Monday, January 23, 2012

Validation vs. Invalidation for Borderline Personality Disorder

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.


  1. This is where me being mindful of others experience and cultivating my empathy has helped. I used to be a reckless invalidator because thats how I was taught. My dad was like yours and my mother was histrionic and made everything come back around to her and how it reflected poorly on her that her princess wasnt perfect.

    I wasnt indoctrinated with self reliance like you. Its probably why I have more codependent tendencies than you. I was supposed to be pretty and perfect. Hard to be pretty and perfect when you feel dead inside.

    Now that I am older and wiser, I am conscious of how I communicate with others. I feel bad when I think about the people I hurt because I was hurting so bad. Just spreading the shit around.

    1. Oh I'm very good at invalidating. I definitely have had to cultivate a more mindful sense of communication. Especially when I'm angry it's very difficult for me to hold onto this mindfulness.

      My mother was just sort of passive and not around as much as my father so his was the main influence that I absorbed. Having a histrionic mother must be incredibly frustrating. Was she ever able to acknowledge how things effected you?

      Dead inside. Yes. It's funny, I wish I was more capable of dependency. I couldn't deal with being co-d but I don't really know how to rely on anyone in a meaningful way or even how to believe that I can rely on others in a meaningful way. It's very isolating.

    2. My mother has mellowed now, somewhat, but I have to be very mindful of how I speak to her. Calm and flat. She resonates into the stratosphere off of the least bit of emotion. We had lengthy talks recently about a lot. Ive made peace with them both. She was very co-d and he wasnt around (and when he was, it wasnt pretty) and she smothered the shit out of me. I was her world. Ugh. My job was her happiness. She made sure to remind me of that all the time.

      My co-d is tinged with bpd flavor, though, so its pretty funny. I dont want just anyone (or I wouldnt be living alone) I want whoever I cant really have. Its safer that way. I know theyre all going to trash me and leave in the end, right? I took a risk with my ex. He was a sensitive guy. He seemed nice. Not like my previous boyfriends and girlfriends. I thought we could last, so I got married. That just made my co-d issues worse. Idk somehow I managed to get divorced and live on my own. The isolation is hard, but I am so thankful for it. After feeling trapped in emotional isolation during my marriage it is freeing to be able to choose physical isolation for my mental health. I have learned to revel in my aloneness. I had no space and was completely neglected at the same time in my marriage it is the weirdest thing ever. As if I wasnt already all fucked up about relationships. The divorce made the bpd worse in many ways. I had to get worse before I could really see an alternative, though.

    3. I'm actually working on a post concerning BPD and personal isolation.

      For me it alleviates the dissonance I feel. If I'm going to feel lonely, despite being with someone or in a crowd I feel even more screwed up because cognitively I know I shouldn't be feeling this way since I'm not technically alone. At least if I'm actually alone, feeling lonely makes sense.

      Isolation is very hard, but it's safe. I know exactly what you mean about wanting someone you can't really have. I believe this is why I choose emotionally unavailable men and break up with the emotionally available women. There's less risk of true attachement so when it inevitably ends, at least you can justify that it wasn't really about you because they never really had all of you anyways. Or something like that =(

      I don't like to be alone. I know it's not good for me. But at the same time,I don't know how to really let someon into my world either. I'm kind of stuck in limbo. Why does it always seem like things need to get worse before they can get better. Bleh. Have to feel the pain in order to get past it.

  2. Ha- therein lies the problem: 1) If a person over-reacts, even as a child, it might be hard for a parent (friend) to validate because the rage is so great, the parent feels like getting angry too, and instead of soothes, punishes. (yes, that was/is me) VICIOUS CYCLE!! In fact, now, my BPD daughter actually gets ANGRY with me if I don't get angry with her! Continuing of vicious cycle. I am trying to control myself. 2) Understanding the pain a BPD feels is very hard for non-BPD. We all feel pain, it's just that the non-BPD realizes there is an end, ultimately. The BPD thinks the pain (whether physical or emotional) will never stop. But, in the case of severe pain (idiot boyfriend breakup) it can seem to both non-and BPD's that pain is very hard (hence, perhaps, lots of drinking and chocolate.) So we can all act out. It's just, (i think) non-bpd might be able to live with the hurt (and it DOES hurt) while world seems like ending for BPD.

