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Pre-Emptive Invalidation


Pre-emptive invalidation is defined as trying to stop someone from feeling the way they might feel before they even have the chance to feel it or express themselves. Below are some examples.

Don't Be Jealous

Once I was talking to someone and she said, "Don't be jealous." She then realized her mistake and said "Oops... I don't know just how to word that..Maybe it would be better to say "I hope you aren't jealous..."

As you can see, she was afraid I was going to feel jealous by what she was telling me. She obviously didn't want me to feel jealous and was trying to talk me out of my feelings or future feelings even before I had the chance to say anything.

This is why I call it "pre-emptive invalidation." People often say things like "Don't be scared" or "Now don't get upset when I tell you this, but..." before a person has even shown that they are scared or upset.

Saying "I hope you don't feel.. " is an improvement over saying "Don't feel..." but it still doesn't allow the person a chance to say how they actually do feel. The main reason people pre-emptively invalidate someone else is because they are afraid of that person's reaction. So the most direct way to communicate their feelings and allow the other person to reply is to say something like "I am afraid you will feel...", then ask how the person actually does feel, and give them a chance to speak.

S. Hein
October 2, 2006


Core Topics

Respect | Empathy
Caring | Listening

Free EQ for Everybody Book

Please don't hate me. I'm not trying to judge you

Someone was trying to be helpful to me one day by giving me advice and telling me what I "needed" to do in an email.

She was afraid I would feel judged and resentful. So in her email, as a way of pre-emptive invalidation she said, "Please don't hate me I'm not trying to judge you. I'm telling you how I feel."

Actually, by giving advice she wasn't expressing her feelings in the way described on our emotional literacy page. To express her feelings she could have said something like the reason I am giving you this advice is because I feel ___, and then used a feeling word. She could have also said she was afraid I would judge her or hate her.

Rather than pre-emptively invalidating me, it would have been more helpful to just ask me to tell her how I actually did feel when I got her email.

So to avoid this kind of pre-emptive invalidation, try to catch yourself when you are about to say something which would be invalidating if you knew how the person really felt. Then try to -phrase things so you

A) Express your feelings with specific feeling words

B) Ask the other person how they actually do feel


C) Ask if they feel the way you are afraid or suspect they might.