Invalidating a person is an easy thing to do. It is easy but can cause lasting damage. That damage can only be repaired through an act of vulnerability.
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“That’s impossible.” “Be happy.” “How can that be true?” “You should …”
Invalidating someone is an easy and deeply violent act. It wares on a person and can cause one to doubt that they will ever be listened too. I work in the software development industry. An industry rife with skilled individuals who doubt they know enough. So, talking about invalidation is a very visceral thing for me.
The worst part of invalidating someone is that it is so easy to do. It is so easy that most people do it unintentionally.
What is Invalidation
You invalidate someone when you either dismiss or contradict a statement they made about their experiences or emotions. A person’s experiences and emotions are true even if they differ from your experiences and emotions. By contradicting them you are making an intrinsic assumption that you understand what they have lived through. This understanding is impossible. Therefor it states that the person is lying about their truth.
Invalidation is a personal afront and can lead to a person feeling invalidated from being a person.
I Was Invalidated
Invalidation, particularly over a long period of time can cause a significant amount of harm. It builds up and erodes oneself while destroying trust in the person doing the invalidation. Few things will destroy a relationship, professional or otherwise, faster than being invalidated. I know, I was in a corrosive work environment where I was invalidated many times a day for two years.
First don’t, simply don’t let it go that long before doing something about it. It is unhealthy.
But what can you do about it?
You need to start by acknowledging that you are only human, and being angry, hurt, frustrated or whatever emotion you are feeling is okay. Emotion is part of being human. Take some time and show yourself some kindness. You deserve it. Once you have centered yourself, then comes the hard part.
Next, you need to recognize that the other person is also human. They are acting out of valid emotions also. Do not seek to invalidate them because they have done that to you. This is not about forgiveness or even doing anything they will ever see. This is about you. This is about letting go of any burden you have around them. This also comes with the recognition that you cannot force the other person to change. You must accept them for who they are and then decide what to do with that relationship.
Once you have accepted that they are who they are and have their own valid reasons for what they have done, now you need to decide what you are going to do. If the relationship is not worth salvaging, you need to ask yourself if anyone else is in harm’s way? If so, you need to do something to protect those individuals. This could be forming a complaint with HR, or the police.
If no one else is in harm’s way, and the relationship is not worth saving. Leave. If you need to say goodbye do so. But leave.
If you wish to salvage the relationship, then you need to have a tough conversation. You need to also accept that the conversation may amount to nothing. But you need to have that conversation and be vulnerable. Remember not to invalidate them. Remember to accept them where they are, even if that means the relationship will end.
I Invalidated Someone Else
Like I said, it is easy to invalidate someone else. Most of the time we will never know we did it. If you are fortunate enough to know it happened, you can now attempt to undue the harm that was done.
If someone told you that you invalidated them, be very careful to not get defensive. It is very easy to compound the issue by invalidating the person again from a defensive position. Listen carefully to what happened. Try to remember the situation, and what lead you to say the things that caused someone to feel invalidated. Be kind to yourself but understand what happened so you can avoid it.
If while looking back on a situation you feel you invalidated someone reach out apologize. Don’t give any reasons unless they ask for them. Simple say you’re sorry and what you are doing to try and not do it in the future. Even if the person did not feel as if you invalidated them, they would appreciate you sincerely reaching out to them like this.
It Goes Sideways
No matter if you were the one invalidated or invalidating, the conversation from that might go all wrong. The danger in being vulnerable is that you might be hurt. If it goes sideways, please know that you tried to do the right thing. You were vulnerable and that is commendable. It might be time to remove yourself from that relationship.