5 Ways we unintentionally invalidate others

Written by: Emily Lindberg

Invalidation is the rejection, judgement or trivialization of someone’s thoughts or feelings. Chances are, you have likely experienced it. Many have unknowingly contributed to it. Research has shown that experiencing invalidation in childhood is correlated to chronic emotional inhibition in adulthood. What does this mean? Long term negative effects, thought suppressing, avoiding stress, and psychological distress, including anxiety and depression (Krause, Mendelson, & Lynch, 2003). It is likely not our goal to leave others to feel invalidated by our words, but how do we shift invalidating language to supportive language? These 5 phrases are some of the most commonly used phrases intended ease someone’s emotional distress but accidently lead the receiver to feel emotionally validated and possibly hurting.

  1. “It could be worse.”

Could it be worse? Possibly. Does hearing that make anyone feel better? No. Saying this invalidates others by unintentionally saying what your feeling or going through isn’t enough. Others have it worse, so you shouldn’t be feeling this way.

  1. “Stop crying”

We often hear this said to young children or to someone trying to comfort a friend. Too many of us are uncomfortable with the tears of others. Rarely does telling someone to stop crying actually make them stop, and saying this sends a message that it is not acceptable to feel or cry in front of you. It can also unintentionally encourage shame, dislike, or avoidance of crying. We all cry, and anyone who tells you differently is lying.

  1. “I’m sorry you feel that way”

This message acknowledges what someone is saying, without giving any validation. In some situations (e.g. a fight with someone), it can be a way of saying, I acknowledge what you’re saying, but it’s wrong/I don’t accept it.

  1. “Think positively/Don’t think about it”

We often are told that being positive makes everything better. While research has shown that positive thoughts and gratitude can make a person happier in the long-term, it is not a cure all or something that can be generalized to all situations. Most people want to be happy, if it were as simple as not thinking about it/thinking about positive things, they would have done it before discussing their feelings.

  1. “I know exactly what you are going through”

This phrase takes away from what the person is going through. Realistically, we can never fully understand what someone is going through, even if we have experienced the same things. Everyone reacts to situations differently. Unless someone is a mind reader, they probably don’t know what someone is going through.

Now, the big question, what can we do instead of saying these phrases? The simple answer is to empathize. Acknowledge their feelings (e.g. “that must be really tough”, “I can tell how hard this is for you”, “I’m here for you”) and be there with them through it. After all, all we want is to be heard.

 

Resource:

Krause, E.D., Mendelson, T., & Lynch, T.R. (2003). Childhood emotional invalidation and adult

psychological distress: The mediating role of emotional inhibition. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27 (2), 199-213pages. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0145-2134(02)00536-7