Emotional Invalidation: Why Your Feelings Are Sidelined and How to Find Your Voice

by | Last updated Apr 11, 2024

Emotional invalidation is a wound that cuts deeper than many realize. It’s a subtle pattern, often disguised as concern or pep talks, that leaves you doubting your own inner reality. If you constantly feel unheard, unseen, and subtly told your emotional experiences are unimportant, you’re not alone.

What Is Emotional Invalidation?

As opposed to emotional validation, where your emotional experience is acknowledged and respected, emotional invalidation happens when your feelings are dismissed, ignored, or judged. It’s the act of negating your emotional experience instead of trying to understand it. While blatant invalidation may sting (e.g. when someone tells you, “You’re being ridiculous!”), it’s often the more subtle emotional invalidation that chips away the most.

Examples of Emotionally Invalidating Statements:

  • “Why are you always so sensitive?”
  • “You’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.”
  • “Look on the bright side, it’s not that bad.”
  • “Let it go, it wasn’t intentional.”
  • Shifting focus to the other person’s feelings: “Well, that hurts ME!”

Notice how all these focus on shutting down your emotional state rather than trying to connect with it, even if the intentions aren’t malicious.

How Emotional Invalidation Can Damage a Relationship

Emotional invalidation is a wound that cuts deeper than a single hurtful comment. It’s the constant drip of dismissal that erodes the foundation of a healthy partnership over time. Imagine yourself excited about a job promotion. You rush home eager to share the news with your partner, only to be met with a cursory, “That’s nice,” before they return their attention to their phone. In that moment, a wave of doubt crashes over your initial joy. This pattern of missed emotional connection, repeated over and over, has these damaging consequences:

  • Self-Doubt: When your emotional experiences are constantly minimized or ignored, you internalize the message that your perspective is flawed. “Maybe I shouldn’t be so upset about my friend canceling plans last minute,” or “Is it wrong that I feel frustrated with my colleague?” The pervasive question, “Am I the problem?” starts to erode your self-confidence.
  • Resentment: It’s natural to develop resentment when your emotional needs aren’t considered. Even if your partner has good intentions, when you repeatedly encounter disinterest at moments of vulnerability, it breeds a feeling of being emotionally neglected.
  • Broken Trust: Genuine intimacy requires vulnerability, the courage to share the messy parts of ourselves with another. But with persistent invalidation, that courage fades. Why open yourself up when the response feels like dismissive indifference, or attempts to quickly “fix” the situation rather than truly witnessing your emotions? With this erosion of trust, you begin to withhold parts of yourself, creating distance in the relationship.
  • Loneliness: One of the fundamental purposes of a relationship is feeling emotionally supported. When this is lacking, even the most loving relationship can feel desolate. Despite being physically close, you experience an emotional isolation as if no one truly ‘gets’ you.
  • Mental Health Struggles: Emotional invalidation isn’t just a relationship issue; it impacts your overall wellbeing. Research links invalidation to higher levels of stress and difficulties regulating emotions. It’s as if your internal compass – your ability to understand and trust your own feelings – becomes miscalibrated from constant dismissal.

Expand on this section, including the introductory section before the bulleted list, with more detail, anecdotes, evidence, and statements supporting the topic being discussed.

Signs of Emotional Invalidation

Emotional invalidation operates in both obvious and incredibly nuanced ways. It can be a harsh comment that stings immediately, or a slow wearing away at your trust in your own feelings. Learning the telltale signs empowers you to protect your emotional health in any interaction.

