Invalidating Parents Increase the Risk of Mental Disorders in Their Children

Parents who invalidate their children's emotions, and who criticize and hinder the construction of their identities are often the origin of the appearance of highly disabling clinical conditions, such as borderline personality disorder in adulthood.
Invalidating Parents Increase the Risk of Mental Disorders in Their Children
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 07 February, 2023

There are many privileges in life and they’re not all financial. As a matter of fact, one of the most important involves the emotional realm. It’s the fact that growing up in a family setting in which parents constantly provide security, affection, and validation to their children is the greatest of gifts. It’s a way, not only of making children happy but also of protecting their mental health.

However, in reality, this psycho-emotional nutrition should be an obligation and not a privilege. That said, there are many times when a certain lack of care is observed, and gaps and alterations in the relationship leave serious consequences. So much so that parental invalidation is related to the subsequent development of more than one psychological problem.

Any explicit rejection of the events and experiences in the life of a child is an extremely intense source of psychological anguish for them. It means their sense of self and identity is distorted. Moreover, they’re made to believe that many of their needs are wrong or defective. No one should grow up in the midst of these dynamics. In fact, parenting based on secure attachment and correct emotional attention is a right that every child should receive.

The most common way in which parents emotionally invalidate their children is by telling them things like “Don’t be silly. It’s nothing”.

scene to understand the parents who invalidate
In our interactions with children, we tend to invalidate their emotions many times without realizing it.

Parents who invalidate and how they do it

Emotional invalidation is the mechanism that one individual exercises over another through rejection, minimization, or explicit manipulation of their feelings. Sadly, it’s a dynamic that often appears in many of our relationships with others, be it in the family, relational, or even friendship sphere.

However, in no type of relationship is emotional validation so important as in the upbringing and education of children. Recognizing their needs, emotions, and feelings without judging or criticizing them favors their psycho-emotional development. Also, their identity. Indeed, it’s by feeling valued and understood, that they manage to have a presence in the world.

Unsurprisingly, having invalidating parents is the origin of multiple mental disorders. For example, a study conducted by the University of Washington (USA) highlights how family invalidation is related to the appearance of self-harm in adolescence. In addition, in recent years, more research has been conducted on further consequences of parental invalidation.

First, we’ll explain how the parental invalidation mechanism is produced.

Any child exposed to a crippling environment will feel punished for certain of their emotional realities that are entirely normal and respectable.

Punitive punishment for expressing their needs

Being afraid, feeling anxious, worried, and demanding attention… Children express their needs through behaviors that can sometimes exhaust their parents. But, if we don’t understand what lies behind our children’s behavior, we’ll be invalidating them, neglecting them, and denying them the most appropriate response in each situation.

Many caregivers opt for punishment, for a yell that paralyzes the child. Or, in the worst cases, a smack. However, it must be remembered that physical punishment that seeks to control negative behavior has serious consequences. In fact, far from solving anything, education based on fear and pain intensifies feelings of anxiety and guilt.

Minimizing: what they feel isn’t important

The minimization technique is the most common resource used by invalidating parents. In fact, adults who were brought up by these kinds of parents often remember certain of their phrases, comments, or attitudes. In effect, these parents dismiss the emotion that their children feel at any given moment, underestimating it without addressing the issue that lies behind it.

The “Don’t cry, it’s nothing”, “Don’t get mad because it doesn’t matter”, “It’s only a toy, it’ doesn’t matter that it’s lost” or even “Don’t be sad about it, there are far more serious things in life ” are ways of annihilating the psycho-emotional experience of any child. Not giving importance to and dismissing what they feel makes them believe that their emotions and problems are irrelevant.

Emotional gaslighting

The practice of parental gaslighting means consciously altering what the child feels in order to gain power over them. In this case, their emotions aren’t only invalidated, but also distorted, making them believe that there’s something wrong with them.

They’re led to believe that the way they behave or react is wrong. Here are some examples of this phenomenon:

  • You’re a really sensitive and weak child.
  • You’re always overreacting. It’s impossible to live with you.
  • You’re not hungry, you’re tired.
  • You’ve got nothing to be angry about, you’re just bored.
  • Shut up. You’ve got nothing to cry about, you’re just spoilt. 

Experts have found that parental invalidation is related to borderline personality disorder.

Daughter angry with her mother, an example of parents who invalidate
Sometimes, even when their children have reached adulthood, parents continue to invalidate them.

Borderline personality disorder and invalidating families

In a recent study conducted by Dr. Stephanie Lee and her colleagues at the National University of Singapore, they stated that invalidating parents are the cause of many cases of borderline personality disorder. The data confirmed, once again, how this condition is always linked to traumatic events that occurred in childhood.

The researchers claimed that borderline personality disorder is better understood from a biosocial model. They affirmed that growing up in a disabling social environment can be devastating. However, if the child also exhibits greater impulsiveness and emotional vulnerability from an early age, the risk of it developing into a mental problem arises.

In essence, it reminds us how decisive it is that parents know how to guide their children in every emotional challenge. We know that raising a child is no easy task. But, promoting a childhood based on security and attention to a child’s every need builds a solid foundation on which they can build the adult they’re to become.

Therefore, parents must ensure that they emotionally validate their children to ensure they reach a happier maturity, or are, at least, prepared to face each vital challenge in their lives.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Adrian M, Berk MS, Korslund K, Whitlock K, McCauley E, Linehan M. Parental Validation and Invalidation Predict Adolescent Self-Harm. Prof Psychol Res Pr. 2018 Aug;49(4):274-281. doi: 10.1037/pro0000200. PMID: 30906109; PMCID: PMC6424515.
  • Lee, S. S. M., Keng, S.-L., Yeo, G. C., & Hong, R. Y. (2022). Parental invalidation and its associations with borderline personality disorder symptoms: A multivariate meta-analysis. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 13(6), 572-582.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.