    1. It's funny, as a child I would get frustrated or upset but my mother tells me I was generally a happy child and that it was not usually blown out of proportion. My father came from a very broken home though so I don't think he understood was a normal and acceptable range of emotion for a small girl.

      1) Especially in the case of children, parents need to be parents, and need to be 'the bigger' person. Children just don't know how to react to things when they haven't been taught how to do so properly. With older people, especially those with BPD though, there needs to be personal responsibility on both parts.

      Your daughter will feel better when you get angry as well because this will allow her to feel less guilty that she is getting worked up and lashing out.

      Sometimes it's very, very difficult if not impossible to control emotions in the moment. However when emotions eventually calm down (and they always do), that's when it is necessary to sit down and take steps toward validating communication. Otherwise you're right, it's just going to continue to perpetuate a viscious cycle.

      2) ::smiles:: Understanding the pain a Borderline feels is very hard for the Borderline! haha, I can only imagine how much harder it would be for a Non to understand it. Even if you can't understand it fully, it's important to recognize that this feeling is very real, not made up, and not a figment of the Borderlines imagination. It may not seem like much, but just acknowledging that the pain is real is important to us.

      ::nods:: Everyone does act out in their own way at times, but you're right, often for the Borderline it can seem to be much more intense then it might for a Non. I don't really know yet how to ease this pain or convey that it will be a finite pain in a validating way because when we are in pain, everything else disappears and all we know is that pain.

      I don't know how to make this better, but I do know that having someone that believes us when we tell them how we feel and listens in a way that is non-judgemental means a lot.

    2. It does mean so much when someone believes us when we tell them how we feel and actually listens without judging us!

  3. I've never considered any of this before. Nice post.

  4. I really enjoyed this post. So much of it rings so true for me....

  5. Everyone Thank you all so much for your sharing your perspectives.
    Grew up with a (very dominant mother - smiles and perfect to the world outside - critical and dominant within the inside world), and since joining a codependent program - have realized that I'm not suffering from Bi-Polar or Borderline Personality Disorder. I'd had a long & drawn out break down, suffered the anxiety & guilt after learning I was a victim, and am now seeing just what & how I was treated as a child.
    Seeing things from other victim's perspectives has rekindled my empathy, though I still struggle from time to time. DBT/CBT & counting to 10 help a lot!! Learning how to validate both others and finally realizing that validating my own feelings has helped immensely. Again thank you all for sharing your stories!!!

  6. Validation, compassion, understanding - all three of these, when dealing with a BPD, are traps that will ensnare the average Non-BPD into an eternity of turmoil and servitude. These Borderlines don't need caring boyfriends/husbands/girlfriends/wives, they need help from qualified professionals.

    Caring and silently suffering their tirades and antics is not the way to go, believe me - they will ruin you. Validating BPDs' emotional rages will be used against the validator later. You can look forward to such gems as: "You even admitted that you understand this is hard for me; why do you keep bring it up?" when objecting to an instance of their outrageous, disrespectful behavior, for example. "You know how difficult I am", etc.

    There are thousands of real-life examples I could type out, detailing why validation will not help either people in the relationship. It will go on forever, and they're smarter than many give them credit for. They know exactly what validation is and how to use it to their advantage.

    Think about this: when using validation, you will never know if the BPD is calming down genuinely, if they fake-raged specifically to get validation, or if they're pretending to be satiated in order to con you into thinking you're getting somewhere only to break you down slowly - like a game.

    They know what they're doing a lot of the time. You have to starve their hamsters.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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