August 15

Emotional Invalidation-The First Deadly Sin and 5 Ways to Stop It



Emotional Invalidation-The First Deadly Sin and 5 Ways to Stop It


What Is Emotional Invalidation?

Emotional invalidation works like this:

You are having an emotional moment. Your best friend is with you and, in response to your feelings, says one of these things:

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Deal with it.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense to feel that way.”

“Why are you making such a big deal over it?”

“You shouldn’t let it bother you.”

If you have led a normal life, this has happened to you thousands of times. You have been emotionally invalidated. It happens all of the time to everyone. It is, in my subjective opinion, one of the root causes of relationship conflicts, trauma-induced mental illness, and violence.

When Does Emotional Invalidation Occur?

Emotional invalidation occurs whenever:

  • We are told we shouldn’t feel the way we feel.
  • We are dictated not to feel the way we feel.
  • We are told we are too sensitive, too “dramatic,” or we are “high maintenance.”
  • We are ignored.
  • We are judged.
  • We are led to believe there is something wrong with us for feeling how we feel.

In essence, those who think they are trying to help us are actually causing us deep psychic damage.

As human beings, we are 98% emotional and 2% rational. Every decision, every behavior, and every motivation we experience is driven by our emotions. And yet, our culture says that raw emotions are bad. Worse, if we are in a deeply emotional experience, we are called irrational, crazy, menstrual, bitchy, and worse. The effect is to deny us that which makes us human.

Emotional invalidation is everywhere. Once you become aware of it, you will see it between parents and even very small children, between friends, at the dinner table, at parties, and at work. If you watch closely, you will see the person being invalidated flinch, withdraw, or become defensive. It is not pleasant. It is abusive, and it occurs outside of most people’s consciousness. Most individuals don’t know that they are causing harm.

Consider this exchange as a common example.

A three year boy is crying because he skinned his elbow falling off his tricycle. Dad says sternly, “Hey, be a man. Stop crying and don’t be a sissy!” What is lesson to the three year-old. First, emotions are bad. Second, if he has emotions, he has to stuff them if he wants to be loved. Third, if he wants to be tough and strong like Dad, he can’t allow myself to feel anything.

Fast forward 14 years. Assuming the lesson has been repeated over and over, what kind of relationship training does that young man have for dealing with emotionality of his first relationships with a girl? None, of course. He will feel emotions, be afraid of them, and repress them. The girl that was interested in him will find him cold, aloof, and emotionally unavailable. End of relationship. This pattern repeats itself in adulthood, leading to Dad, the three year old 20 years ago, now telling his boy to man up and stop being a sissy.

I’ve been focusing on men. The same is true for women. Everyone is emotionally abused this way.

Five Ways to Stop Emotional Invalidation

The good news is that you can stop the cycle. Here’s how:

Step One: Learn to recognize emotional invalidation in all of its insidious forms. Any time someone around you is emotional, watch the reactions and responses of others. Any response that diminishes, puts people down, is judgmental, gives unwanted advice, tells people how to feel or not to feel, or passes off the situation with a trivializing cliché is engaging in emotional invalidation.

Step Two: Watch your own responses when you are around emotional people. Do you become anxious? Are you uncomfortable? Nervous? These are normal reactions to strong emotions so don’t deny them.

Step Three: Accept your own anxieties as natural and normal.

Step Four: Resist soothing yourself by emotionally invalidating others.

Step Five: Learn how to listen and affirm the emotional experiences of others. This is the single most powerful skill you can develop.

As you break the cycle of emotional invalidation, you will find that you will be more self-aware, less critical, and more compassionate. These are good things that will change your life in many, many positive ways.

  • Hi Rodney, Great to hear from you. Yep, continuous learning and curiosity is the name of the game in mediation. Keep up your great work. Doug

  • I appreciate your insight and have found it helpful since I first attended a presentation you gave at the Florida DRC- in a martial arts uniform! I continue to be a fan. Although I have what most would consider a successful mediation practice, I feel as if what I have achieved is nothing compared to the potential locked in my brain and I have yet to find the key. It’s frustrating, like having a word on the tip of your tongue. Nothing to do but keep learning, reflecting, practicing and trying. Thanks so much for share what you have learned. It’s very helpful.

