EQI - Emotional Intelligence - header image

Invalidation, p 2 p 1

That's Not How Things Are, Jessica

Don't Be

You're Just Being Stupid

I Don't Find She Is

Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself

There Are Other Things In Life Besides Relationships

An Invalidating Professor

Maybe It Isn't That Bad

Nothing To Be Depressed About

Melissa and Her Mother


Core Topics

Respect | Empathy
Caring | Listening

Free EQ for Everybody Book

That's Not How Things Are, Jessica.

One evening in Peru I started talking to two sisters. Jessica, age 14 and Odalis, age 27.

Jessica was talking about how it was not fair that her father punished her other sister, Fabiana, and made her come back home from school in Lima where she was happy studying psychology. She also was crying as she said her father will never understand her and she would rather talk to her dog than to her parents and she doesn't want to tell them anything anymore.

The older sister, Odalis, was sitting there with a cold look on her face while Jessica cried. When Jessica stopped talking, the first thing the sister said was "Las cosas no son asi, Jessica" - That's now how things are Jessica.

S. Hein
February 20, 2005
Pomocochas, Peru


Note, this is also a good example of a lack of understanding. It is not hard to imagine what Jessica would have said if we had asked her "Jessica, how much do you feel understood by your sister right now, from 0 to 10?"

Don't Be

Here is what I saw in an ad for a movie called "Jack and Bobby" (Kennedy). In the scene Bobby and his older brother were talking. Bobby looked about 12 years old at the time.

Bobby said, "I'm scared, Jack."

Jack replied, "Don't be."

S. Hein
Feb 24, 2005
Lima, Peru


Jack Kennedy was more commonly known as John F. Kennedy. He became president of the USA around 1960. He was later murdered. Bobby was his younger brother.

You're Just Being Stupid

Here is part of an email which was sent to me by a 13, almost 14 year old in England.

I can't do sport tomorrow. Mum pestered me till I told her what was wrong....She got angry at me when I said that I was just really worried about going to athletics! She said "Lea, you're just being stupid. Everyone has to do things they don't like...Stop being so selfish. You can't not do it. Get used to it!"

I felt quite hurt. So I said to her "That is the reason I didn't tell you. Because I knew you would get angry." Then she used the excuse that when she was in school she had to do it, and said that I shouldn't have so much self pity!!

This girl is suicidal. She self-harms regularly. She has thought seriously about running away. She has a very, very low self-esteem and has been convinced that she is stupid. But when we chat, it is obvious to me she is exceptionally smart.

This girl is being psychologically destroyed. And at this point in her life she is defending her mother, saying she is a "good mother." If she kills herself at some point in the future, we should not be surprised or ask "How could she do such a senseless thing?"

What is even worse, is that she goes to a very expensive, very elite, private school. But she has never been taught the meaning of the word "invalidation." And it is unlikely this word will ever be used at her school unless she herself introduces it. And it can be expected that if she were to use it, she would only get invalidated and dismissed by an insecure, defensive adult who would say something like, "Stop trying to act so smart." Or, "You are just looking for attention." In fact, when they found out at her school that she cuts, this is exactly what she was told."

Let's also remember that all of this is perfectly legal. No mother has ever been convicted of abuse for invalidating her teenage daughter, even to the point of daughter not wanting to hare anything with her and instead trying to keep everything inside until she can no longer stand the pain and pressure and then tries to kill herself to stop it. And I think it is fair to say that no teacher has ever been fired for invalidating an intelligent, sensitive young teenager.

I'll say again, if this girl kills herself, no one should be surprised.

S. Hein
April 22, 2005

I Don't Find She Is

I was just talking to someone. I said "Susan is a bit annoying". Then my friend said "I don't find she is."

When people say something like this we don't feel understood. We might start to debate with them but this imediately creates a conflict. Or we might just be silenced. We might just drop it. The other person then will never know why we felt annoyed by Susan. They miss out on a chance to get to know us. We also feel more alone in the world.

All these little things, these small interactions add up. A sensitive person will just stop sharing their feelings if they get too many of these kinds of responses.

Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself

Once, when living in Peru, I was trying to explain what the expression "Stop feeling sorry for yourself" means. I was writing about it because that is what a teen told me her mother and sister say to her when she feels depressed. (See convo)

In Spanish they say "Lo siento" when they say want to convey something like the feeling that we say when we say "I'm sorry." Translated literally it means "I feel it." To say "I feel sad" they say "Me siento triste." Sentir is what is called a reflexive verb in Spanish. So they say "Me siento..." "Te sientes" or "Se siente". Kind of like saying "I feel myself sad" or "You feel yourself sad."

So feeling sorry for yourself would be something like "Lo siento me siento". But this would make no sense in Spanish. To try to tell someone not to feel sorry for themselves would be kind of like telling them not to feel anything at all, or not to feel their own feelings. And really, this is what the message is in English, too. Don't feel anything for yourself. You don't matter. Your feelings don't matter.

PS - What they say a lot here in Peru a lot is "Don't be so egotistical." This is pretty much the same idea. It is telling you not to think about your own feelings or needs.

There are other things in life besides relationships

Here is part of an email I got after Laura left me. It is from someone who I have never met and had only written me once before, and obviously doesn't know me very well and hasn't read much, if anything, from my page on invalidation.

Everybody has to be happy, and sometimes even if we do not like it, we have to respect people's decisions. If she decided to go, then accept that and move on. There are other things in life besides relationshps.

