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How to spot and handle emotional invalidation

How to spot and handle emotional invalidation
"You're just being oversensitive": What to do when you're feeling misunderstood by a trusted friend
Have you ever been told that a problem shared is a problem halved? Often, it rings true. We open up to a trusted friend and their kindness and understanding makes us feel almost instantly better. By sharing with someone who “gets it”, our problem suddenly feels smaller and more manageable. 
But other times, we open up and feel worse. Instead of consoling you, your nearest and dearest try to minimise your problems. “You’re just being oversensitive,” they might insist. “You think that’s bad? You should hear what I’m going through,” they might proclaim. 
Maybe they even offer you unsolicited—and unwelcome— advice, or suggest, in so many words, that your worries are silly, frivolous and shallow. You wanted support, but instead you feel silenced and misunderstood. This is emotional invalidation in action.  

Shaming and judging

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“Invalidating emotions can be shaming, judgemental and censorious,” says Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist and author of What We Want: A Journey Through Twelve of Our Deepest Desires.
“If your feelings aren't tolerated, you learn that it's not safe to show certain parts of yourself, and you might start concealing whatever is really going on for you.”


Emotional invalidation can feel like a kind of rejection. When you open up and show your vulnerable side, only to find your feelings are sidelined by others, Fox Weber says it can make you feel as though you are only “conditionally acceptable” and not allowed to feel and experience certain things.
"Emotional invalidation sends the message that your emotions are wrong"
In short, emotional invalidation sends the message that your emotions are wrong. It stifles self-expression and makes you less likely to open up again.


Of course, reaching out to those closest to us for support is vital for our mental and emotional health, so if time and again you’re finding that your feelings are being invalidated, how can you handle it?
The first step? Understanding why loved ones react this way in the first place. It can be tempting to believe they are being deliberately insensitive, but often they really do have your best interests at heart.


Sometimes the people close to us aren’t comfortable with displays of emotion. They may panic and offer up the first thing that comes into their head in an attempt to be genuinely helpful.

“Fixing” problems

In their eagerness to support you, they may rush to “fix” your problems by offering opinions and suggestions that appear to oversimplify your problems or minimise your emotions.
“We often have knee-jerk reactions to strong displays of emotion, and so, if someone expresses distress, we might feel pulled to fix what's wrong, to reassure and try to make it better by denying the upset,” says Fox Weber.
“A classic example of this is when a child cries and a well-meaning adult shushes the child and says ‘You're okay. You're going to have so much fun! Don't cry’. In so many ways, we try to reshape emotional displays to fit our circumstances,” she explains.

Emotional struggles

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Add to that, if the person you’re talking to isn’t in touch with their own emotions, they may have difficulty relating to yours.
“When we're not aware of our own emotional tendencies, it's difficult to stay with someone else's feelings and to really hold space for a person's experience, particularly if it’s markedly different from our own,” Fox Weber points out.

Outline your needs

So now you know why people often unintentionally invalidate your feelings, what should you do next? Remembering that friends, family, and colleagues are only human is vital. They won’t always know the right thing to say, as much as they might like to.
"Learn to expect misunderstandings"
“Learn to expect misunderstandings,” Fox Weber suggests. “People get it wrong in so many ways, and communication is complicated in every culture.”
It might also be helpful to outline your needs at the start of the conversation, perhaps by saying “I don’t need a solution or a quick fix, I just really need to offload my emotions and to feel heard and understood.”


And if you aren’t finding the support you need from others? Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of self-soothing.
Making space on a daily or even weekly basis to reflect on how you feel can be transformative. Sit with your thoughts for ten minutes or write about how you feel in a journal so you can identify your emotions and fully process how you feel without other people’s opinions getting in the way.
"Often the voice of comfort and reassurance we need is our own"
“If you feel unheard and misunderstood by someone in your life, you can try to clarify and convey how you feel more accurately, but you should also recognise the limitations of this,” says Fox Weber.  
“Sometimes it’s encountering oneself through writing that a sense of understanding happens, without requiring other people’s endorsement or validation.”
When we’re feeling low, we normally reach out to those around us for support, but often the voice of comfort and reassurance that we really need is our own. 

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