If you have ever felt invalidated, you will likely know what feeling invisible is like. I don’t believe people set out to invalidate us, they likely have good intentions, but the result is invalidation. And with this invalidation comes the feeling of worthlessness and being overlooked.
If you know what it is like to have your feelings rejected and disregarded, you have already experienced being invalidated. It’s one thing to experience it firsthand ourselves; it’s another thing to recognize when our behaviors and words invalidate others. Luckily we can learn to change our ways to help others feel valid and relevant in our company.
This article will outline what it feels like to be invalidated and the consequences of invalidating someone’s feelings. We will suggest five tips to help stop you from invalidating others.
What does it feel like to be invalidated?
When we feel validated, we perceive our feelings and thoughts as accepted and recognized as relevant and understandable. We feel seen and heard, and our associated feelings of worth are high.
The opposite is true when we feel invalidated. The process of invalidation leaves us feeling dismissed, unheard, and overlooked.
As a child, I experienced regular invalidation. I still struggle with this now. I don’t feel accepted for who I am and feel like I’m forever at loggerheads trying to stake a claim on my feelings with some people. It’s triggering to express a feeling and be told that’s not actually how you feel!
I wasn’t asked how I felt; instead, I was told how I should feel. And anytime my feelings deviated from the expected, I was redirected. Being invalidated taught me to betray my instincts.
Interestingly, my experiences are consistent with the results from this study which shows that invalidation can have a detrimental effect on our efficiency in managing our own emotions and behaviors and can increase the rate of suicide and self-mutilation.
What are the consequences of invalidating someone’s feelings?
Invalidating someone’s feelings has grave consequences. The burden of regularly feeling worthless and invalid is often derived from our childhood experiences. Children who have their feelings ignored, minimized, overlooked, ridiculed, or punished are likely to grow up with a deep-rooted sense of invalidation.
Invalidating others can have a traumatic effect.
According to this study, children who grow up with their inner experiences being invalidated are at a higher risk of developing borderline personality disorder.
Regular invalidation can cause us to question our place in the world and our sense of belonging. It can lead to existential insecurity and taint our well-being, psychology, and happiness.
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5 ways to not invalidate someone’s feelings
It doesn’t matter who we speak with, whether a friend, partner, child, colleague, or stranger; our words can validate or invalidate.
Often we invalidate others without even realizing it. We can all learn to improve by ensuring those around us feel validated.
Here are our top five ways to ensure those around you don’t feel invalidated.
1. Beware of the suffering Olympics
I first learned the term “suffering Olympics” during the pandemic. It’s similar to one-upmanship and is a gross form of invalidation.
When someone expresses that they are tired, stressed, or worried about something, be careful you don’t play the suffering Olympics with them and immediately express how you are more tired, stressed, or worried!
As someone without children, I’ve heard this from some parents as well “How can you possibly be tired? You don’t know what tired is until you have children.” It’s demeaning, invisible, and wholly unnecessary. Not to mention being short-sighted and small-minded, as having children is not the only life experience that can cause exhaustion.
Life is not a competition on who is suffering more. You can feel exhausted and validate a friend who says they are tired without making it about you.
So, instead of competing with someone’s suffering next time, why not try to relate to them with something like, “Oh, that sucks; I understand how you feel.”
2. Develop your empathy levels
You don’t need to have experienced what someone else is experiencing to show compassion. A mistake I see many people make is when they don’t understand something or wouldn’t feel the same in a similar situation; they minimize the feelings of others.
The death of my dog devastated me and changed me as a person. Some people around me minimized my grief and couldn’t find it within themselves to show empathy.
Empathy allows us to recognize and accept the feelings and emotions of another. It is free from judgment and is a vital way to connect with others. Check out our article with seven valuable tips to learn to be more empathetic.
3. Beware of making others wrong
There is no one way to be human. If someone expresses feelings you would not experience in a particular situation, this doesn’t mean they are wrong.
As a child, I was regularly told I was “too sensitive” or “silly” if I vocalized how I felt about mean words said to me by my siblings. Instead of being listened to and reassured, it was inferred that I was the problem lay with me.
When you make others wrong for their feelings, they will clam up and stop seeing you as a safe person to open up to.
Try not to contest how someone feels or expect them to change immediately. Instead, you can use your empathy skills and say, “It’s ok to feel like that; this will pass.” This compassion shows an excellent acceptance that doesn’t undermine or belittle.
4. Beware of minimization through comparison
Life doesn’t taste the same for everyone; we all perceive the different flavors differently, and as soon as we expect everyone to be uniform, we invite a disconnection.
One of my friends is still struggling after her divorce. While another, who is in a similar position, is empowered and full of vitality. Neither is wrong or right; they are each on a personal journey. But if I were to compare the friend who is struggling with the friend who is thriving, I would cause a tremendous amount of emotional damage.
There is no set time scale for grief!
Theodore Roosevelt’s words, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” have stood the test of time. Comparison is one sure way to minimize feelings and induce shame or guilt.
5. Listen without the need to fix
I used to be guilty of trying to fix everything. Friends approached me with problems; instead of listening, I offered solutions. But experiencing the same communication from my partner, I realized how frustrating it is. I didn’t feel seen or heard; it was as if he was minimizing my feelings and condescending to me with solutions.
Next time a friend or partner comes to you to offload on something, ask them this vital question:
“Are you looking for me just to listen, or are you seeking solutions.” This way, you can make sure you support them in the way they will most benefit from where they are at that moment.
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As soon as you learn to validate the feelings of others, you will experience a deeper connection. They will feel safer in your company, and you will feel less judgment and resistance bubbling up in your mind.
Take note of our five tips to help make sure you don’t invalidate someone’s feelings:
- Beware of the suffering Olympics.
- Develop your empathy levels.
- Beware of making others wrong.
- Beware of minimization through comparison.
- Listen without the need to fix.
What do you do to ensure you don’t invalidate someone’s feelings? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!