Have you ever opened up, only to be met with dismissal? This one’s for you
Imagine you’re having a really tough time, so you decide to turn to a friend. You lay out all your emotions over a cuppa, explaining how totally deflated, frustrated, and overwhelmed you feel, hoping your pal will relate.
You wait for some soothing words of encouragement or an affirmative – “I know exactly how you feel.” Instead, your friend minimises and dismisses your emotions, telling you you’re being oversensitive, insisting that you shouldn’t feel the way you do, or informing you that your problems are too small and insignificant to even worry about.
To add insult to injury, they might even offer up unsolicited advice that seems to suggest you’re the one at fault. Their comments don’t make you feel soothed, heard, and understood, but stifled, frustrated, and silenced. In fact, you feel worse than you did before, and silly for even bringing the problem up.
This is emotional invalidation in action: the process of ignoring, denying or minimising another person’s feelings. It happens when we turn to other people for support and understanding and instead find our feelings aren’t taken seriously. And, in a society that always encourages us to speak up about our mental health, it can be incredibly damaging.
“When someone invalidates your experiences, they dismiss, deny, or reject your thoughts and feelings, and often, this can leave you feeling undervalued, and ignored,” says Rachel Vora, psychotherapist and founder of CYP Wellbeing.
So, why do they do it?
Ever wondered why friends and family react in this way? As hurtful as having your experiences invalidated may be, it may be helpful to know that it’s not always intentional. “People can unintentionally minimise or make light of our emotions for several reasons,” Rachel points out. “It’s often people who are uncomfortable dealing with their own emotions that unintentionally invalidate the emotions of others.
“For example, people who find sitting with their emotions difficult often adopt unhealthy strategies such as distraction, denial, and avoidance.” Rachel says these people are then likely to employ the same strategies with you.
Other times, your friend really does want to make you feel better, and so their immediate reaction is to try and make your problem seem smaller. Have you ever desperately wanted to help a friend in need and scrambled to find the right thing to say, and instead of saying you understand how they’re feeling, you told them not to worry? It’s that.
No one likes to see the people they love in pain and most of us will do anything to make that pain go away. Often, that means dismissing it or trying to make it appear smaller. But, even if your loved ones have your best interests at heart, having your emotions invalidated can really sting. Speaking up isn’t always easy, and so you might feel disappointed, discouraged, and even embarrassed if your feelings aren’t taken seriously. We all have a human need to feel heard and understood, particularly if we’re going through something tough.
“Emotional invalidation can leave you feeling as though