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Letters About Invalidation

From Sue - Telling Her She is "Over-reacting"

From Kathleen - About Her Invalidating Mother

Letter About Mother and Sister Who Invalidate

Explanations as Invalidation

Letter From Cindy

From Simon

Core Topics

Respect | Empathy
Caring | Listening

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From Sue

Steve --

I want to thank you from the depth of my soul.

I have suffered with severe depression (including suicide attempts) most of my life. I was sexually and psychologically abused from the age of 3 to 12. Because of this background and the fact that I am an empath, people in my life have always assumed I am just too sensitive, that I get hurt and offended and defensive towards them because of my problems.

I was 42 when I met my second husband. He was so different from anyone i had ever known, and my life changed dramatically. "I" changed. But I never knew why.

I lost him 5 years ago to cancer. I wanted to die too.

I am now with another man. I know without any doubt that Jerry loves me with all of his heart, that he would not hesitate to lay down his life to save mine. Yet he hurts me. And I have never understood - nor has he.

Last week I found your article about invalidation. It is changing both our lives.

Today I wrote something for a support list I moderate. I am including part of it to help you understand because we have been discussing your article and it is helping many of us. The question was posed - what is the difference between invalidation and a reality check?

First -- I thought of two sentences Jerry might say to me.

1) You are over-reacting. Why can't you just be logical about it?

2) Do you think there's a chance you might just be over-reacting a bit?

Both sentences acknowledge that I am having a powerful and likely overwhelming emotion reaction to something. The first one is an invalidation. I am a fighter by nature. This sentence makes me feel immediately and aggressively defensive. I react with anger. Anger is always a secondary emotion - a response to fear or pain. This sentence hurts my feelings and it makes me feel fear - fear that I am alone, that he doesn't understand and he never will, fear that he doesn't/can't/won't love me. I can literally hear myself saying just those things to him - in anger. His reaction - because he feels my reactions are wrong and totally unjustified and so they hurt him - reacts back in anger - and we are rapidly deteriorating to a real mess.

The second sentence acknowledges that I am indeed having a powerful, and probably what feels to me like an over-whelming emotional reaction. But it is a reality check. He is not saying my reaction is wrong. He is asking me if it is really valid for the situation. Now I am not having to defend myself. Now I am thinking - and wondering - is my reaction really all about what is NOW - and how much of it is being fueled by things that happened in the past?

He has now moved my reaction from the emotional or limbic area of the brain to the cognitive or reasoning area. He not only has not invalidated me, he has shown me he understands and he has helped me to regain my emotional balance.

I came up with an idea to explain it that I would like to run by you... I have done a whole lot of research, studying and introspection for these last weeks. Now I'm going to try to draw it all together. I am no psychologist, I have no special training. So if I am way out in left field, please let me know. Let's see if we can figure it out together.

When we hurt someone, we feel guilt. Why guilt? Because guilt is based on what we do or fail to do. Self-confidence can be defined as a sense of competence and mastery in performing tasks and solving problems independently. In other words, self-confidence is trust in one's abilities. Having self-confidence does not mean a person will be able to do everything, but people with a healthy sense of self-confidence have expectations of themselves and their abilities that is realistic.

Guilt eats away at a person's sense of self-confidence. Self-worth is the feeling of being loved and accepted by others.

When we are hurt by others, especially when we think we may have invited the hurt, we feel shame. When our caretakers allow others to abuse us or when we allow others to hurt us without defending ourselves, we internalized the message: I am not worth defending. I am worthless.

The amount of self-confidence we have plus the amount of self-worth we feel we have together add up to our self-esteem.

We can think of shame as being the same as a lack of self-worth. But here is where it gets interesting. No one gives us self-confidence. It is something we earn or acquire by successfully doing and accomplishing. This is not true of our sense of self-worth.

(Both men and women suffer from these problems, but for the purpose of our discussions, I am going to focus on women.)

As we read in the article for men, a woman's sense of self-worth is determined by what she believes others, especially her man, think of her. In this sense, men, you literally hold your lady's self-worth in your hands.

I have come to think of it like a bank account. A zero dollar balance is no self-worth. Every time you validate your lady, you make a deposit in her self-worth bank account. Each time she is a invalidated, it is like a withdrawal has been made.

