What Is… Invalidation

invalidation: behaviour, perceived invalidation, and emotional invalidation

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms. This week’s term is invalidation.

Validation conveys acceptance, along with a recognition that someone’s thoughts, feelings, or 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 concept.

Levels of validation

The developer of dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan, identified six levels of validation that may be called for 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 someone’s emotional experience
  • Radical genuineness, accepting the person how they are while seeing their struggles and pain

Effects of invalidation

Invalidation occurs when thoughts, feelings, or reactions are rejected or dismissed. This creates increased emotional distance in relationships.

Invalidation may also happen within the self, due to judgments of parts of the self or one’s inner experiences. This can interfere with identity construction. 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. DBT creator Marsha Linehan proposed that borderline personality disorder is likely to arise when children with a biological predisposition to intense emotions have those emotional experiences invalidated by caregivers.

Taken to greater extremes, invalidation can play a role in emotional abuse, where the abused individual may be treated as if their very existence is not valid.

How invalidation occurs

One researcher described emotional invalidation as a 3-step process:

  1. Invalidating behaviour: consisting of minimizing, ignoring, blaming, or neglecting
  2. Perceived invalidation: the person interprets that their feelings are unimportant, inconsequential, incorrect, or incompetent
  3. Emotional invalidation

From this perspective, invalidating behaviour doesn’t automatically produce a subjective sense of being invalidated.

Invalidation can arise from a number of potential motivations. Someone may mistakenly assume that validation would require agreeing with something problematic that another person is expressing. They may have a desire to fix the other person’s problems, or they may be trying to avoid hurting their feelings.

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 a mass forced exodus of people out of my life.

What role has validation or invalidation played in your life?


You may also be interested in the post Normalizing Mental Illness Symptoms: The Good & Bad Ways.

The Psychology Corner: Insights into psychology and psychological tests

The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.

Ashley L. Peterson headshot

Ashley L. Peterson


Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.

25 thoughts on “What Is… Invalidation”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. It would make such a difference to so many people if correct validation was used. If we break it right down, it’s just recognising someones feelings and giving them permission to have them. I mean, it doesn’t sound overly tricky.

    Invalidation for me has been a constant within my life. It’s what, I believe, has led to me being so naturally defensive as I’ve never been heard and I’ve always had to defend what I feel. It’s better now and I have to constantly work on my own reactions, but there’s something particularly soul crushing about spending your life not being taken seriously and just being called sensitive.

  2. Thank you for this piece. It’s my first time seeing Marsha Linehan’s levels of validation, which I really liked.

    Invalidation for me was probably most present as a child or teen with big emotions. During those years I got a lot of “you’re just being too sensitive” or “get over it already” or “you’re such a drama queen”. The things we are told as children really stick with us. On the flip side, I get wonderful validation now from my supportive group of friends and my husband who really get it. Feeling validated helps me feel less isolated, alone and misunderstood. Minimizing those feelings is a major protective factor for me.

  3. Validation has been huge in my healing journey. There is something about hearing that you are okay, you are believed, and other people also feel the way you feel, that makes it a lot easier to accept what happened and sit with the feelings and emotions.

  4. I really enjoyed this.

    The first time I felt “heard” and validated was with my first psychiatrist in 2008. I was 28 years old. Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever really experienced that before in my life. It helped me to grow as a person.

    I now have providers and other people in my life that validate and listen and accept me for who I am, and it is amazing.

  5. This was a great read and explains a lot for me. Invalidation played a huge part in why the relationship with the mother of my son fell apart a few months ago. When we saw something differently, she always used to say that I just wanted her to agree with me all the time but that wasn’t it. I wish I could have been able to explain what it was. I always felt like my thoughts, feelings and opinions were totally invalid and it made me very defensive as well as bottling a lot of stuff up because I felt I wasn’t able to express myself. Unfortunately, that sometimes manifested itself down the line in the form of anger. I feel like this links a lot to empathy. My ex-partner was never able to accept that sometimes, you don’t necessarily need to really understand why someone is upset about a certain situation – you just need to accept that they are upset and need your validation whether you ‘agree’ or not. And people don’t necessarily need you to try and offer a solution or a fix – just validation.
    This whole subject has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently so I’m really glad to have seen this post. A lot of this hits home pretty hard but that’s a good thing because it means that my feelings about it are…well, validated!
    This should be taught in schools or something. More people need to know about this.

  6. It’s been a fair old time since I posted. I guess because I’ve mostly been keeping it together a lot more recently. Of course there’s still ups and downs but, in general, I’m able to keep them in check. It doesn’t mean I’ve strayed from the blogosphere altogether, though. I’m still reading a lot of stuff and picking things up all the time and I just came across this fantastic post about validation. It’s perfect.

  7. Interesting. Makes me aware of so much more now. Generally I am sensitive to others more so than the other way around. I think people think I’m “nice” and therefore they can treat me any which way and I’ll be okay. This is a form of invalidation. I’ve learn like you said later in the post, to create a mass exodus, albeit forced exodus of people in my life over the years.

  8. I agree that people jumping in too quickly (or only) with reassurance can feel quite invalidating. I know that what I want is for them to first of all acknowledge my pain or that my situatiuon sucks, and only then focus on optimism for the future or my strengths or whatever. I reckon that getting the balance right between those two steps is one of the hallmarks of a good therapist or a good friend.

  9. Validation…my friends, church and my therapists. I had a pretty rough childhood, so validation seemed out of reach for me, especially from myself. It’s funny that it was only till after two years after my diagnosis a couple years ago, I was able to make better friendships, because I had to learn to validate myself all over again after my discovering my disorders. So it’s been one nice cycle. 😀

  10. Thanks for writing this, Ashley. This topic keeps coming up for me. It’s come up quite a bit in my therapy in the past couple of years. I also read a great book last summer in which validation was a major subtopic (I’m mustering the gumption to review the book on my blog, so more on that later). Also, my sister has in the past few months had some sort of major values shift which has resulted in her going around validating everybody in her life, including me, and I must say it’s been quite beautiful to watch and it feels really, well, validating. 🙂

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