“You’re overreacting,” Jake told Amanda. “It’s no big deal.” Amanda looked at Jake with disbelief. He said he planned to go on a fishing trip with his male friends over the weekend. But he neglected to tell her that his ex-girlfriend would be there. When Amanda found out, she expressed her hurt feelings.
Over the course of their two-year live-in relationship, Jake had discounted some of her most painful feelings. He said she should let it go when a co-worker took credit for her idea in a business meeting. When Amanda’s mother was in the hospital, he insisted two of his former college roommates stay at their home for a week.
Amanda felt confused when Jake disregarded her feelings. She thought, “Am I being immature and selfish?”
Amanda doesn’t yet realize that Jake’s repeated denial of her feelings is one of the worst forms of emotional abuse. Being treated this way is agonizing and debilitating. It causes a sense of being invisible and unimportant.
Emotional invalidation upsets the power balance in a relationship and leads to uncertainty and self-reproach. You may think to stay in the relationship, you must swallow any feelings that are not acceptable to your partner. Disregarding your feelings leads to disconnection with your authentic self.
Emotions Reveal Our True Selves
Emotions provide us with crucial information about ourselves and others. They are a valuable guidance and protection system that is essential in daily decision-making. The ability to express our feelings and have them validated allows us to be our true selves without worry of rejection.
Open communication and validation show respect for another’s individuality and the right to make choices, even if there is a disagreement. It maintains the power balance in a relationship and provides a feeling of fulfillment, happiness, and connection.
Emotional Invalidation Isn’t Easily Identified
Emotional invalidation is often delivered with a casual tone as if part of an ordinary conversation. It can be disguised as a semi-supportive comment, something like “I know you feel bad, but you’re making more trouble for yourself.” Other typical remarks include, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or “Stop over-thinking things.” These comments dismiss another’s experience.
Those who have a pattern of disregarding their partner’s feelings are usually unwilling to accept that their actions are hurtful. Their emotional blindness is often due to a lack of introspection into their own painful feelings, which are likely driving their invalidating behavior towards others.
Reasons for Emotional Invalidation
People who have a pattern of denying their partner’s feelings typically have a long-term psychological injury that causes inner shame, which is a deep sense being inadequate. When they listen to their partner’s raw emotions, it can easily trigger painful feelings they have about themselves.
Their shame drives a need to hide behind a façade. To maintain the façade, they try to achieve power over others to compensate for their sense of being defective. In doing so, they transfer their shame onto others.
The objective is not to provide emotional support, but to protect their own damaged sense of self. Maintaining distance from a partner means being less vulnerable to being shamed. This need for self-protection in a relationship is the opposite of a true intimate partnership.
How to Validate Your Own Feelings
1) Understand what you’re up against in your relationship. When your partner frequently denies your feelings, engage your critical thinking skills. Rather than blindly accepting your partner’s reaction, try to determine from a rational, mature perspective why you feel the need to express your feelings. Ask yourself questions about how your partner’s invalidation makes you feel about yourself. Is your partner’s invalidation an obstacle to the type of relationship you need, want, and deserve? Understand and accept that your feelings matter and those who care about you should feel the same way.
2) Learn to listen to your inner wisdom and trust it. Create affirmations and repeat them daily: “I will honor my feelings. They ground me in my authentic self and help me protect my well-being.”
3) Observe how your partner may be feeling. Try to understand possible motivations for controlling behavior. Is your partner acting out deep insecurities? Does your partner have a difficult time expressing his or her own feelings? Does your partner have a pattern of interpreting benign comments as personal criticism? What was the emotional climate like in your partner’s family of origin?
4) Don’t get drawn into a debate about your feelings. If your partner is suppressing a profound sense of inadequacy, you won’t be able to expose your partner’s inner motives or get him or her to see your point of view.
5) Understand that you may have some unresolved issues such as people-pleasing, low self-esteem, and tendencies to self-doubt. Your most fundamental relationship in life is the one you have with yourself. Your relationships are often reflections of the state of your relationship with yourself. Create an individual plan for personal growth and work on it every day. Your plan may include reading self-help books, seeing a therapist, joining a support group, or a daily spiritual practice.
6) Find relationships with people who nurture you and treat you with respect, who understand and care about how you feel. A healthy relationship allows you to feel free to disagree or express your opinion without fear of retaliation.
Emotional validation is at the very core of a healthy relationship. When Amanda recognizes that Jake is acting out his emotional pain on her, she is less likely to doubt herself. Unless Jake deepens his self-awareness and works through his authentic, but suppressed feelings, he will persist in his harmful behavior. Self-awareness and wrongdoing rarely go together.