So -- a bank account can be overdrawn. A woman can have less than no self-worth. She can literally have negative self-worth. Similarly, she can feel ashamed, but she can also live with toxic shame.

If a woman's man validates her -- makes a deposit in her self-worth account -- then makes two withdrawals by invalidating her twice, she has less overall self-worth than when she started.

The dicey part of this is -- it does not matter if the invalidation was deliberate and intentional or if the man did it completely unaware. Either way, the withdrawal was made.

Men are basically do-ers and women are be-ers. So, men, if you want to help your lady grow in self-worth, this is what you need to do. You need to make sincere deposits, sincere validations, and work very hard at not making withdrawals or invalidations.

Since every serious emotional problems we have looked at -- from depression and suicidal tendencies to self-harm and lack of ability to enjoy intimacy all seem to have at their root a lack of self-worth, it would seem to be something worth a loving husband's attention and effort.

Steve - again I ask - what do you think?

Your article is helping so many of us. Thank you!!


My reply to Sue


My reply to Sue

Hi again Sue,

I have given some thought to your message. There is a lot in it to think about! I still want to think about it some more, but the first thing I feel obligated to say is that even in the second example you give, where the person says, "Do you think there is a chance you are over-reacting" I myself would still feel invalidated and judged and not understood.

To me, what this person is saying is " I think you are over reacting."

Pretty much whenever someone says "Do you think..." or "Don't you think.." they are really saying that they think something and they want you to agree with it.

For emotional people, I believe it is always better to respond first, if not always, with a reply which validates their emotion and the intensity of it. Next, if they are afraid you are over-reacting, or they perceive you to be, or think you are or however you want to say it, then they could express their feeling, rather than their thoughts.

For example, instead of saying "Do you think you might be over-reacting" they could say, "You feel pretty strongly about it, huh?"

Then I would suggest they give you time to talk about your feelings some more.

When someone is feeling so strongly about something, it is going to help them most, I believe, to talk about their feelings for a while, not to be immediately be talked out of them or led away from them with a response that moves them to a more "rational" place in the brain.

I would suggest the listener say something like, "What bothers you the most about it?"

Then what ever they say, I suggest the listener just say "yeah." This is what one of the best listeners I know does.

After hearing a response like, "yeah" a person who is highly emotional will probably just keep talking. Most highly sensitive people have a huge unmet need to be listened to and validated in this invalidating society. This is especially true for a person who has been abused, since their feelings have not been respected or even acknowledged. This is the fundamental problem in abuse – no regard for the feelings of the victim. When our feelings are not respected we are being used, and therefore abused.

If the listener also feels strongly that the speaker’s reaction is going to cause some negative consequence, like the speaker says, "I am going to kill that person!", I suggest the listener express their own feelings with a feeling word statement. When I do this I sometimes first ask, "Can I tell you how I am feeling about this?" Then if the person says yes, I might say something like "I am afraid that you feel so strongly that you might get yourself in trouble" or "I'm afraid you might do something to make the situation worse if you act upon those feelings." But usually most people who are listened to calm down by themselves and no restraint of them is even necessary.

Basically, I recommend that the listener identify their own feelings, then state them and avoid telling the person what they "think." We have far too much thinking in our society, or so I believe at least. We need more expressions of feelings. There is a place for thinking, to be sure. But when a highly emotional person is in a highly emotional state, I find it works best to keep connected at the emotional level.

On the other hand, I am probably especially sensitive to comments like either of those you thought your husband might make. For some people, who have not been as emotionally abused and hurt as I have for so many years, and who are not resentful about being invalidated, then the second response might not trigger a defensive reaction.

Thanks for writing.


More comments

When I thought about this some more I decided I needed to say some more about the term "over-reacting." This is a term that is very subjective. What is "over-reacting" depends on the person doing the defining of the term. Or we might say it is a judgmental term and depends on the person judging the reaction. A person reacts according to a combination of their genetics and life experiences. All reactions for them are natural for them at that moment in their life. Generally, then, I don't think it is helpful to tell someone, or imply, that they over-reacted.

