for me; ‘I feel unsupported by your comment and that what I want doesn’t matter when you want me to move away from what feels best to me’. Then, I can tell them what I’m doing to take care of myself if this happens again, and what will be different going forward; ‘if you are unable to honor my choices without making it a problem or making me wrong, then I’ll stop asking you for help going forward. It’s up to you.’
Letting others know what you are doing to take care of yourself helps them understand the choices they have and the consequences of each choice in engaging with you.
When we stand up for ourselves, without making others wrong, we stop the energy of invalidation in its tracks. It’s NOT OK for us any longer, and that means letting those we interact with regularly know what has changed. Letting others know what you are doing to take care of yourself helps them understand the choices they have and the consequences of each choice in engaging with you. It’s a neutral way to create and honor expectations. Most people will push back when we do this to try and get things to go back to how they were. While most people will be uncomfortable with you changing the ‘rules’ in the relationship at first, they are happy to honor your new wishes with a little bit of practice and reminding. Expect them to try and go back to the old way two or three times and try to be as patient as you can. Just like small children, adults need consistency to make a behavior change. If they forget, remind them gently and do what is best for you in the situation. They will follow suit, or they will tend to fall away from your life.
How can you release invalidation from your life today?