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.


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

13 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!

    2. I know it’s hard but I’d cut him out of my life. This is abuse and damaging. Unless he can treat you with respect and kindness id distance myself. I know it’s hard, I did it with my dad too, but nowhere is it a requirement to tolerate abuse with family or anybody. You are both children of god and god wouldn’t treat you that way. So who is he to? You don’t deserve this and I’m sorry for your pain.

    3. There should be a group for Adult Children of Toxic Parents, as well as Adult Children of Alcoholics. We (humans) can be plenty toxic without the help of alcohol. A basic tenet of AA is acceptance – acceptance: that this is what happened to me, is still happening to me and these are the effects of this toxic relationship. There’s peace and strength that comes with acknowledging harm but not seeing oneself as a victim. Then comes the prescription to “detach with love” which is not easy to do. Detaching with love, even when done clumsily and imperfectly is completely necessary.

  3. Hi Laura,
    I recently had a friend I’ve known for several years completely turn on me because I did not give her my complete attention, and validate her point of view in a way that she deemed appropriately validating. She came completely unglued! I was not allowed to have a different experience or opinion. Did I mention she chose her moment to confront me (twice) in the middle of a Christmas party I was hosting to unleash that I had deeply offended her. Up to now we had enjoyed a very close and affirming relationship. I have been supportive of her. So why she did not communicate to me about being offended (apparently 2 day before the party) privately and immediately so we could understand and heal our conflict? I cannot fathom. So, I think it’s essential to choose your moment well. Take stock of your ‘beef’- has your loved one historically been supportive? Validating? Empathetic and caring? Then give that person the benefit of the doubt. Ask questions. Don’t make assumptions. Your loved ones deserve a fair opportunity to ‘hear’ your concern, and to be ‘heard’ when there is a supportive time and space for having a serious conversation. Your future relationship may depend on it. This now, former friend, seized her opportunity to confront me based on assumptions she made…but she did not check in with me about her concerns. She did and does not take responsibility for everything that followed: her lack of communicating that she’d been offended, her confrontational, hostile and punishing behavior during a 6 hour Christmas party. Her continued irrational behavior at gatherings where she either summarily ignores me or is “perfectly appropriate” when others are watching. The whole experience has left me feeling traumatized. I doubt we can come back from this and be friends. I don’t trust her anymore. I sometimes think people who are mentally fragile take advise and create justifications but not self responsibility for very bad/unwell behavior. It’s so sad because everyone looses. I even called her months later, to see how “she” is doing and she said she was still deeply offended. So sad. And also scary. I thought I knew her. It’s like she’s experiencing a completely different reality.

  4. I’m glad I stumbled upon this article. I enjoyed reading it. I have recently left a relationship where I was invalidated all the time and I paid the price because of it. In the beginning it was just small things that I said that were always followed by a disagreement. I don’t care if people disagree with me, we all have different thoughts and opinions. But the consistency built up to where it was for everything I said. Eventually each time I attempted to express my feelings she would get defensive and not acknowledge my feelings at all. The first time I expressed to her that sometimes her sarcasm at my expense was hurtful and she responded by getting extremely agitated and leaping off the couch and saying, “well I don’t think this relationship is going to last.” I wasn’t trying to end the relationship I was only trying to express my feelings. Another time I mentioned how I did not appreciate the way I was being spoken to and she replied, “Well someone has to take charge! I took care of the lunch and I did a bunch of work too!” I was not trying to say that she was not helpful, I was only trying to express that I didn’t appreciate the way I was being spoken to. Another time she said, “you have weird genetics, skin like a mexican and hair like an african.” When I mentioned that I didn’t appreciate it she said, “well maybe you should go to a bar and get hit on by other women and feel better about yourself.” There was never a time in my relationship where I felt validated. Over time I stopped bringing things up that bothered me and kept them to myself. I knew something was wrong and I finally realized that the relationship was not healthy for me to be in anymore and I left. If you ever notice that it is a repeat pattern where your partner invalidates you just leave. There are other people in this world who are willing to step back and at least hear you out.

  5. My wife invalidates me all of the time. If she does or says something that upsets me, she accuses me of being in a bad mood. If I share an idea, she says someone has probably already thought of it or picks it apart. If I share something that I discovered, she already knows it or says ‘everyone knows that.If I try to discipline our children, she interferes and makes me the bad guy. This list goes on and on. The problem is, I am the only one she does this to. Everyone else thinks she is sweet and wonderful while she is sucking all of the life from my soul. When I call her out on it, she says I am too sensitive. When I dare share my feelings with her, she often says I shouldn’t feel the way I do. What can I do to help her see how she is killing my soul? Currently, I have pulled away from her emotionally and we are simply co-existing.

    1. David, it sounds like she is a classic narcissist, in that everyone else thinks she’s great, yet she abuses her significant other. I was married to two of these. From what I understand from my reading about it, they won’t go to counseling because they think there’s nothing wrong with them, and even if they did, they’d likely pull the wool over the counselors’ eyes, too. Again from what I read, the only thing you can do is leave the relationship, and it’s best to go No Contact, or you run the risk of being drawn back in. With your having young children, this won’t be easy. I put it off too long myself. There’s no other, easier way out that I know of. Also, before you get into another marriage with a similar person (and they can be very skilled at drawing you into their web of narcissistic supply), don’t do like I did and “settle,” thinking you can’t or won’t do better, hoping differences will work themselves out. They won’t; they’ll continue and become worse, as the other person will retain the upper hand. They have to, as it’s the only way they know to survive. Good luck! But don’t continue to suffer; there is no easy way out. BTW, I am NOT any sort of qualified counselor; I’m just speaking from my own sad experience. And, since I did it twice, you can see I didn’t even learn my own lesson.

      1. Based on this man’s short post, you’re assuming his wife is a narcissist and are urging him to leave her? What if she’s not a narcissist? Maybe there are other problems in the marriage. We really don’t know many of the facts here. If anything, I would advise him to seek marriage counseling.

  6. My husband invalidates my feelings all the time. He dismisses me as making “a big deal out of nothing” and of not feeling what I’m feeling. I suppose I do the same to him after having been dismissed for 25 years. I don’t feel any emotional connection to him at all. He shares facts about his life with me all the time. He tells what what he said, what he did, what others said, what others did. He never tells me how he feels. He does tell me “I love you” once in a while, but I don’t feel loved or accepted by him. I just want someone to understand me and accept me for who I am. Is that too much to ask?

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