It might help us if we think about our own reactions and it might not hurt to say "I over-reacted in that situation", but I think it is more helpful to try to understand our reactions than to judge them. Understanding our reactions is based largely upon understanding our emotional needs and their lack of fulfillment. And I think it is always helpful to be conscious of both of these.

Also, I suspect that someone who thinks that the second response by the husband is not invalidating her and not judging her is a person who probably invalidates herself and has been taught that it is always better to be logical. And I would guess that they lived in a family and culture where emotional honestly, feelings are not highly valued, but appearances and "not falling apart" are.


Emotional Honesty

From Kathleen


I have run into the term "invalidation" repeatedly in attempting to gain some territory inside myself that allows me to think for myself in regards to what I now know is a toxic relationship with my mother.

Her father was an alcoholic, her mother extremely passive. Christian, yes...and active as a woman of prayer...which is a powerful thing...but anyway...

My self esteem has been so tangled in emotional dishonesty. Trying to get close to her over and over again always leads me to a tunnel in which it seems her wounded soul lives. Going back to her in desperation when I go through a hard round of life and get wounded has been a painful and regrettable experience. Sensitive and intelligent, I will share a thought or perception...which she responds to with sicky sweetness or outright nastiness. Not once have I witnessed her speak in dialogue with my stepfather...or anyone else for that matter...about emotions, about solving a problem together in any mature way. I have been left invalidated and defensive and then told there is something wrong with me. She tells me I have anger issues...emotional problems...mental illness....

I did a search and found your page and have spent nearly an hour reading. Thank you so much for being you. For your web page. For your integrity and honesty. I am encouraged.



Mother and Sister Who Invalidate

Hi Steve,

Thank you for your site! 

I have been reading your section on invalidation and I wanted to express a form of it that I get from my family.  Whenever I bring up the feelings of sadness and confusion I felt when my parents divorced, my mom tells me that she did the best should could and that her childhood was harder than mine.  (Her dad was not there much, he was an alcoholic, and her mom was very tired and emotionally unavailable.) 

When I try to talk to my sister about how abandoned and sad I felt, she quickly says that mom is a great mom, that she did the best she could. She tells me that before I was born her and mom really struggled because my mom was a single parent with my sister.  The way they immediately explain how "mom did the best she could" and their lives were worse than mine makes me feel like I don't have a right to complain.

The truth to me is that I know my mom did the best she could, and I am very proud of how she overcame her own sad childhood and raised my sister and I so well. However, a divorce is a divorce and no matter how much a parent structures it, it can be a sad and confusing time for a child.  It is especially sad and confusing when a child is not allowed to express her feelings.

I needed my sister and mom to realize how shattered and alone I felt going back and forth between my parents by myself.  I was just a little kid and they did not offer me any comfort through the situation.

The amazing thing is my dad whose stoicness and lack of sympathy had driven them away, he suddenly snapped awake.  I think he realized he had to become aware of other people or they would leave him.  I was his guinea pig for caring about other people.  When I expressed an awkward feeling, he would get kind of an internal look and say "Oh!" like he suddenly felt the same thing or remembered feeling a similar feeling. Then he would look me in the eye and say something like "That must have been hard!"  He would smile out of love and I would feel so much relief that I wasn't crazy for feeling what ever I felt.  Whatever I had felt would just unravel and pass away.  Then he might tell me a story about someone else he knew, maybe his dad or my mom, who had had a hard time with something.

Because he had taken the moment to recognize my feelings before he forced some lecture on me, I was able to open up and learn so much from whatever story he was telling me.  I don't know how he learned to do this process, but it really is amazing. I wish he could have done this for my mom and sister. I am so jealous of my mom and sister's relationship with each other.  I hear them validating and comforting each other all the time.  I have listened to them complain about things, and tried to comfort them so much of my life. 

I feel like whenever I ask for comfort from them, they act like "at least you have a father and he's not an alcoholic."  They always tell me how easy my life is and how what an agreeable easygoing child I was.  Maybe my life is easier than theirs, but I feel so hurt that the women closest to me won't recognize that I have pain too.  I'm not blaming them, I'm not saying I want to wallow in a sea of pain the rest of my life.  I just wish they would let me express the pain I felt when our family divorced, and agree that it was not a terrific thing for a little girl to go through.   

