Invalidation - The creation or promotion of an environment which encourages an individual to believe that their thoughts, beliefs, values or physical presence are inferior, flawed, problematic or worthless.
The Distorted Mirror
Abusive people will often use invalidation as a means of diverting attention away from flaws in their own logic, character and behavior while pressuring others to yield control. It works by deflecting attention away from the subject or problem at hand, and focusing on a false surrogate topic which can be summed up as: “look what’s wrong with you”.
The victim is thus maneuvered into a position where in order to deal with the problem they want to discuss, they must first demonstrate to the perpetrator that they have fixed all the flaws in themselves. This means the perpetrator successfully avoids addressing the original problem or issue.
What it Looks Like
Statement: “You hit me!”
Invalidating Response: “There you go again - Why are you always angry at me?”
Statement: “I care about you.”
Invalidating Response: “I know you don’t believe that.”
Statement: “I like my friends and I want to spend time with them.”
Invalidating Response: “If you cared about me you would want to spend time with me.”
Statement: “I’d like us to share the chores.”
Invalidating Response: “You just don’t care about my bad back do you?”
Statement: “We can’t afford that.”
Invalidating Response: “We can always afford the things you want.”
Statement: “I don’t understand what you mean.”
Invalidating Response: “You just don’t get it do you?”
How it Feels
Invalidation often deals an unexpected blow to your self-esteem. You may approach a conversation looking to improve a relationship or work on a problem only to find yourself on the defensive, feeling lost, confused, scared and with no resolution in sight.
You may wonder “What’s wrong with me that I can’t get through to him/her?” or, “What’s wrong with him/her that they just won’t listen?”
Nons often reach for their instinctive fight or flight responses when confronted with an invalidating comment. That can lead them to respond in an inappropriately aggressive manner, with anger and exasperation, or they may feel a defeatist urge to just give in. Either way, the perpetrator gets what they want and the diversion is established. What generally works better is an unemotional, yet assertive response.
Coping with Invalidation
Invalidation is an aggressive form of emotional abuse. If someone uses invalidation on you it is important to recognize it and to understand that they are not looking for a compromise or a way to meet you in the middle at that particular moment. They are using a power play to win - to suppress your needs in favor of their own. Recognizing invalidation should be a cue to calmly reject the falsehood in the accusation and quickly exit the conversation.
When someone uses invalidation, you are temporarily released from any moral obligation to compromise or try to further resolve the problem. Instead, it is a time to focus your energy on protecting yourself, your children, your assets and your dignity. Compromises and resolution can be attempted later, if and when the other person decides to adopt a different approach and communicate with you in a respectful, validating manner.
What NOT to Do
- Don’t accept the premise of an invalidating statement or comment.
- Don’t take the bait and be drawn into a fight or a circular conversation about an invalidating comment. Stay focused on the issues that really matter.
- Don’t argue or debate or repeatedly go over the issues with someone who is invalidating you. You may end up arguing for a very long time and get nowhere, and, the harder you try the more opportunities they have to further invalidate you. State the truth once. Then save discussion for a time when they are ready to listen with respect.
- Don’t stay in the same room with a person who speaks to you with anything less than the respect you are worth. Don’t wait for them to understand your point of view. Take a break. Remove yourself politely and tell them you’ll be back at a later time when you feel safe.
What TO Do
- If you find yourself feeling shame over the statements another person is making about you then it is possible that the problem is them - not with you. Healthy people don’t go around shaming others.
- Confront invalidation once, calmly with truth and without emotion.
- End the conversation as soon as an invalidating statement is given.
- Allow the other person their feelings and thoughts - without taking responsibility for making them see the truth.
- Focus on seeing yourself in a validating way. Remind yourself of your qualities and strengths. Strive for excellence - not perfection.
- Surround yourself with healthy people who will tell you with kindness what they see of your strengths and weaknesses. Find a few supportive friends who will lift you up when you are down and of whom you can safely ask - “Am I really that bad?”
- Write down the qualities you like about yourself - remind yourself that you have gifts and talents - that you are unique in this world and there will never be another you.