Is your partner opinionated to the point of dismissiveness?
Or perhaps a family member ridicules and questions every feeling you express.
Instead of engaging in conversation or just listening, they pelt you with quips like “stop being so sensitive” and “you always overreact!”
These types of relationships are often rooted in emotional invalidation, a toxic dynamic that sprouts mental health issues.
To help you understand and navigate the landscape, let’s explore the warning signs and behavioral effects of psychological invalidation.
What Is Emotional Invalidation?
Validation plays a significant role in molding our identities and self-worth. It helps us understand the world, shape our views, and figure out how and where we fit into the bigger picture.
Broadly speaking, emotional invalidation is when someone dismisses your feelings and observations as insignificant and undeserving of consideration.
Internalizing these negative messages about our worth, emotional state, and personhood can erect high mental health hurdles.
Feeling invalidated triggers negative behaviors and emotional responses. When another person shuts us down, it:
- Causes us to clam up and swallow our feelings instead of dealing with them
- Enhances feelings of worthlessness
- Erodes self-esteem
- Increases self-doubt
Invalidation is trickier to navigate than other types of straightforward verbal abuse because it can be verbal or nonverbal, accidental or intentional.
21 Signs of Emotional Invalidation in Your Relationship
What does dismissing someone’s feelings look like? Let’s examine some examples of invalidation.
If you’re dealing with someone using these tactics on you, it may be worth trying to talk to them about it.
Also, keep an eye out for behaviors you may engage in, and, if necessary, apologize to people you may have invalidated in the past.
1. Eye Rolling
Eye rolling can be hysterical — when it’s directed at someone else! But when an unironic eye-roll lands in your lap, it’s common to feel the rage of every Targaryen dragon.
Ultimately, it’s rude, invalidating, and can have a profoundly negative effect. So try limiting visual gymnastics to light-hearted and humorous times only.
2. “Why Are You So Emotional?”
Unfortunately, many folks are raised on the myth of stoicism and taught from a pre-verbal age that showing emotions is wrong or even immoral.
Science proves the opposite is true. Bottling up thoughts and feelings erodes our mental health and negatively impacts physical health, rendering statements like “why are you so emotional” invalidating and psychologically damaging.
3. Using a Dismissive Catch Phrase
Do you know someone who uses a “catchphrase” to signal that they disagree with something you said? Common examples include saying “I guess” or “whatever” in a snarky and dismissive tone.
Replying this way is an obnoxious, passive-aggressive habit that provides a cover of plausible deniability.
Being on the receiving end of these types of conversation-killing gibes can be crazy-making, and it’s a clear-cut example of emotional invalidation.
4. “Grow Up. Stop Acting Like a Baby.”
This is one that parents tend to use on their children during fits of frustration, but it’s language that every mom, dad, and guardian should eliminate from their response library.
People are complicated beings affected by zillions of influences. We all mess up, and sometimes we all need a little babying, regardless of age.
From a socio-psychological standpoint, many things that happened to us as children affect us as adults. So avoid flinging the “grow up” sentiment at people. It’s dismissive, and using it will make you a hypocrite.
5. “Everyone Has Problems. Get Over It.”
Playing “oppression Olympics” is rarely a good idea. Yes, everyone has problems. But that doesn’t mean our own pains don’t hurt.
Throwing a wide compassion net is commendable. Empathy, sympathy, and sensitivity are admirable qualities. Recognizing that everyone has their issues is laudable. But using that fact to shut people down is more often cruel than kind.
6. Checking Phone Mid-Conversation
When conversing with someone, there are few things ruder than being glued to your phone. Not only does it signal disinterest in what the other person is saying, but it’s also an invalidating action.
Sometimes, picking up a call is unavoidable. But if you’re expecting an important connection, politely let that be known at the beginning of the conversation.
7. “You’re So Needy!”
Telling someone they’re “needy” can be devastating for them. Besides, neediness is one of those things we all exhibit at one point or another, yet many folks tend to chastise others for displaying the behavior.
Being needy is normal. Sure, being overly clingy in certain situations may not be ideal. But snarling “needy” at someone when they’re going through a difficult time is borderline vicious.
8. Avoiding Discussion (Brushing Under the Carpet)
Refusing to talk about an issue you’re having with a friend, family member, partner, or colleague is immature.