Thank you.

Explanations as Invalidation

I have read extensively on your invalidation pages. I am very impressed, and find your insights to be helpful in explaining to others (and myself) how to avoid invalidation.

I would love to see you address one particular type of invalidation - one that I believe is the most common - the explanation.  

"I feel very hurt when you say that."
"Oh, that's not what I meant. What I was trying to do was..."  

I find this type of invalidation particularly painful and prevalent.  


Carol L

Letter from Cindy

From: Cindy
Subject: thank you
Date: Thu, 31 May 2007 20:13:07 -0500

I just wanted to take a moment to drop you a thank you note. Your site is wonderful and literally an answer to a prayer. I have been so hurt and angry for the past 6 weeks. I tried and tried to get past it, let go of the hurt and the anger and move on and be happy. But I just couldn't. Then yesterday I ran across an article entitled Lessons of the angels and the following quote made me think.

"Any conflict you see or experience in the outside world is a projection of your ego. In truth, the world is completely at peace and you project your fear of peace onto the world. You don't want to resolve your inner conflict, but you do want to get it away from yourself. So, you project it onto other people and think that 'they' are the ones who are causing you discomfort. Other people are neutral, blank slates and you color them with your own meaning and definitions. Then, you react to them as if these colorations and definitions were real. Other people, in turn, treat you in the way that you expect, in a self-fulfilling prophecy."

So I vowed to resolve my inner conflict. But where does one start? I felt 2 things. One was that nobody ever really listens to me and two-- that I would never be good enough for anyone. I prayed about it and ask God to show me the way to resolve what I was feeling.

His answer was he took me to your site. And it was so emotionally healing....words cannot describe. For the first time in my entire 52 years on this planet I felt completely validated. I cried and cried. But when I was through crying, I felt so much better and had a clear vision of what needed to be done.

There is so much healing that needs to be done. But for the first time in my life, I feel with confidence that I can make it. I was so tired of feeling like I didn't matter. In fact I was ready to just give up. Because despite all the positive changes I had made in my life in the past 2 years, I just kept having these hurt feelings and no one would listen. And the one person I really trusted to be totally honest with, always, ALWAYS invalidates my feelings.

Now I understand, that my feelings do matter despite others actions to invalidate them. And I know what I have to do to make really lasting positive changes in my life.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are literally to me an angel and your site was literally a lifeline that helped me change my own course towards a happier, better future.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best to make you just like everybody else means to fight the greatest battle there is to fight and to never stop fighting.” — E. E. Cummings


Letter About Invalidation From Simon

I am writing directly to you Steve because you may want to put this on your website.

I am dyslexic and grew up being invalidated by just about everybody, from my parents to other kids at school.

I was invalidated in just about every way:

1. In my feelings
2. In my thoughts
3. In my perception
4. In my observations
5. In my love of others

I learned not to show my feelings, when my inate personality inherently wishes to do so. I learned not to ask questions when my natural tendency is to be curious about everything. I learned to question my own perceptions and observations and doubt myself in every way.

Unfortunately although I have had many sucesses in life I had learned to invalidate myself and continue to invalidate myself to this day. Minimizing my sucesses and Maximizing my failures in my own mind.

In the light of reason which includes much reading on personal improvement including your site I now see the need to re-validate my feelings, my thoughts, my perceptions, my observations and most importantly myself as a person.

To do this I must accept my feelings as real and true, that my thoughts are valid and that I have a right to my perceptions and observations. That when my parents said:

"I am sure it didn't really happen like that"
"It couldn't have been that bad"
"It doesn't matter now it is all in the past"

They were wrong!

I understand that they did not intentionally invalidate me, they just did not understand me and the problems that I had. They learned the invalidation behaviour of their parents.

I really want to let this stuff go I am not holding on to it by choice but now I understand that I must really experience the feelings I have been supressing because only by this means can I truly let go. And it may take the rest of my life but little by little I can begin to feel validated.

I would really like you to publish this because I think others could benefit from it and because seeing it published will help to validate me as a person.

Thank you for reading,

Regards Simon