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Chapter Five - Validation and Invalidation
The tongue is nature's most lethal weapon.
One of the keys to emotional intelligence and emotional awareness is the ability to understand the difference between validation and invalidation, and then to know how to validate someone's feelings. To validate someone is to accept, understand, and nurture their feelings. To validate someone's feelings is to validate their identity as a unique person. Invalidation, on the other hand, is to reject, ignore, judge, or diminish someone's feelings, and hence their identity. Here are links to validation and invalidation from eqi.org.
Let's look at invalidation first.
Sadly, others often feel the need to try to put us down and make us feel inadequate, inferior, and insignificant. After many years of traveling I can say now that It seems to be common all around the world to negate, judge, reject or ignore people's real feelings. All of this is a form of invalidation.
Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but that we are fundamentally abnormal. This implies that there is something wrong with us because we aren't like everyone else; we are strange; we are different; we are weird. None of this feels good, and all of it damages us. The more different we are, the more we are invalidated. When we are invalidated by having our feelings repudiated, we are attacked at the deepest level possible, since our feelings are the innermost expression of our individual identities.
Telling someone they shouldn't feel the way they do feel is akin to telling water it shouldn't be wet, grass it shouldn't be green, and rocks they shouldn't be hard! Each person's feelings are real. Whether or not someone likes or understands your feelings, they are still real. If someone doesn't like your feelings, they don't like reality. Those who try to tell you not to feel what you do feel are being unrealistic, as well as controlling.
Below are a few of the many ways we are invalidated:
Those who invalidate you simply do not accept you and respect you for who you are. They would prefer you felt differently. Sometimes they demand it. Those who disrespect you and your feelings have a tendency to trespass the boundaries which protect your sense of self. When we are trespassed we feel used, violated, and insignificant. If they are in a position of power or authority over us, such as a boss, a parent or a priest, the effect is multiplied. I can say with certainty that one of the things the suicidal teens I have worked with over years have in common is that they have all been consistently invalidated at home and at school.
There are many forms of invalidation. Most of them are so insidious that we don't even know what is happening. We know something doesn't feel good, but we can't put our finger on it. We have been conditioned to think that invalidation is "normal." Indeed, it is extremely common, but it is certainly not healthy.
Here are some specific invalidating expressions to be aware of.
Attempts to Talk You Out of Your Feelings
Get over it.
Deal with it.
Give it a rest.
Forget about it.
Don't look so grim.
Put on a happy face.
Quit your belly-aching.
Don't make such a big deal out of it.
Don't make a federal case out of it.
Minimizing Your Feelings
I was only kidding.
It wasn't as bad as all that.
It really wasn't as bad as you are making it sound.
You must be kidding.
You can't be serious.
You are making a big deal out of nothing.
You are blowing this way out of proportion.
You are making a mountain out of a molehill.
Judging & Labeling You
You are a cry baby.
You have a problem.
You are too sensitive.
You are over-reacting.
You are too thin-skinned.
You are way too emotional.
You need to get your head examined!
Turning Things Around
What is your problem?
What's wrong with you?
What's the matter with you?
Why can't you just get over it?
Why can't you just let it go?
Why do you always have to ....?
Is that all you can do, complain?
Why are you making such a big deal over it?
What's wrong with you, can't you take a joke?
How can you let a little thing like that bother you?
Telling You How You "Should" Feel or Act
You should be excited.
You should be thrilled.
You should feel guilty.
You should feel ashamed of yourself.
You should feel thankful that... You should be happy that .... You should be glad that ...
You should just drop it.
You shouldn't worry so much.
You shouldn't let it bother you.
You should just forget about it.
You shouldn't wear your heart out on your sleeve.
Even when we are happy, unhappy people want to ruin it for us by saying diminishing things like:
What are you so happy about? That's it? That's all you are so excited about?
And, if the above wasn't enough to make our heads spin, there is always mockery and sarcasm:
Oh, you poor thing. I am such a mean person. I suppose you think you are the only one with problems.
When your awareness rises, you'll notice such comments day in and day out. Such comments take their toll on us. They literally beat us down. Often, we begin to wonder if something is wrong with us. The more sensitive we are, the more we take these assaults to heart. They undermine our self-confidence because they cause us to doubt ourselves. This in turn diminishes our self-esteem.
Being aware of the various forms of invalidation helps you in these ways:
1. You can monitor the way various people treat you.
2. You will be less likely to invalidate others.
3. You will be more able to protect yourself from its damage
The opposite of invalidation is, of course, validation. Validation is extremely nurturing. When we are validated we feel accepted and approved of just the way we are. Validation creates safety and builds trust.
Acceptance without passing judgment
Respect for feelings
To validate is first of all to accept without passing judgment. It is to empathize and show understanding and compassion. The following simple statements are good examples of validating.
I hear you. I can relate. I know what you mean. I would feel the same way. I can understand how you feel. I can see you are really upset. I can tell this is really important to you.
When someone validates us, we receive what we all yearn for:
Acceptance, understanding, and a sense of connection.
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