Conflict and confrontation can be uncomfortable, but working through problems and growing as people is necessary.
You’re invalidating the other person’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings when you stubbornly refuse to engage in a conversation to clear the air or hear someone’s complaints.
9. “Stop Being So Sensitive!”
Sensitivity is not a bad quality! It’s good to be aware of your emotions and tuned in to those of the people around you. Sensitivity is a key ingredient to effective communication.
So the next time someone tells you to be less sensitive, ignore their demands. Sensitivity is one of our most essential communication road signs.
Interrupting someone mid-sentence to talk about yourself or bring the conversation back to you is incredibly self-centered.
For example, let’s say “Jane” has a medical emergency and is rushed to the hospital. The experience is harrowing, and the next day she calls her friend “Emily” to tell her about it.
One minute into the conversation, Emily interrupts Jane to recount how she once had to be rushed to the hospital.
Some people may think they’re empathizing by sharing similar situations. Still, it’s usually best to let the person going through a rough time vent before refocusing the discussion on one’s own experiences.
11. “It Could Be Worse.”
Everything could always be worse! But that doesn’t mean what’s happened isn’t bad or hurtful.
“It could be worse” is well-meaning enough, but it’s also exceptionally dismissive. We all hurt differently, and it’s our job as friends and family members to validate the feelings of our loved ones when they’re down in the dumps.
So leave phrases like “it could be worse” or “at least you…” on the shelf. In most cases, they’re unhelpful.
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12. Refusing to “Understand” Certain Requests
Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone, and they refuse to remember certain things you say that change the dynamics of the situation?
For example, let’s say “Chris” is upset with “Adam” for always saying “whatever” whenever Adam doesn’t agree or understand something. Chris points out that it’s dismissive and frustrating.
A few days later, Chris says to Adam: “We can do whatever you want on Friday,” and Adam freaks out. He says it’s unfair for Chris to use the word “whatever” when he, Chris, cannot.
In our example, Adam is being purposefully obtuse. He knows his friend is objecting to his use of “whatever” as a dismissive interjection, not in regular speech.
Yet, he tries to gaslight Chris into thinking his request is ridiculous. It’s a classic case of invalidation.
13. “Loosen Up! I Was Only Joking!”
Do you know someone who objects to every behavioral criticism with: Loosen up! I was only joking! It’s a lazy cop-out, not to mention exceptionally dismissive.
Sure, we all occasionally tell “blue” or inappropriate jokes that don’t land. That’s not what we’re talking about.
Saying insensitive, thoughtless things, then getting defensive when called out for it is a habit everyone should strive to overcome. It’s extremely invalidating and frustrating.
Moreover, people who behave like this often are left off invitation lists.
You know that ignoring people is rude and invalidating. It’s one of the first socialization skills we learn. And yet, these days, ghosting is rampant.
We understand the urge to ignore people. And sure, sometimes it’s necessary. But generally speaking, make time for polite closures. It can be uncomfortable, but it lets people know where they stand.
15. “I Know Exactly How You Feel.”
Nine times out of ten, people say something like “I know exactly how you feel” to be encouraging. They’re almost always trying to let you know that you’re not alone, which can be helpful in some situations.
Unfortunately, saying “I know exactly how you feel” lands differently than intended. The person on the receiving end can feel like the speaker is making the situation all about them.
16. “I Don’t See the Problem.”
Experiences are as varied as individuals, and it’s foolhardy to assume everyone has the same hurdles, obstacles, and encounters as yourself. Just because you don’t see a problem doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Let compassion guide you, and think about how you feel when someone dismisses your questions and concerns.
17. “Get New Friends”
This is a common quip of tired, frustrated parents.
It usually happens when a child is upset about how things are going for them socially. After listening to their kid’s woes, a parent may want to provide a solution and say something straightforward like, “Well, just get new friends. The ones you’re talking about sound awful.”
Children and adults find that type of “easy-peasy” response frustrating. After all, if getting new friends were as simple as snapping our fingers, we’d all be living in a perpetual state of comfort and support.
So when someone suggests that making friends is easy, we feel deficient.
So be careful that your ostensibly helpful suggestions aren’t actually invalidations.