  • Phrases that Minimize: These statements work to shrink your emotional experience, making you feel like you shouldn’t be sad, frustrated, or hurt. Consider these examples:
    • You’re stressed about a big presentation at work. Your partner replies, “Lots of people give presentations, it’ll be fine.” This dismisses your nerves without acknowledging the very personal stakes involved for you.
    • A friend lets you down, and instead of empathy, you get, “You’re always so dramatic.” Suddenly, it feels like your disappointment is a character flaw.
    • “Cheer up! Think positive” can sound helpful but implies your genuine negative emotions are wrong and need immediate fixing.
  • Premature “Solutions”: It’s natural to want to help someone you care about who is struggling. However, when the immediate focus shifts to practical solutions before acknowledging how they feel, it’s incredibly invalidating. Picture this:
    • You confide in someone about a difficult family situation. Rather than simply listening or asking, “How does that make you feel?”, they launch into a list of advice, leaving you unheard.
    • Imagine being upset about a rude customer service encounter. Well-meaning advice to “just forget about it” misses the fact that you’re not seeking a solution, but rather validation for the feelings of frustration.
  • Blaming the Victim: This particularly damaging tactic twists the situation to make it seem like your emotional reactions are the problem:
    • “You wouldn’t feel so insecure if you just had more confidence” puts the blame entirely on you, ignoring any external factors in your insecurity.
    • Imagine a conflict where your feelings get dismissed with, “If you wouldn’t overthink everything, we wouldn’t fight this much.” This shifts responsibility away from the hurtful behavior and onto your natural way of processing the world.
  • Nonverbal Cues: Sometimes invalidation is conveyed through body language more than words:
    • An eye roll as you express fear about an upcoming event signals that they find your worry silly.
    • Turning away or checking their phone while you’re trying to talk about something important sends the message your emotions aren’t worth their full attention.
    • A dismissive sigh or a forced smile can make you question the validity of your feelings, even if nothing overtly negative is said.

Context matters! A single instance of any of the above doesn’t automatically equate to invalidation. The key is to look at the overall pattern of communication. Is your emotional experience consistently met with responses that make you feel unseen, unsupported, or “wrong” for how you feel? That’s where true damage occurs.

The Difference Between Invalidation vs. Disagreement

The ability to validate someone when you don’t agree is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship, whether it’s with a partner, friend, or family member. However, it’s easy to blur the line between disagreeing with someone’s perspective and invalidating their underlying feelings. Understanding this distinction is essential to foster emotionally supportive relationships.

Let’s explore this through a few scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: Job Worries: You express anxiety to your partner about an upcoming performance review at work.
    • Invalidation: “You always get worked up over nothing. You’re your own worst enemy.” This dismisses your anxiety entirely and implies a character flaw rather than acknowledging a normal human emotion.
    • Validation + Disagreement: “I know you’re nervous, and that makes sense. I think you’re really good at your job, though, and I’m sure you’ll do great.” This acknowledges your worry, even while offering a different perspective and reassurance.
  • Scenario 2: Differing Opinions: You and a friend have a heated discussion about politics.
    • Invalidation: “Your views are so ignorant. I can’t believe you actually think that.” This attacks your character and intelligence in relation to your view, rather than engaging with the discussion itself.
    • Validation + Disagreement: “I see things very differently. I’d love to understand your point of view more, but let’s try to keep it respectful.” This acknowledges different viewpoints while setting a boundary for healthy communication.
  • Scenario 3: The “Wrong” Emotion: Imagine feeling hurt because your partner consistently forgets an important date.
    • Invalidation: “You shouldn’t be so upset about this. It’s really not that big of a deal.” This judges your emotional reaction as inappropriate, ignoring the underlying hurt.
    • Validation + Disagreement: “I understand this is important to you, and it hurts that I keep forgetting. While I don’t mean to cause you pain, I struggle to remember dates.” Acknowledges your feelings and opens the door for a discussion about solutions to address the issue.

Validation isn’t about always agreeing, it’s about respecting that the other person has a right to their feelings in the moment. Sometimes people invalidate unintentionally, perhaps due to clumsiness or their own discomfort with emotions. While intent matters, it’s equally important to focus on how the other person’s words or actions impact you.

How to Address Invalidation in a Relationship

Addressing emotional invalidation in a relationship takes a similar approach to addressing any difficult conversation in a relationship. It’s important to create an atmosphere where both partners feel safe to express their full range of emotions and receive validation in return. These conversations aren’t easy, but they are incredibly important. Here’s how to start this dialogue:

