The Consequences of Emotional Invalidation

Invalidation consists of a silent kind of damage we cause each other. It's silent because we often do it unconsciously. Or, we don't notice it when others do it to us.
The Consequences of Emotional Invalidation

Written by Elena Sanz

Last update: 15 November, 2022

How do you feel about sharing with those around you your current emotions? Do you think you’d be understood or misunderstood? If you feel the latter is more likely, you may be a victim of emotional invalidation. It’s a trap we’ve all fallen into at some time or another. However, it has extremely harmful consequences.

Validating an emotion, whether in the first or third person, consists of giving it space and allowing it to be. It means acknowledging that its presence makes sense in the current circumstances and that it fulfills a valuable function.

From this perspective, you can relate to everything you feel. You should also receive the same respect and acceptance from those with whom you share your feelings. Nevertheless, this often doesn’t happen and others urge you to repress, hide, or change your emotions.

Emotional invalidation

Emotional invalidation occurs when someone minimizes or dismisses their own or another person’s emotions. The invalidator sees these emotions as incomprehensible, unfounded, or worthy of little consideration. This is usually because they believe they derive from an unimportant problem or one that’s either improbable or easily resolved. It’s the kind of attitude that makes empathy impossible. Furthermore, it means it’s really difficult for the individual to provide any kind of effective emotional help.

It often happens when you express negative emotions. You may have difficulty dealing with the discomfort of others. Perhaps their feelings make you uncomfortable or overwhelm you and you don’t know what to do with them, so you choose to invalidate them. However, it can also occur in the face of positive emotions. It’s seen in adults who reprimand children for being openly enthusiastic.

Here are some phrases that illustrate emotional invalidation:

  • “What are you worried about that for? It’s no big deal”.
  • “You have to be strong”.
  • “What’s the problem? Nothing happened”.
  • “I’ve been through far worse”.
  • “Stop beating around the bush. Be more proactive”.
  • “You’re just being over the top and dramatic” or “You’re just looking for attention”.
  • “Stop being so miserable, let’s go out and have fun”.

Almost all of us have said these kinds of phrases at some point without the intention of hurting the other person, simply because we don’t know what else to say. For example, when a child falls over, you might tell them “It’s okay, everything’s alright” as you’re trying to prevent them from crying. However, in reality, everything isn’t alright. They’ve fallen and possibly hurt themselves or they may be scared. Therefore, although your intention is good, by treating the situation in this way, you’re not going down the right route.

Sad woman
Continuous emotional invalidation leads to self-doubt.

The consequences of emotional invalidation

The greatest impact occurs when we suffer emotional invalidation from our parents and primary caregivers in childhood. Moreover, subsequent relationships (friendships, partners, romances) can also deeply damage us when they invalidate us. If you’re a victim of emotional invalidation, here are the consequences.

You haven’t learned to regulate your emotions

We’re not born knowing how to manage our own moods. It’s a skill that we acquire as we mature, thanks to the example and guidance of the adults around us. Nevertheless, if you grew up with parents who constantly invalidated what you felt, you won’t have learned how to accept, feel, express, and regulate these emotional states.

Consequently, it’s easier for you to feel overwhelmed and display inappropriate reactions. As a matter of fact, research has proved that perceived emotional invalidation in childhood is related to borderline personality disorder.

You constantly doubt yourself

Emotions are a natural compass. They tell you in what direction to move based on what you feel. For example, they allow you to identify what you like, what scares you, hurts you or motivates you. However,, when they invalidate you, they lead you to disconnect from your emotions and their messages.

They make you believe that what you feel is always wrong or inadequate. Therefore, you can’t take them as a guide. As a consequence, you end up not knowing who you are or what you want, because you’re constantly doubting yourself.

You experience shame when connecting with others

As a human being, you need attention and an emotional connection with other people. But when they invalidate you, they make you feel ridiculed for having the need to share. You feel that having emotions and expressing them, and wanting others to understand your feelings, is something to be ashamed of.

Thus, it’s likely that you’ll withdraw and hide your internal states. This will make it really difficult for you to create healthy and deep relationships.

You have trouble developing empathy

If you’ve received this kind of treatment from your childhood, you may have difficulty developing empathy, since you haven’t received it. You’ll end up doing the same to others because it’s the response you’ve learned.

You’ve been deprived of important learning

All of your emotions fulfill a function and you learn from them. For example, anger urges you to defend yourself, sadness to take care of yourself, and fear to be cautious. These signals are fundamental to your personal development. However, if you’ve disconnected yourself from your feelings, you won’t know how to react appropriately in different contexts and you’ll be more likely to make mistakes with yourself and with others.

For the same reason, it might be really difficult for you to make decisions and you’ll tend to overthink. That’s because you don’t allow yourself to pay attention to what your emotions are telling you.

Your relationships become difficult

Finally, the consequences of emotional invalidation affect both parties concerned. Naturally, nobody likes to feel alone, misunderstood, or ridiculed by others. Thus, others will end up moving away or generating strong resentment toward you if you’re not capable of empathizing, connecting, and accepting their emotions when they express them.

angry couple
Misunderstanding and resentment in couple relationships often derive from experiences of emotional invalidation.

How to move away from emotional invalidation

Growing up in a healthy family environment, with a respectful upbringing means it’s easy to detect when we’re being invalidated and we can set boundaries. On the other hand, if you grew up with emotional invalidation as the norm, it may be difficult for you to detect how it’s affecting you.

If you’re in this kind of situation, you must reflect on your relationships and try to identify if you’re receiving (and offering) empathy, respect, and validation. If not, it’s time to implement some changes in this regard. Doing so will not only improve your mood and confidence, but your relationships will also become more nurturing and satisfying.

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