18. “You Shouldn’t Have Done That!”
If someone makes a mistake and knows it, the absolutely last thing they want to hear is, “You shouldn’t have done that!” They know!
It may be said out of anger and frustration, but it’s damaging — especially if the person is a friend or partner. They need your support, not a scolding.
19. Hiding Behind a Paper or Book
Newspapers are slowly becoming a thing of the past, but hiding behind an analog paper is a classic invalidation move.
Getting lost in a book is understandable, but if someone is trying to converse with you, be polite and put down your reading material.
20. “Why Do You Take Everything So Seriously?”
Admonishing someone about taking things “too seriously” is dismissive. Stress is singular, and what may be a serious situation for a friend may be a second thought for you.
So when someone comes to you with their problems and asks to cry on your shoulder, do your best not to be flippant.
21. Redirecting the Conversation
People are allowed to vent and talk about themselves.
Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is let someone run their mouth until they’re worn out. Resist the urge to provide a solution by redirecting the conversation to something you experienced or heard.
The star of the discussion should be your friend or family who needs comfort.
What Are The Effects of Emotional Invalidation in Relationships?
Validation is vital to healthy behavioral and mental development — and it’s a lifelong process. Senior citizens need to be validated as much as teenagers and toddlers.
It’s a key ingredient when learning to trust our emotions, which is a constant, neverending emotional waltz between the conscious and subconscious.
Validation also triggers the release of feel-good hormones that balance emotions and regulate mood.
So a lack of it can result in a physio-psychological depression. Dr. Anne Brown, a licensed therapist, once described emotional invalidation as “one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse.”
A lack of validation can also lead to:
- Severe identity issues
- Poor decision making
- Pathologically low self-esteem
- Various emotional problems and conditions that could affect personal and professional life
Is Invalidation a Form of Emotional Abuse?
Yes, invalidating feelings is toxic behavior that most therapists deem abusive. What makes it even trickier is that invalidation is often accidental. People frequently say the wrong things with the best intentions.
The frequency with which it happens is why emotional invalidation is a profoundly hurtful, insidious form of abuse.
We’re constantly dealing with it, but pinpointing the problem can be challenging. After all, nobody wants to call out someone who means well. Alas, it’s sometimes necessary to maintain your mental health.
If the person is mature, kind, and has good communication skills, they’ll see your point immediately, genuinely apologize, and hug you.
If, however, the offending party has their own baggage, they may blow up and get defensive.
But the people you need to watch out for are those who purposefully invalidate your emotions and passive-aggressively chip away at your self-esteem.
How Do You Respond to Emotional Invalidation?
One of the most important things to remember about emotional validation is that it doesn’t implicitly confer agreement. In other words, someone needn’t agree with you to validate you.
Whether the dig was accidental or purposeful will dictate the appropriate response. If unintentional, here are the steps.
- Gently but clearly explain to the person that what they said was hurtful and invalidating.
- Don’t jump down their throat; people regularly say invalidating things when trying to be kind and helpful.
- If they’re responsive and apologetic, super; if they’re defensive and snippy, that’s something to file away for future reference as it reveals things about their personality.
If, however, the invalidating person is purposefully chipping away at your self-esteem by withholding praise or peddling in passive-aggressive wisecracks, it may be time to consider their role in your life.
- If the individual is a colleague, professor, or family member you cannot escape, learning to brush off their invalidating quips is the best course of action.
- Strive not to internalize their jabs. It’s not you; it’s them.
- Enlist a professional life coach or therapist who can help you develop effective coping tools.
- Regularly read up on the topic and build a stable of quotes and affirmations you can whip out when needed.
A Few Final Thoughts
Emotional invalidation is nuanced because sometimes people need to be “snapped” out of certain things when they’re heading off a cliff blindfolded.
When “tough love” situations arise, go heavy on the “love” and easy on the “tough.” It’s a much more effective method.
But we’ll leave you with a nugget of good news: Once you learn how to recognize and reject emotional invalidation, you’ll probably also notice your mood improving.
And don’t forget to consider how you may have unknowingly invalidated other people in the past.
If you’re still in touch with the person you hurt, say sorry — even if it’s years or decades later. A genuine, thoughtful apology is almost always appreciated.