  • Choose a Good Time: Avoid bringing this up right after an incident where you felt invalidated. In the heat of the moment, defensiveness is more likely. Instead, choose a calm time when both of you have the emotional space for a meaningful conversation. You might say, “Hey, is there a time we can chat about something that’s been on my mind? I want to make sure we both feel supported in how we communicate.”
  • “I” Statements: Frame the conversation around the impact of actions, not the character of your partner. Instead of “You always invalidate me,” try “When you say ‘just get over it’, I feel shut down and unimportant.” This helps avoid defensiveness and opens the door for a discussion.
  • Needs, Not Attacks: Focus on expressing what you need more of. “I need to feel heard and understood, even if you don’t always agree with how I feel.” This emphasizes what you’d like to improve within the relationship, not simply pointing out flaws in your partner.
  • Specific Examples Help: Rather than generalities like, “You never listen to me,” pick a recent situation. “Remember yesterday when I was upset about [situation]? When you said [phrase], it made me feel like my feelings didn’t matter.” Specifics give your partner something concrete to work with.
  • Be Open to Feedback: Acknowledge that miscommunication happens. Be open to the possibility that you might sometimes misinterpret your partner’s words. However, don’t let this erase your core need for emotional support. You might say, “Sometimes it’s hard to know your intent. I want to understand your side better, but it’s also important to me that my feelings are respected.”

Am I the One Invalidating? Self-Reflection Matters

Even the most well-intentioned among us fall into the trap of emotional invalidation at times. The crucial step isn’t to become consumed by guilt, but to build an honest awareness of how your own communication might sometimes inadvertently diminish the experiences of others. To know if you’re invalidating your partner’s feelings, considering the following:

  • Rushing to Reassure: It’s natural to want to help your partner if they’re struggling. However, is your first instinct to jump to, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine!” or “Look on the bright side”? While well-meaning, this can leave your partner feeling unheard in their worry or sadness. Before offering solutions, try pausing and simply offering, “That sounds really tough. What are you feeling about it?”
  • Your Own Discomfort: Do you tend to subtly change the subject or glaze over when someone expresses strong negative emotions? Discomfort with sadness, anger, or disappointment is understandable and very common. But if it leads to constantly steering conversations towards the positive, those around you may feel like their full range of emotions aren’t welcome with you.
  • Minimizing Comparisons: Statements like “It could be so much worse!” or “Think of someone who has it harder than you” are often said with the intent of providing perspective. However, they ultimately minimize the validity of the person’s present struggle and diminishes the importance or severity of their feelings and experiences.
  • Beyond Just Words: Reflect on your nonverbal cues. Do you find yourself checking your watch when someone is confiding in you, or subtly rolling your eyes when they express a ‘negative’ sentiment? These subtle dismissals can be just as, if not more, invalidating than words.

Invalidation Can Be a Symptom of a Larger Issue

While occasional slip-ups in validation happen to everyone, when emotional invalidation becomes a pattern, it’s wise to look deeper. Sometimes, it hints at broader problems within a relationship or reflects internal struggles within the individual doing the invalidating.

  • Emotional Immaturity: Some individuals struggle to handle any kind of strong emotion – their own or others. Invalidation becomes a way to deflect difficult feelings rather than engage with them constructively.
  • Avoidance of Conflict: Invalidating your feelings can be a way for someone to derail a conversation they don’t want to have, maintaining a false sense of peace while sweeping real issues under the rug.
  • Power Imbalance: In unhealthy relationships, invalidation can be used as a control tactic. By denying your emotional reality, the other person maintains a position of power and undermines your autonomy.
  • Narcissistic Patterns: In extreme cases, persistent invalidation goes hand-in-hand with narcissistic behaviors. A person with narcissist personality disorder may need you to feel off-balance and question your own experiences to maintain their carefully constructed self-image.
  • Unprocessed Trauma: Those who haven’t fully processed their own traumas may struggle intensely with others’ expressions of pain. Invalidation becomes a defense mechanism to avoid re-experiencing those unresolved emotions.
  • Low Emotional Intelligence: Some people lack the vocabulary or the self-awareness to navigate their own or others’ feelings effectively. They may have the best intentions but fall back on dismissive phrases or quick fixes without understanding the damage.

Final Words

Emotional invalidation leaves scars because it chips away at the foundation of trust and connection. By understanding its forms, setting boundaries, and actively practicing validation, you begin to heal those wounds. Remember, your emotional landscape is worthy of respect, and healthy relationships are built on honoring the full spectrum of human experience.

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