IT'S IMPORTANT to acknowledge OTHERS' HURT
Invalidation - or refusing to recognise someone's feelings - is not just manipulative and insensitive, it can lead to the undoing of a relationship
Our identity is constantly being sculpted, and the validation we receive about experiences - both from ourselves and others - is one of the most powerful shaping mechanisms of our character, self-esteem, understanding of the world, confidence and overall identity.
Have you ever had an argument with someone and, instead of them apologising or taking responsibility for their actions, they judge, ignore, diminish, mock or reject your feelings? Frustrating and painful, isn't it? The reason it feels so wrong is because validation is absent - which means you haven't received understanding and acceptance for your emotional, internal experience or perception, whatever that might be. But this imperative act is like the glue that binds people together in a relationship, through understanding and acceptance.
Our identity is constantly being sculpted, and the validation we receive about experiences - both from ourselves and others - is one of the most powerful shaping mechanisms of our character, self-esteem, understanding of the world, confidence and overall identity. So, if someone recognises their role in a dispute and acknowledges that they have hurt you in some way, they have validated your feelings. However, if they minimise the issue, disconnect or refuse to admit their mistakes, they are invalidating the situation.
As Dr Steven Stosny explained in a 2011 piece for Psychology Today, "Failure of others to validate the hurt of those who think they need validation feels like the cruellest kind of abuse." Scottish psychiatrist Dr RD Laing, who has studied this phenomenon extensively, agrees, saying that when we invalidate people or deny their perception or experience, we make mental invalids out of them.
There are many different ways of invalidating. Here are a few:
Blaming - He/she turns the tables and tries to pin the entire problem on the other.
Excusing - Countless excuses are thrown around to justify, dodge or rationalise the inappropriate behaviour when all that the other party wants is recognition of the mistake.
Denying - The person's feelings are denied, either by being ignored or being told that they aren't actually feeling what they say they're feeling. To add to this, other irrelevant reasons will be raised or suggested to divert attention from the actual issue, such as, "I think you're just tired. Get some rest and you'll feel better."
Judging - "I think you have a major problem and need to get help, because you always overreact and say stupid things" is an example of judging, rather than validating the other person's feelings.
Hoovering - This occurs when the person tries to 'hoover' up all evidence of how and why they were wrong by minimising the issue and saying things like, "Don't make a mountain out of a molehill" or "Get over it, it's no big deal".
Non-verbal responses - This is perhaps the most powerful form of invalidation and it includes behaviours such as not giving the person your attention, shifty eye contact, sarcastic eye rolls, bored facial expressions, looking at your phone or fidgeting with something else.
Rug-sweeps - "Forget about it, let's go get a coffee" is an example of how an issue that requires attention and discussion is quickly swept under the rug, resulting in an open wound that is likely to get psychologically infected.
The saddest part of all this is that it is quite simple to validate yourself or others. However, some people continue choosing the most dysfunctional and damaging way of confronting issues. Validating begins with recognising the pain of the other by reaching out or connecting with them. It's not about lying, agreeing, sugarcoating or trying to solve the problem for them. It's more about listening, being present and accepting the other person's emotional experience and subsequent reactions.
Invalidation has a number of negative fallouts, such as:
Feeling like the world is uncontrollable and unpredictable
Doubting your belief system and values
Mistrusting your emotional and social intelligence
Fearing life and new experiences
Suppressing emotional and potential outbursts, or psychological ailments
Being unable to trust people or get close to them
In order for validation to sound genuine, it should be in line with your regular communication style. However, just to give you an idea of how simple it is to instantly make someone feel better, here are a few common statements that can help:
'Thanks for explaining it to me like that. I didn't realise how much I hurt you.'
'I'm glad you talked to me about this. Is there anything I can do to help?'
'I know what you mean. It's so tough going through that.'
'I really didn't mean for this to happen but now I know I was wrong.'
'I'm here for you if you want to talk about this again.'
The process of dealing with invalidation begins with a mindset of embracing the importance of showing recognition for people's emotional experiences and practising behaviours that reflect the same. Your feelings deserve to be acknowledged since they form your thoughts and influence your behaviour.
Make a commitment to yourself and others that you will not allow anyone to isolate, criticise, soften or distort your understanding of situations, as that is manipulative and abusive.
Dr Samineh I. Shaheem is a professor of psychology, and a learning & development specialist. Contact her on OutOfMindContact@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @saminehshaheem, Instagram: @wellbeing.psychology.awake