Emotional Invalidation: A Form of Emotional Abuse

Emotional Invalidation #abuse #emotional #gaslighting #control #narcissist #invalidation


Have others minimized, shamed, or invalidated your feelings?

Having your feelings diminished, ignored, or rejected is a painful experience for all of us – but even more so if you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or survivor of abuse or other trauma.

It’s important to have a sense of belonging and to be a part of a group -- a family or community.  And part of belonging to any group is to be known, understood, and accepted. But, while it’s normal to want to be understood, we can’t depend on others to validate who we are, what we believe in, and how we feel. When we do, we compromise pieces of who we are in order to fit in and let others determine our self-worth.


Your feelings are valid

Your feelings matter. Emotions serve an important purpose and shouldn’t be ignored. For example, feeling angry, afraid, or sad tells you that something’s wrong. You don’t want to miss these crucial pieces of information because they can help you to take care of yourself and make decisions to keep yourself safe.

Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They are a reflection of your thoughts, experiences, and perceptions, which is why two people can have the same experience, but feel differently.

It’s also important to note that validation – saying that someone’s feelings are acceptable or worthwhile – isn’t the same as agreeing with their feelings. We can certainly feel differently, but make the effort to try to understand and empathize with our loved one’s feelings.


How others invalidate your feelings

Sometimes emotional invalidation is done accidentally by someone who is well-meaning but has a low emotional intelligence or simply isn’t paying attention to your feelings. A common form of invalidation is when someone tries to cheer you up when you’re sad because they feel uncomfortable with your feelings. This can be invalidating because your feelings are being dismissed when someone wants to change your feelings rather than accept them or understand them.

Other times, emotional invalidation is a form of manipulation and an attempt to make you question your feelings and experiences. A pattern of invalidation is a form of emotional abuse or gaslighting. it’s a denial of you or your experience. It implies that you’re wrong, overreacting, or lying. Abusers do this to turn things around and blame the victim and deny or minimize their abusive words or actions.

The most common forms of invalidation include blaming, judging, denying, and minimizing your feelings or experiences. Invalidation isn’t just disagreeing, it says: I don’t care about your feelings. Your feelings don’t matter. Your feelings are wrong.

Invalidation might sound something like this:

  • I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.
  • You’re overly sensitive.
  • You probably took it too personally.
  • You’ll get over it.
  • Just let it go.
  • You’re a strong person.
  • It could be worse.
  • God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • I know exactly how you feel.
  • You shouldn’t be angry (or any other feeling).
  • You make a big deal out of everything.
  • That didn’t happen.
  • Stop making things up.
  • I’m not going to talk about this with you.
  • You probably misunderstood.

Invalidation can also be non-verbal: rolling your eyes, ignoring, playing on your phone or another distraction, leaving the room.


What to do when your feelings are invalidated

When your feelings are minimized or denied, it’s natural to want to defend yourself or to strike back and emotionally wound the perpetrator. This is understandable but rarely helpful. In fact, the perpetrator is often looking to put you on the defensive and draw you into a non-productive argument that further distracts you from the real issues.

Before deciding how to respond to invalidation, ask yourself a few questions to clarify your goals and options:

  • Are you close to this person?
  • Does their opinion matter?
  • Has this person been interested in understanding your feelings in the past?
  • Is it a good use of your time and energy to help them understand your feelings?
  • Does this person have a habit of invalidating your feelings?
  • How have they responded in the past when you’ve pointed it out?

Sometimes, it’s not worth trying to get a stranger or even an acquaintance to understand your feelings. Generally, the closer the relationship you have with someone, the more important it is for them to understand your feelings. However, you have to be realistic about other people’s capabilities to do so. If this person repeatedly invalidates your feelings and isn’t interested or motivated to change, you need to take steps to distance yourself and take care of your own feelings. You may want to calmly and without blame state that you feel invalidated. This acknowledges that you’ve been hurt and gives the other person the opportunity to make it right.

The key, again, is not to get drawn into a debate about who is right or wrong, but to set a boundary that states how you want to be treated and to leave the situation if your needs aren’t respected.

If you have a friend or family member who occasionally invalidates your feelings and is open and receptive to learning how to be more empathetic, you can show them this short video from Brené Brown about empathy and you can practice communicating your feelings using I statements. You can find more details about how to share your feelings in this article.


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How to validate your own feelings

It’s important to form relationships with people who love and respect you, who care about your feelings and want to understand who you are and how you feel.

It’s also important for you to care about, understand, and validate your own feelings. As you know, we can run into emotional problems and become victims when we rely too heavily on external validation.


