invalidation, and remembering your truth

We’ve likely all heard these words when we’ve expressed vulnerable emotions to someone…

“You’re being too sensitive.”

“Get over it.”

“I don’t remember that happening, so it must not have been that bad.”

Whether it’s said by a partner, friend, parent, boss, or even a stranger on the internet, when your pain is not seen, you are not seen. It can feel dehumanizing and frustrating. This type of abuse is emotional invalidation, the process of ignoring, denying or dismissing someone’s feelings. This can also spill over into gaslighting, which is the process of convincing victims that their perception and sense of reality can’t be trusted.

This type of abuse can take form in many relationships:

  • A parent who tells you to “suck it up” because they had it worse at your age.
  • A doctor who refuses to provide pain relief during surgery or childbirth because the pain is “not that bad”.
  • The police officer who blames you for being assaulted or abused.
  • A friend saying “you are too emotional”  when you express emotion about anything, no matter how small.

These examples are among the  multitude of ways our pain can be invalidated. 

Our emotions are a compass for our overall well being. When we feel emotional pain, it’s an indicator that something is not good for us. It’s like the body developing a fever due to infection. Emotions cannot be “wrong”, much like having a fever cannot be “wrong”. But invalidators, and often gaslighters, convince you that your compass is faulty and inaccurate, leading victims to question themselves. It’s the equivalent of someone claiming that you don’t have an infection and your body is “overreacting” by inducing a fever response.

Sometimes, invalidation can be extreme. When you spend much of your life around invalidators who never take your pain seriously, it can have devastating consequences. You can feel completely insignificant as a person, almost until the point you don’t feel real. Your pain and emotions are belittled to the point that you don’t dare be a bother to anyone, let alone ask for help.

Growing up with my abusive father, I dealt with this treatment daily for decades. Regardless of how much I was suffering, he made sure I knew that I was overreacting and being nothing but a burden to him and my entire family. In fact, he told me that I caused him more pain than he could ever cause me by bringing up my problems. I began looking at myself as someone who hurts others with my mere existence. I closed myself off from people for years, thinking I was sparing them the anguish of being around me. I would look into the mirror and not recognize myself or my body at all. I walked through life like an alien, a detached outsider of the human race. Years later, I realized that part of me was dissociating in attempt to cope with the severe amount of invalidation I experienced.. My mind was convinced that if my pain is not real — to my parents above all others — then I must not be real.

Thankfully, I was able to overcome a large amount of this brainwashing with time and important self-care. For other victims of invalidation, the following advice may be helpful:

1. Cut off abusers (whenever possible)

This is much easier said than done. Our emotional abusers can be our family members, spouses, or bosses. I couldn’t escape my father for years because of my financial dependence, but when I eventually did, the world slowly became clear again. My mind allowed me to settle back into my body. I felt like I was part of the human race once more. The greatest and most effective step in overcoming this abuse is to remove the parasitic source. If it’s not possible to escape them, the following steps can still help tremendously.

2. Seek supportive people and articles on gaslighting and invalidation

Seek the support of anyone who can validate your truth, particularly outside the circle of your abuser. This will help challenge your brainwashed mind. In my case, many of the people surrounding my father were victim blamers and invalidators as well. Even a therapist in our circle defended him. I resorted to reading articles online and talking to friends who affirmed that my pain was valid and that I was a victim, not an abuser. It felt like an oasis in a desert and a glimpse into life outside of my mental cage. They confirmed what I subconsciously knew all along.

It can be difficult at first with a brainwashed mind to resist these truths, but with continued effort in informing yourself and spending as much time as possible with safe people (and being discerning of other abusers), it’s possible to overcome it.

3. Connect with your emotions through meditation or journaling

Oftentimes, with invalidation, our minds are jumbled. You may wonder, “Is my pain really that bad? Am I overreacting?”

However, your body may be telling you something different. I discovered that our logical minds can believe the lies of invalidation but our subconscious and our emotions will scream that something is wrong. 

For example, do you feel safe whenever the abuser is around, or do you feel uncomfortable and have an urge to avoid them, especially to escape the uncomfortable, crushing feeling of invalidation? Do you feel anger anytime you listen to the abuser over your own instincts? After speaking with the abuser, do you feel comforted, heard and respected or silenced and frustrated? Our emotional compasses may not be compromised after all, contrary to what invalidators have you believe.

Connecting with your emotions and your body without indulging in logical thought is the key to grounding yourself in a tumultuous, gaslit reality. One way to do this is by sitting in silence and feeling any unpleasant sensations that arise*

What helped me most was writing my thoughts down in a journal and imagining that the words were from a friend. If my friend  shared with me that they felt like a burden and must be overreacting about a problem, how would I respond? I quickly realized how devastating it would be to hear any person perceive themselves that way. I would write back a message of support and affirmation as a friend. Then, I would read  the supportive message as if someone was telling this to me. It worked wonders. The act of validating myself was freeing and an incredible way to feel self-love.

*As you do this, however, be sure to stay within your window of tolerance. If you find yourself dissociating further, being hyper-aroused, or unable to connect with your body, first use grounding techniques, repeat truthful affirmations, and/or visualize a calm/safe place. For those whose nervous system is far too dysregulated due to complex patterns of abuse or neglect, or for those who are prone to dissociation, seeking the help of a licensed professional may be required (P. Jaspr Chang, LMFT)

4. Be patient and persistent

It can take years to undo the effects of long term invalidation, but by developing a practice of self-validation, it can be done. After being told for the longest time that your emotions are incorrect and meaningless, make sure to hold your emotions to the highest of importance from here on out. I had to train myself to  focus on my emotions and body’s sensations and figure out what I needed. Whenever I dissociated, I would meditate to ground myself and remind myself that I am real. When I felt like a burden who hurts others with my pain, I would write out evidence on how I in fact do the opposite.

Through discerning my thoughts and emotions rather than submitting to them, I gradually gained trust and confidence in my emotional compass. I received the invaluable gift of knowing the truth about myself and the world, something my abuser knew all along but deprived me of. Knowing that I am real, my pain is real, and that my judgment can be trusted is the greatest blessing.

1 thought on “invalidation, and remembering your truth”

  1. Dear Kavya Rajaputhra, your triumph over the abuse of invalidation extends hope. I’m so very sorry you endured so many years of denigration by someone who has every reason to adore you as his daughter. Your strategies will assist others in identifying and mitigating damage. Your soul is resilient and radiant. Trusting us and ours to hope, health, happiness, and harmony.

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