YAHALOM SEMINARY Bridging the Gap

Past Articles:
INVALIDATION

By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw



Sophie was stuck. She was having a very hard time understanding why her husband, Martin, was so upset with her. Martin had shared that he was upset that Sophie had told his brother about an incident that occurred between them. During the session, Sophie dutifully repeated everything Martin said and seemed to be listening actively, but she was having tremendous difficulty understanding why the incident upset him so much. “I just don’t get it,” she said. “Why would that bother you?”When Martin tried to explain his feelings she responded, “That’s ridiculous. Why would you let that bother you?” With that statement, Sophie had unknowingly stumbled into the relationship polluting, soul breaking arena of invalidation.

What isinvalidation?

Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, or diminish someone else's feelings. It carries the implication that you must be crazy, bad, over-sensitive or inept to feel a certain way. It kills confidence, creativity, and individuality and makes a person question themselves and their view of reality. Mental health professionals regard invalidation as a form of psychological attack. When invalidation becomes a chronic dynamic between spouses, it compromises the mutual trust and respect needed for love and connection, leaving the marriage vulnerable.

If we understand the powerful negative impact of invalidating another, why is it so commonplace in even the most loving and close relationships? Sometimes we invalidate a person’s feelings to get off the hook or defend our own position. We may invalidate when we are trying to help someone get over a problem, to feel better, or to see another point of view (see sidebar). In either process, the other person’s feelings are diminished or dismissed.

After I clarified for Sophie what invalidation was, she asked the question that I invariably hear: “How can I validate my spouse when I don’t agree with him/her?”

My answer is that validating your spouse doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with your spouse withregard to his or her perceptions and feelings, but you can still acknowledge your spouse’s feelingseven though you don’t agree with your spouse’s thoughts and reasoning.

What is validation? Learning about and understanding another’s feelings, and empathically expressing acceptance of another person's emotional experience. Validation is essential in healthy relationships. We all need to feel understood. It is a basic, natural human need. It is not a right; it is not something nice to have. It is a need. When our needs go unmet one incident at a time, for years and years, we all suffer.

Validating your spouse’s feelings requires accepting their feelings without judging them or trying to minimize them. Empathy requires us to listen with the intent of understanding their personal experience. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and try to look at the world through his or her eyes. Verbally acknowledge his or her feelings, by saying, for example, “I understand that you
feel ________ (anxious, disappointed, upset), etc.” When you validate your spouse’s feelings by responding empathically, it says to your spouse that you accept their feelings even if you don’t necessarily feel the same way.

I encouraged Sophie to try validating Martin’s experience by trying to understand how he felt when she told his brother private information. “I imagine you felt exposed and embarrassed.” The big smile on Martin’s face let Sophie know she hit the mark.

Telling a person she shouldn't feel the way she does is akin to telling water itshouldn't be wet, grass it shouldn't be green, or rocks they shouldn't be hard. Each person's feelings are real. Whether we like or understand someone's feelings, they are still real. When you validate your spouse’s feelings it communicates that you care for and respect your spouse, and builds love and intimacy. Validating your spouse and responding to your spouse empathically is a relationship skill that is absolutely crucial to a healthy, loving marriage.

Below are a few common invalidating statements that we often use. Although they may sound innocent and helpful, they are in fact an attempt to try to “talk someone out of their feelings.”


        

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Deal with it.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense to feel that way.”

“Why are you making such a big deal over it?”

“You shouldn’t let it bother you.”

“Don't get angry.”

“Forget about it.”



“Don't be so sensitive.”

“Stop taking everything so personally.”

“What's wrong with you? Can't you take a joke?”

“I am sure she didn't mean it like that.”

“You just took it wrong.”