Self-Invalidation: When your own feelings don’t matter to yourself
Validating someone’s feelings is not a difficult task to do. It is about acknowledging their emotions and showing an understanding for their current emotional state. It doesn’t mean that how they express those feelings is okay. All it means is saying: this is what you are feeling right now, and I acknowledge it. Of course there is empathy connected to it as well. Showing compassion for what someone is experiencing, showing kindness if they are struggling. Validation of emotions is at the core of every functioning human connection. We are linked through our feelings, because you know what? We all experience exactly the same emotions, it is only in the intensity the experience differs.
Small cues like “I hear you”, or “I can understand that you feel that way”, or “That must be so overwhelming for you”, they are not difficult to express! A smile, a hug, a pat on the shoulder. Allowing someone to express their feelings verbally, allowing them to be human. It is extremely powerful to give another person that kind of attention. There is of a difference between validating feelings, and validating behaviour. You can acknowledge someone’s anger and tell them that it is okay to feel that way. But is it okay to yell? Or to be passive-aggressive? Or to throw things? No. Feelings are not behaviour, they can fuel each other but they are not the same thing.
Right. But what is invalidation? It is the opposite of validation. Invalidation means that you disregard someone’s feelings, that you make someone feel bad about their emotional experience, that you do not acknowledge nor accept what they feel. “What you feel is wrong”, “you are just weak”, “you are stupid to feel that way”, all those are invalidating statements. Someone rolling their eyes at you, someone laughing at you when you are crying, someone raising their voice to not allow you to speak about your emotional experiences.
Feeling invalidated is extremely painful. It makes you feel unimportant, less than human, worthless and like what you feel is not okay. A lot of times, invalidation is linked to gaslighting and manipulation, because it decreases someone’s confidence and belief in their own experiences.
Self-Validation and Self-Invalidation
We can validate or invalidate other people’s emotions and emotional experiences. But there is another dimension to this, that is self-validation and self-invalidation. Self-validation has a lot to do with acceptance, and is often mentioned in the same breath as mindfulness. Self-invalidation, on the other hand, is often linked to low self-esteem, low self-confidence and mental health issues like anxiety, depression, trauma – related illness and personality disorders.
When you are not feeling well, you begin to question everything about yourself. And that very much includes your own emotions. We might feel weak, stupid, crazy or like a drama queen because we are experiencing feelings more intense than others, or even dare to experience them at all.
I invalidate my own feelings
I am a trained active listener. I have worked as a volunteer in the mental health sector for years. I know exactly what to say to make someone feel validated, to make them feel heard, to empathize with them. I also know what to avoid to say. And I know that there is a huge difference between validation of feelings and validation of behaviour. I know that all feelings are okay to experience, there is never anything wrong with feeling anything. It is human and everyone has feelings, I FUCKING KNOW THOSE THINGS.
I would never invalidate another person’s emotional experience. I know how much it hurts when someone just tells you to get your shit together, or to suck it up. It hurts. I would never do that to another human being. I want everyone to feel emotionally supported, to know that what they are experiencing doesn’t make them less of a human. EVERYONE BUT MY FUCKING SELF.
I know the theory and I believe in it. I apply to in all my interactions and I love seeing that others feel safe being vulnerable with me because I would never invalidate them. But I don’t feel safe with myself. Whatever I seem to be able to apply to others, I can’t apply to myself. I just can’t go into the mode where I accept my own feelings or validate them. I logically know that whatever I am feeling, is okay to feel. It doesn’t make me bad, nor weak, to feel a certain way. But emotionally, when I am doing unwell? My emotional logic is not to be trusted.
Why do I do that?
For me, that is closely linked to my trauma, but also to the constant anxiety that I experience. I can’t get out of that conditioned mindspace, a mindspace that has learnt that what I feel is not important and that any expression of emotions gets punished, invalidated, made fun of or gets denied. But my abuser(s) are not in my life anymore, so I shouldn’t be afraid to be vulnerable and to accept my own emotions. Well, that is what you might think. Unfortunately I seem to continue the work that my abuser(s) have started and invalidate my own emotions the moment I feel overwhelmed.
I assume that everyone sometimes feels stupid for a mistake that they have made. Or they feel weak because they weren’t able to stand up for themselves during a conflict. But that isn’t really an invalidation of one’s own emotions. That is more of an assessment of a behaviour or an action. What I am talking about goes deeper than that.
A lot of times, I don’t think my emotions are valid. I think that my emotional reactions to triggers are a sign of weakness. I think that my anxiety is a sign of stupidity. My hopelessness is a sign of laziness. My helplessness is just an excuse to not do anything. I apologize to others for feeling a certain way, all the time. I am sorry that I am sad right now. I am sorry that I am shaking because i am anxious.
When it comes to my emotions, I punish and degrade myself. I treat myself just the way my abuser(s) have done to me. I often feel like I don’t deserve to feel, and I definitely am not allowed to express how I am feeling. My invalidation of my own emotions is based on the premise that I am not worth as much as other people. That my feelings don’t matter, and that showing any kind of weakness is the first step to getting hurt. It can go as far as that I want to punish myself for feeling certain emotions, like anger or sadness. Anger in myself is the most difficult feeling for me to validate.
Cognitive Dissonance and a Conditioned Mind
I am well aware of the cognitive dissonance in all of this. I know that I am not different than any other human being, and therefore: my emotions matter just as much. My rational mind agrees with that. But my emotional mind seems to think that I am different from others, and therefore, my feelings can’t be validated.
Interestingly enough, acceptance is an issue for me in general. I often deny the scope of my trauma. I don’t like to face reality in a lot of ways. So it makes sense (see how I am validating myself here!) that I wouldn’t be able to emotionally grasp that my feelings matter and are okay to experience. Because that is not what my past has told me, and it doesn’t seem right.
Read a related post on how I am ashamed of who I am.