In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms. This week’s term is invalidation.
According to Psychology Today, validation involves conveying acceptance, and recognizing that the person’s thoughts/feelings/reactions are understandable. It also serves to communicate that the relationship is important. It doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing or approving, something I think is a major stumbling block for people who aren’t very familiar with the idea of emotional validation.
Levels of validation
The developer of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan, identified six levels of validation, with the level called for varying depending on the situation:
- Being fully present
- Accurate reflection from a non-judgmental stance
- Mind-reading: unlike the cognitive distortion that’s also called mind-reading, this involves trying to read the person’s behaviour and imagining what they could be feeling/thinking, and then checking for understanding
- Understand the person’s behaviour on the basis of their history and biology
- Normalizing the person’s emotional experiencce
- Radical genuineness, accepting the person how they are while seeing their struggles and pain
Effects of invalidation
Psychology Today explains that invalidation happens when “a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged”. This creates emotional distance in relationships, and self-invalidation makes it difficult to construct one’s own identity. People are more likely to be able to acknowledge when they are self-invalidating as opposed to invalidating others.
Emotional invalidation may contribute to the development of emotional disorders. According to an article on Very Well Mind, Marsha Linehan proposed that when children with a biological predisposition to intense emotions have those emotional experiences invalidated by caregivers, they may be prone to developing borderline personality disorder.
How invalidation occurs
A doctoral dissertation I came across on emotional invalidation proposed a 3-step process:
- Invalidating behaviour: consisting of minimizing, ignoring, blaming, or neglecting
- Perceived invalidation: the person interprets that their feelings are unimportant, inconsequential, incorrect, or incompetent
- Emotional invalidation
From this perspective, invalidating behaviour may not lead to a subjective sense of being invalidated depending on how the individual responds.
People may be invalidating in a variety of different ways. They may mistakenly assume that they can’t validate if they don’t agree with whatever it is the other person is expressing. They may want to try to fix your problems, or lie trying to avoid hurting your feelings. More overtly harmful ways of invalidating including blaming, minimizing, judging, or denying.
My own experience
I was lucky in that I grew up in a very validating environment. I’ve become a lot more sensitive to invalidation after the workplace bullying I experienced a couple of years ago. The overt invalidation directly related to the bullying was bad enough, but I also struggled a great deal with the people who supposedly supported me being very invalidating, albeit in a very well-intentioned way. It probably would never have crossed their mind that “It’s not that bad” or “Everything will be ok” would be invalidating, but it was. My psychiatrist at the time was invalidating in much the same way.
I ended up with this mass forced exodus of people out of my life, and that fear of invalidation is a big part of why I don’t want to let people back in.
What role has validation or invalidation played in your life?
- Elzy, M.B. (2013). Emotional Invalidation: An investigation into its definition, measurement, and effects. Doctoral dissertation.
- Psychology Today
- Very Well Mind
The Psychology Corner page includes an index of the terms that have been covered in the What Is… (Insights into Psychology) series, as well as a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.