To me it is almost incredible someone could say this. I feel sorry for this person. Not only do I feel invalidated but I feel almost totally not understood. Laura leaving me hurt me so much, and this part of the email shows zero empathy or understanding of how much the relationship meant to me. I feel sorry for the person that wrote it because she said "There are other things in life besides relationships."

I have lived long enough and suffered enough to know that relationships are far and away the most important thing in life. Especially a loving romantic relationship. Laura didn't realize how important love was. In her heart she knew it, but she was confused by what her culture taught her. Her culture taught her that degrees and jobs and houses and material things and "family", even it means an abusive mother, is important.

It is really almost incredible someone who doesn't even know me would be telling what do do. "..then accept that and move on." As if it were that easy. I hope that this person learns something about validation and invalidation before she has children.

Also, what is this about "Everybody has to be happy"? What does that mean? Does it mean I "have to be" happy? In other words I am obligated to be? Forced to be? How can you order someone to be happy and tell them "You have to be happy!"

There is a reason we feel pain. It is so we can know what is important, and so we can change things that need to be changed.

This person who wrote me, by the way, is also from a Latin American, country. She was taught that to help someone you give them advice. If she doesn't learn some new things she will most likely destroy any relationships she has in the future.

I feel really frustrated right now. I feel offended by what this person said. Laura was so important to me. She was the most important thing in my life. I went years looking for someone like her. I have felt suicidal since she left. I don't appreciate advice like this. I resent it. But I also feel frustrated that I can't change the person who wrote this email. I imagine she will feel defensive when she reads this, if she does. It would take too much work to try to teach this person not to invalidate people, and to change her misguided beliefs about what is important in life. It is probably too late for this person. But on the other hand I don't want to say that as if I don't think she can learn new things. Yet from this email it shows she has a long, long way to go. I can only offer her my site and wish her the best.

S. Hein
Dec 16, 2005

The Invalidating Professor

This is from a university professor's website. I am not sure of the true motive for the professor posting it but, I suspect part of the motivation was that he felt guilty about invalidating the student so he was trying to defend and justify himself, or we might say convince himself that what he did was ok. Clearly, though, it is very invalidating.

STUDENT: So you hated my essay, huh?

Professor: What do you mean, "hated it"? Where do you get that? You've got your essay right there--What did I say? Read me the first two words after your name, the first comment I made about it.

STUDENT: "Good essay."

Professor: Why would I say that about an essay I hated? If I had hated it, wouldn't I be more likely to say something like, "Lousy essay"?

STUDENT: Yeah, but you go on about all this stuff wrong with it...


A little more analysis of this...

This is another example of how someone can be very "educated," yet still lack emotional knowledge and skills. In this case the professor was also probably fairly insecure since he felt such a strong need to defend himself. His innate emotional intelligence, though, or what we might say in this case his "conscience," was still was sending him messages of discomfort what what he said to the student.


Maybe It Isn't That Bad

Once I felt very depressed about something. I called someone I knew. We met and she sat down next to me. I started telling her how sad I was. Before I was finished explaining why it I was so sad, she said "Maybe it isn't that bad..." Then she started talking.

I know she cared and was trying to be helpful, but what she said didn't help me. In fact, I felt more alone, less understood, amd more afraid to share my feelings.

S. Hein
March 4, 2008
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

Nothing To Be Depressed About - From a High School Student

From a High School Student

My friend told me I have nothing to be depressed about and now I'm really upset she said that.

I was with three of my friends. We're freshman in high school. We were all sitting at a table and talking. My friend said "I don't feel like doing anything. Let's just all sit here and be depressed," and I said, "yeah".

Then she said to me, "You have nothing to be depressed about." Then she added, "Yeah, so your mom yelled at you today but my mom slapped me"

The reason she thinks I have nothing to be depressed about is because I am the type of person who does not talk about my problems. I feel embarrassed to talk about what goes on in my family and I would start crying.


Melissa and Her mother

Written by S. Hein, 2007


Today I was talking to a 26 year old girl named Melissa. Melissa told me she had lunch with her mother the other day. Melissa has never met her father and it has been bothering her for years.

Melissa asked her mother why the mother had three children with men who were not responsible enough to be fathers. Melissa also asked her why the mother lied on her birth certificate, saying Melissa had been born in one place when actually she was born in another. Melissa was just trying to make some sense of her life, as many girls from dysfunctional families do.

The mother, though, laughed at Melissa's questions, saying that was a long time ago and there was no reason to be talking about it now. Melissa said when she saw her mother laughing at her she wanted to reach across the table and hit her as hard as she could.

Melissa drinks, smokes, has used drugs and has thought of killing herself. And none of this is because of her lack of emotional intelligence, as Mayer and Salovey mistakenly suggest. In fact, Melissa is intelligent and sensitive. She reads people quickly. Yet she is emotionally unskilled and emotionally needy. She has learned to be verbally hurtful when she feels hurt.

Melissa is another example of someone who is by nature emotionally intelligent, but not according to the prevailing definitions. I explained to Melissa what invalidation was and told her it was psychological abuse and she quickly agreed.

Melissa's emotionally abusive mother makes me think of a screening program I heard about for teens USA which supposedly was going to screen all teens for depression. And it makes me wonder what would happen if we screened the teenagers for invalidating parents and teachers. I also wonder how much money the drug companies could make if they could market a drug which made parents and teachers learn what invalidation is and become better listeners and more emotionally supportive.