Who knows what invalidation means? This isn’t a SAT test. I am just not sure how aware people are of the term invalidation and what implication it has in relationships and potential conflict scenarios.
The dictionary definition of invalidation is this-
to nullify, negate, annul, abrogate-
to invalidate means to deprive of effective or continued existence. (nullify implies counteracting completely the force, effectiveness, or value of something.)
Invalidation is when you express an opinion and someone says your opinion is rubbish. Invalidation is when you state a fact, and that “fact” is argued with. Invalidation is when you say you feel something, and someone else decides you have no actual reason they can understand to feel that thing you’re feeling, so you should stop feeling it immediately and also quit telling anyone you’re feeling it.
In essence, invalidating someone is a posh term to describe the phenomena of trying to make someone shut up, without literally using the phrase “shut up”. Invalidation is there to shame the person into shutting up, because you are contesting their sheer validity as a human being capable of having any opinion about anything.
Invalidating someone is not the way to diffuse upset in the other person. Invalidation actually has the opposite effect. Rather than you and the other aggrieved party meeting somewhere in the middle- opinions, thoughts and feelings (usually negative ones) become polarised and even stronger, especially if you are someone particularly sensitive to the psychological impact of invalidation, as I am.
People with Borderline PD (like me) are almost always born into invalidating environments, by care givers who repeatedly invalidate/nullify/negate/annul/abrogate us. I didn’t just make this psychological fact up. This is based on extensive research by Marsha Linehan, the founder of the best known treatment of BPD-Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. If you are repeatedly told your way of perceiving things is wrong, that your feelings are wrong, that your thoughts are wrong, that the conclusions you come to are wrong, then it is both very frustrating, and very damaging. We believe (often falsely) that the grown ups know it all, so we conclude we (the children) must be wrong.
Repeated invalidation makes it really hard to reliably and confidently use our instincts and perceptual abilities to decipher exactly what is happening in our environments and in our social relationships. We start to lose faith in ourselves. We start to think we must be mad, as we are thinking, feeling and perceiving things is ways alien to those around us, so we start to tune out of ourselves, ignore our natural intuitions, and instead use others as a guide for how we should be thinking, what we should be feeling, how we should be acting, what we should be saying, (or not saying). Rather than (as Sting said) letting our soul be our pilot, we let others be our pilots. We watch what they do, and we do it too. We assess what others are thinking, we think it too. We notice what others may be feeling, we try and feel it too, (or not feel it, if no one is feeling anything).
So reflecting on my recent conflict sitch with the recovery college, what I find surprising, especially given the context of the mental health framework that the recovery college sits within, is how much my valid complaints were invalidated by those in a position of overall responsibility for that organisation.
The manager of the recovery college has BPD, so I am surprised she wasn’t more validating as presumably she knows all about invalidation and the social and emotional destructiveness of it. Not receiving an email acknowledgement so far about my apology is also pretty invalidating.
Invalidation really is something that I take issue with, and it a concept that once I first read about it, it immediately struck a chord or recognition.
The word ‘invalidation’ gave a name to something that I’d always found very frustrating and upsetting about members of my family, so even though I’m now an adult [well most of the time :D) it still bugs me.
This is what happened-it is my 4-step anatomy of me recent conflict….
And this is what happens emotionally when we are invalidated….
This leads to questions, and answers……
An organisation who respond to feedback by invalidating the complainant don’t get my respect, esp. given the mental health framework of the consumers of that service being (I’d expect) predominantly NHS mental health service users, or ex-service users, with histories of diagnosed mental illnesses.
Invalidating does I suppose give the defenders what they want, as the complainant feels deterred and disrespected and responds by withdrawal, but does invalidating actually stop the feelings, thoughts, opinions, reactions from being experienced? Nope. Not one bit.
Invalidation is the equivalent of putting tape over someone’s mouth and saying (with fingers in ears) la la laaah we don’t want to hear your feedback, but the person with the taped up mouth will only ever resent those that taped her mouth up, and it is impossible for anything positive to be rebuilt.
If there is no meeting is the middle, there will only ever be two polarised parties, disagreeing and opposed, usually with considerable ill feeling to one another, on both sides.
It becomes enemy lines, rather than working together to improve things for mutual benefit. That’s sad, but I do get the defensiveness, especially when 15 year old Blood is my spokesperson! f you don’t know what the hell I’m on about here please see my earlier post titled “Right to Reply” for a full introduction to my rebellious alter, Blood)
When invalidation happens, from others, the only real solution (once you’ve thought it through and reflected on it and realised your views are valid and justifiable) is to implement some hardcore self-validation. Self-validation is accepting your own internal experience, your thoughts and feelings as real and acceptable and OK.
Once we self-validate, we feel OK. It doesn’t mean the outer invalidation is any less annoying or difficult to stomach, but at least we can hold our heads up high and know we don’t require the approval of the people we are complaining to, to make us feel ok about complaining in the first place.
Self-validation rights the wrongs of invalidation.
Sometimes, when faced with the frustration of invalidation, it is the only thing left that we can do.