  • … so good to hear from you today, Doug … yes, on this subject, again, how our current world media can make our children spin out of control … hyper driven commercial interests that drive children into Attention Deficit Disorder, along with that, the old biblical saying that parents are not to ‘frustrate’ their children; that is to say, not to hold out a double standard before them, saying & doing, thus living in contraditions …
    … living life in grace, truth, honesty, transparency, & fab communication with children is the optimal best to develop their self discovery, esteem & mastery of buffering themselves from the onslaught of those who would want to master them negatively from thieving them of their attention, promote hyper consumerism, to feeding them substandard food …all of this is correctable, with the most important aspect of coaching parents to realize what family life could really be, & was meant to be … & that they can champion a wonderful family life, in spite of the odds or circumstances …
    * A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!
    * A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.
    * joy

    Proverbs 12:14
    A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth: and the recompence of a man’s hands shall be rendered unto him.

    *** Today, I certainly enjoyed your Youtube talk on Empathy Healer & Mediator; yes, words can heal, too, like the balm of Gilead; annointing & healing of even the most grievous of wounds… yes, ‘you’ll shout when it hit’s you, yes, indeed’ (that old gospel song lyrics) … instantly, I realized I’ve found my Purpose … this is it, I have arrived …

  • Thanks for your comment Penny. The advice to let a baby cry is about as abusive as it can get and shows the depth of ignorance of developmental neuroscience.

  • … well, in the sage advice of Andrew Henderson; advisor to the uber wealthy to ‘Go Where You’re Treated Best’ ; giving brilliant advice on becoming a global citizen, while not necessarily abandoning your primary Country of Birth; but definitely coaching on how-to sever the umbilical cord thereof, by way of relinquishing a Citizenship &/or adopting a new one … a metaphor of this may be for those of us, who felt in mid-childhood that you should pack your bags & leave with your saved Allowance & Newspaper Delivery money; no, no severance pay … or you should have been born with briefcase in hand to mediate the family constellation pro bono… anyways, I was born 4 lbs. 10 oz. & apparently Dad carried me around on a pillow … the late Anthony Bourdain in his memior ~ career retrospective as a world renowned Food Celebrity; book title: Medium Raw; is a wonderful entertaining read; but, floridly descriptive in his horrible flagrant swearing, making a appearance on every page, which is the outfall of being raised on too much ‘rock n’ roll’; (his father was an executive @ Columbia Records); his rhetoric makes you cringe every second paragraph, like skips on an old vinyl record, you have to navigate this highly entertaining volume like a mine-field … he does describe his first memory of exiting mother’s womb, in excrutiating pain in ‘forced entry training mode’; eventually out into the light of Day … which, appeared ‘at the end of the tunnel as of ancient painted cave … yes, life can put the squeeze on you, right from the get-go … nevertheless, emotional invalidation can sometimes be medically advised, like the recent contemporary parental ‘trend’, to not respond to your infants crying … ‘oh, let them cry, it will toughen them up for experiencing the world’ … can you believe this from the medical community? … have they never heard the whimper of a puppy separated from it’s mother, left alone in the dark?, or a lost kitten meowing in the wilderness? … or a tiny bird cheeping out in distress having been caught in brambles … we must be first responders to life; with compassion reaction, rather than stultifying ignorance, reactive mind responses, … yes, it is time for humankind to exit their ancient painted caves & come out into the Light of Day, to achieve emotional competency, to embrace & be embraced by Life … to navigate with relaxed confidence through the quiet waters as well as the rocky shoals … of the Sea Change of Life … ‘Blessed be the PeaceMakers, for they shall be called the Children of God’ …

  • Emotional competence is a state where we try telling the other person to behave in a certain manner while he is in stress. This gives a negative signal to the person & he starts doubting himself & tends to move away from his natural behavior. Eg: When a man cries, people often make a statement ” Men don’t cry”, this statement leads to people to wrong path & wrong understanding.

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    About the Author

    Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA left a successful career as a trial lawyer to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts.


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