On invalidation

There have certainly been times in my life where people have questioned my ability to do certain activities. Some people have told me I was being “too sensitive,” behaving “like a victim,” and more.

There have also been times where people likely meant to be encouraging. “You can do it!” “Fake it ’til you make it!” “You just need to believe in possibility.” “Step up, I’ve seen you do it before!”

I have come to recognize that both kinds of statements have the potential be invalidating. Someone telling me to keep going when I had little resources or capacity to continue was not helpful. Even positive encouragement has sometimes across as dismissive, not taking the time to full acknowledge my experience. In retrospect, it’s a bit like, “I know you meant well, but did you really hear what I was saying?”

I have also realized that it’s fairly easy to invalidate someone unknowingly, without being aware of the impact of the words. Brené Brown has an excellent short video that explains the difference between sympathy and empathy, and it’s very poignant.  My take-away from it is this: empathy has to do with the recognition of another person’s experience, feelings, and personal truth without judgment. When a person extends sympathy, it’s often in an effort to make things better, but from a distance. And there can be an implication of, “Well, it could be worse, so why are you standing here in pain?” Or, “At least it isn’t cancer [and so on]” when a person is still standing there, scared of the outcome.

Also,  I think sometimes in an effort to identify and relate, people can stop seeing other people’s experiences and only see their own. For example: “I feel depressed.” “I felt depressed once, but then I did [fill in the blank] and got through it.”
That, too, can be invalidating.

Sometimes people have hurt my feelings without meaning to, and other at times, they have done it on purpose. It’s hard for me to reconcile the impact of both kinds of experiences – it’s still painful. However, I realize that I, too, have hurt – and perhaps invalidated – others when my intention was anything but, so it’s easier for me to understand.  I understand that sometimes someone can invalidate someone else as a defense – either intentionally or unintentionally.

There’s really not an immediate resolution to this line of thought, a “and then I forgave them all because I understand” or “I am now overcoming years of invalidating experiences.” It’s not that simple or clear-cut. I find working with invalidation to be tricky, especially as I have the tendency to invalidate myself and others’ words can reinforce that.

I want more experiences, when I am feeling down, of someone asking, “What is your experience of this?” instead of saying something along the lines of, “Stop standing there in the dark.” or “Come back to the light.” Holding myself in that place, I can also ask myself, “Where am I at?” and allow myself to be there.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Reblogged this on Marci, Mental Health, & More and commented:
    Invalidation can be so hurtful. But on the same token validation can be so comforting.

    Reply

  2. Great post! I think this is a good example of the mental illnesses vs. physical illnesses contrast. For example, I highly doubt anyone would say “You can do it; just take a deep breath!” while I was having an asthma attack (though I have gotten some pretty weird comments about my breathing issues), but no one seems to hesitate about saying things like that during anxiety attacks or sensory shutdowns. Ugh.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Joyce on October 14, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    Reblogged this on MAKE BPD STIGMA-FREE!.

    Reply

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