As children, we’re learning about ourselves, relationships, the world, and everything in between. Everything is new to us and we highly depend on our parents to teach us what we need to know. We have basic needs like shelter, clothing, food, water, and physical safety. We have needs to emotionally connect with our parents and family, deeper than a superficial level. We need to feel emotionally safe, supported, seen, heard, and loved. We need consistent caregivers in our lives that we know will always come back for us.
Supportive caregivers is a critical foundation for us to build our sense of self from, but oftentimes, this foundation is disrupted by one or more invalidating caregivers. Invalidation happens when we experience our feelings and emotions being ignored, dismissed, minimized, judged, or criticized instead of being seen and understood. This type of reaction leaves us feeling misunderstood, unseen, unheard and unloved.
The result is that we may internalize the idea that our feelings and needs are not important enough to be seen or heard. We may try to hide aspects of ourselves in fear of being judged or criticized for who we truly are. This can cause an inner conflict because on one hand we may want to express ourselves authentically, but on the other hand we’re afraid of being judged or invalidated.
What does invalidation look like?
When any of our needs go unmet, or they’re met in unhealthy ways, it is overwhelming for our developing nervous system and brain to handle. This is when we learn to develop ways of coping that may ultimately be harmful. If you think about it, a child learning to cope with their own emotions because their parents are unable to do so is actually quite impressive. We know very little about the world and our inner experiences, yet we somehow learn there are things we can do to make ourselves feel better.
This coping may look like numbing, disconnecting from our body, self-criticism and more. These strategies can be so deeply embedded in us as a way of protecting ourselves that we may not even recognize them anymore. All of this is to say that invalidating yourself is not only common but it’s also quite normal given the experiences we’ve had.
Unfortunately, many of the unhealthy ways of coping we learn during childhood transfer to adulthood. For example, as a child with emotionally explosive parents, I might have learned to shove down my own emotions to: not be a burden, prevent conflict, keep the peace, and/or avoid feeling uncomfortable. As an adult, I now invalidate my own feelings and experiences, then consistently feel anxious and/or irritable.
Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Invalidation
During developing years I may have learned to numb my inner world with sex, alcohol, and/or drugs. I might have witnessed my parents do this, other family members, or friends. I might have witnessed my parents have unhealthy boundaries and/or I learned that I’m not allowed to have boundaries. Therefore, I allow others to take advantage of me, disrespect me, or even abuse me. If my parents punished me every time I made a mistake, no matter how small, I might learn to strive for perfection. Perfectionism helps me cope with uncomfortable emotions (even though it actually makes them worse) and receive the love, attention, praise, or validation that I so desperately need.
These are just a few examples of how our coping styles in childhood develop. As an adult, I then continue the cycle of distraction, avoidance, numbing, and/or abuse because this is what feels normal. I continue to feel afraid of my own inner world that I use other things (social media, shopping, binge watching TV, addictions) or other people (relationships, friendships, sex) to further distract myself.
What happens when we hit a breaking point?
At one point in life we reach our breaking point; this could be a major loss, health scare, or debilitating anxiety or depression. If we haven’t already taken a look at our life, we most likely will once we reach this breaking point. It’s important to acknowledge that you, as a child and adult, did what you needed to do in order to survive. That is not something to feel ashamed of; it’s a normal human experience. Now you have the opportunity to unlearn those ways of coping and learn to relate to your inner experiences in a helpful way.
The good news!
The good news is that it’s possible to become aware of how you invalidate yourself, thereby allowing you to make conscious choices towards healing this pattern in your life. It starts with understanding the ways in which you tend to invalidate yourself, such as through self-criticism or numbing. Once you’re aware of the patterns, you can learn to respond more compassionately to yourself and start creating healthier habits that will lead to a life of acceptance and self-love.
It is possible to heal from invalidation so that you can live as your true self without feeling like you have to hide or numb parts of yourself. It will take time and effort, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.
Here’s 5 ways you can start validating yourself:
1. Speak more gently and compassionately to yourself, just as you would to a close friend or loved one.
2. Acknowledge your feelings and emotions in the moment, try to withhold judgment or criticism.
3. Take time just for yourself to relax and do things that bring you joy.
4. Notice when you’re engaging in self-criticism and practice replacing it with positive affirmations.
5. Make a list of activities that you can do to nurture yourself, such as going for a walk, reading a book, or talking to a good friend.
By making conscious choices towards validating yourself in these ways, you will start to create healthier coping mechanisms and ultimately feel more connected to yourself. Remember, you are worthy of love and validation—you just have to give it to yourself first!
Validating yourself is a journey, but one that is worth taking in order to build a foundation of self-love and acceptance.
TAMPA THERAPY FOR SELF-LOVE
If you find that you need additional support with learning how to validate yourself, Hanson Complete Counseling, Therapy & Life Coaching offers a range of counseling and therapy services, such as individual counseling, couples counseling, marriage counseling family counseling, and teen therapy. Our experienced team of mental health professionals will guide you in developing healthier coping mechanisms for invalidation so that you can begin to live a life of self-love and acceptance.
We look forward to helping you on your journey towards validating yourself. Schedule your free phone call today to get started!