What exactly is Validation? Validation is acknowledging and/or accepting that a persons feelings, thoughts, and internal experiences are real; valid. Validation does not mean praise, it does not mean you have to agree with what the person is feeling or thinking or doing. It does mean that you must accept that what another person is going through is a very real experience for them.
Validation is extremely important for everyone, but especially so for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. One problem we often have is feeling perpetually misunderstood because we are constantly invalidated. When you are constantly and consistently told that you are: overreacting, acting like a child, blowing something out of proportion, not thinking clearly, that you should ‘act like an adult’, suck it up, crying doesn’t help, being upset accomplishes nothing…. It completely inhibits the potential for constructive communication and progress because you are shutting the person down.
Invalidation means that another person’s emotions and experiences are judged, rejected, ignored or denied. This only contributes to the buildup of emotional frustration and upset. It contributes to the feeling that there must be something wrong with us. That we are bad people. That we’re not who we are “supposed” to be. Invalidation is the rejection that someone is feeling something very human and that it is okay for them to be their own person.
As I mentioned on Friday, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to invalidation. I was taught to suppress my emotions and this has had a detrimental effect on my ability to regulate my emotions in a positive and healthy manner. There are a lot of reasons people invalidate another’s feelings. My father did this because he wanted me to ‘be stronger’, to learn to take care of myself, and to teach me to not rely on other people to meet my needs (encourage independence). These actually are not negative things, but how he went about it was invalidating and harmful to me. There are better, validating, ways that you can achieve these same things. By teaching me that I needed to suppress my emotions this resulted in an emotional bottleneck within me. I don’t complain, I don’t express myself, I don’t get upset, I hold it all in…. until that internal emotional pressure becomes too damn much and I explode.
Especially when I was a teenager. I never learned how to properly express my emotions growing up. I never believed it was ok to even have emotions growing up. This resulted in me being a very, very angry girl. I refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong, because I was taught that it meant I was weak if I admitted that I was having problems. I refused to seek help, because by extension this would mean admitting to someone else that there was something wrong and allowing another person to see something weak in me was unacceptable. I was severely depressed, overwhelmed, in destructive relationships, hurting myself, and I didn’t believe I had the right to tell anyone because “complaining doesn’t solve anything”. Instead I acted out. I raged. All that suppression of emotion turned to frustration and resentment, which turned to anger (which lead me to the Dark Side, sorry, couldn’t resist). When I was good, the world walked on pins and needles, but when I was angry, the walls shook and the roof threatened to collapse. I had no idea how to constructively express myself so I lashed out. I had screaming fights with my parents every single day. I kicked down doors, punched holes in walls, put my fist through plate glass windows, took knives, scissors, and broken mirrors to my skin and tore myself apart until the red I saw was a puddle on the floor beneath me and I was too exhausted to continue. I felt destroyed internally so I destroyed externally. I didn’t know what else to do. Even when I was lost to this torrent of emotion, I felt like I had no right to feel this way, and that I had no right to ask anyone for help.
That is the result of invalidation. No, I’m not blaming my parents (though I did at the time). I remember feeling utterly lost and misunderstood. It was me vs. the world. Yes, I was taught that I shouldn’t express my emotions. I didn’t understand what challenging this idea meant at the time. I didn’t know what invalidation was at the time. I challenged everything, I rebelled against everything, but I didn’t realize that what I should have been rebelling against was the idea that I was taught to hold onto so hard; my independence. And by this I mean emotional independence. I should have challenged the idea that it wasn’t ok to feel emotions. I should have challenged the idea that asking for help equated to weakness. But I didn’t know any better. You can’t fix something you don’t realize is broken to begin with.
Anytime I did try to express myself I was often met with solutions. Ways of fixing my feelings and my problems. If I look at things a different way, if I approached something with a different attitude, then I wouldn’t feel this way in the first place. All helpful things (my parents really did/do love me, they just didn’t understand themselves what they were doing) but I don’t ever remember being told that it’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to ask for help.
In fact, the first time I really remember being told it was okay to ask for help from them was this past Christmas when I didn’t think I would be able to make it home for the holidays. My father said, “Girl, if you don’t tell us what’s wrong, we can’t help you.” Immediately my thoughts were, “It’s none of your business and I don’t need help”. I didn’t tell them what was wrong, and I figured out a solution myself. It’s so ingrained in me to do things myself that turning to another person is like rubbing my skin the wrong way.
Validation is something that I haven’t ever had much of before I met Therapist. It’s still very difficult for me to accept when she validates my emotions, but I’m also much less hesitant to tell her what is going on with me. Which in turn, means that there’s a real chance of helping me. It still doesn’t feel natural yet, but I expect that will take some time.
In order to regulate emotions, you need to understand that what you’re feeling is real. When you know something is real, then there is something you can do about it. Validating another person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors (even if you don’t agree with them) gets you to a starting point where you’re both on the same page of understanding. By recognizing where another person is coming from you can effectively open the gates of communication.
I feel like I should probably give examples here, because often people invalidate another’s feelings without even realizing they’re doing it and perpetuating a destructive cycle.
Ex. Say a Borderline girl just ended a relationship with her boyfriend, is suffering severe feelings of abandonment and is on the verge of cutting and hysteria (I know, cliché).
Invalidation: “It’s not that bad. He was a jerk. There are plenty of better guys out there. It’s not worth hurting yourself over.”
Validation: “You seem very upset. He must have meant a lot to you. It’s scary when a relationship ends and you don’t know what will happen next.”
The invalidating response seems supportive but in fact slams the door on how she is feeling. The validating response leaves the conversation open for further communication about how the person is actually feeling. This will make it easier to find ways of getting through such hard emotions. Just because you don’t experience a situation in the same way, does not mean that it is not a valid way for someone else to feel it. Validation doesn’t mean you have to fix the situation for a person, but acknowledging what they are going through will do wonders to make someone feel less alone and more understood. I shouldn’t have to tell you how important this is for someone prone to intense feelings of abandonment and loneliness.
Remember: Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. You want to encourage communication, not stifle the voice.