I wrote the following affirmation to help you validate your own feelings.

I respect and honor myself when I pay attention to and accept my feelings.  

I will try to slow down and make time to notice my feelings.

I know that my feelings matter and I will value the truth and wisdom they contain.

Others may try to invalidate my experiences and feelings, but I will hold onto my truth.

I can hold onto my truth and also remain open to other people's perspectives as long as there is mutual respect. I'm learning to distinguish between people who invalidate and disrespect me and those who are curious and interested but have different experiences and feelings than my own. 

I can choose not to spend time with people who continue to invalidate my experiences and feelings. I will choose to surround myself with people who support my healing and growth, who push me to be a better person, and who leave me feeling better about myself -- not worse.

I can validate my feelings by reminding myself that all feelings are acceptable and have a purpose; my feelings matter and they aren’t wrong.

I will validate my feelings by making them a priority. I will give them time and space to exist.

I will be curious about them and seek to understand them better, rather than judging them or pushing them away.

I know my feelings matter so I will practice accepting them.

I will give myself compassion in the face of difficult emotions. I will listen to my feelings and use them as a guide to help me take better care of myself.

I will hold onto my truth and validate my own feelings.


Many people get stuck because they think they need their loved ones to validate their feelings. To have a satisfying relationship with someone, you need them to understand you. However, you don’t need other people to tell you your feelings are acceptable. The important thing is that you know your feelings are valid regardless of what others think. You are the only one who can validate your feelings and deem them acceptable and legitimate; no one can do it for you and external validation doesn’t mean anything until you can validate your own feelings.


invalidation vs empathy #emotionalabuse #invalidation #empathy #feelings #narcissisticabuse #codependency


©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
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Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves -- imperfections and all! Sharon is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance, and several ebooks including: Setting Boundaries Without Guilt: A Workbook to Move You From Doormat to Empowerment, Navigating the Codependency Maze, and she writes a popular blog called Happily Imperfect for

3 thoughts on “Emotional Invalidation: A Form of Emotional Abuse

  1. Hello. I loved this article about invalidation and what to do with invalidators. I always felt it was deeply wrong and hurtful to invalidate others bc my mother is a chronic invalidator, unintentional at it. I’m now 30 and she’s 70. I survived her emotional neglect because my father was much more validating, however I know my mother is very unlikely to learn to be a validator. I think she was invalidated herself too, and she has very little sense of self validation herself. The bad thing is that due to her invalidation I cannot be friends with her-I don’t have any emotional need met with her and don’t feel safe with her. The other thing that sucks is I suffer deeply still whenever she invalidates me I remember almost every single time she did in the past and if I let it I can let it eat me alive in sadness. I feel I get better at it with the help of letting go and through self validation and acceptance that she won’t change but I don’t have to doubt my own feelings or dismiss them as unreal or wrong bc she says so. Thirdly I am married happily thank God and I am validated by my husband always he’s the most supportive and wonderful and I feel a deep level of understanding; where I struggle is developing female friendships—I get anxiety about a room full of women and panic, and I cannot build not have interest in making female friendships out of trust issues and fear to other women bc of my invalidating mom.

  2. I have a father that invalidates my feels every chance he gets. He tell me to get over how he treats me or other people treat me. That I just need to get over the traumas that I have suffered in my 21 yrs of life. it’s hard to do so because I haven’t heard. And it hard to heal when you constantly have family members like my dad and sister invalidating my feelings and experiences on a daily bases. My dad wants me hurry up and heal. He tells me that I’m displaying a losers mentality because Im trying to deal with my emotions in a healthy. Not in a way were I become destructive and just brush everything aside. I’ve been taught to do that my entire life by my dad. He’s very disrespectful when it comes to me shares my opinion and emotions. I’m mocked and made fun of and get called sensitive. I tell him that he hurts me and he still mocks me or laughs at me. Whenever we talk on the phone I don’t even get to my sentence out before he interrupts me. when I call him out in it he tells me that I interrupted him first to try to make it seem like I’m lying or making something up. It’s excusing. He makes me feel bad for feeling what I feel and for doing the things I want. he tells me I don’t deserve anything because I didnt want it even though I did. I ‘m trying to heal and he’s not making the process easy.

    1. Please, please stop calling or texting him. Under no certain terms should you be alone talking to him one on one. Make sure if he has to see you, it’s in a very public place, be very vague with your answers, find an excuse to leave shortly after. Also, seek out a therapist, find a hobby for coping through your trauma. As I’m writing this to you, I’m realizing what I need to do in my situation. Thank you for sharing your story!

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