Over time, a child who is told their feelings are “wrong” will become confused and learn to not trust their emotions. This is called chronic emotional invalidation, which is often one of the markers of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
The study found that a history of emotion invalidation (i.e., a history of childhood psychological abuse and parental punishment, minimization, and distress in response to negative emotion) was significantly associated with emotion inhibition (i.e., ambivalence over emotional expression, thought suppression, and avoidant stress responses).
Further studies showed that emotion inhibition is a significant predictor of depression and anxiety symptoms.
Understanding the impact of a lack of emotional validation has been essential for me in healing from the terrible symptoms of internalised self invalidation which led to addiction. These symptoms were not even conscious for me until about 10 years ago after over 10 years of active abstinence from alcohol and all other mood altering drugs. Its been a big learning curve. This blog is an attempt to express some of what I have learned.
When as children our true feelings and needs are not validated we learn to internalise that invalidation. We constantly question ourselves, doubt ourselves, dismiss or minimise our true feelings, hear punishing or inwardly threatening or accusing voices including suicidal ones. Some of us take our own lives.
In his book The Inner World of Trauma the psychotherapist, Donald Kalsched explains how children traumatised in this way come to be possessed by an inner accusing figure that turns themselves against their self or acts to protect them from further upset and abuse by blocking out relationship and sometimes telling the person to end their life. Even when the promise of a healthy relationship free of abuse is offered the person will doubt it and hear inner voices telling them to kill it off for fear of being traumatised again. Its a very painful state of affairs and we have no way of healing from it until we come to understand the countless ways in which emotional invalidation operates to block our true feelings, self and needs.
Lack of emotional validation sets us up for a disconnected relationship with who we really are. It also sets us up for further invalidating relationships, until we suffer enough pain to say “Enough”, and realise what is happening.
Some of the symptoms of emotional invalidation on our psyche are:
Feeling that you will never be good enough.
Feeling that you are a failure.
Feeling like an alien on earth.
Looking to addictions to ease the pain that we begin to feel when disconnected from who we really are.
Putting on a false self in order to please others. Approval seeking. Hoovering (to be explained in another blog.)
Hiding true feelings and needs out of fear of being abandoned.
Fearing getting too close to others with the belief that if anyone came too close they would not like you.
Punishing the self in some way.
Self neglect. Self sabotage.
Feeling overwhelmed by decision making or just overwhelmed in your ability to function in daily life.
Relentless inward self criticism.
Acceptance and internalisation of criticism whether or not it is valid.
Being unable to have a realistic sense of one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Not allowing very real human mistakes or feeling deep shame for making mistakes.
Feeling you are a mistake.
Shame bound feelings. If you feel anger you feel ashamed. If you feel sad you feel ashamed. As a result of being told you are a cry baby, too emotional, just too sensitive, too deep.
Suppression of emotions until they explode out in fits of screaming, crying or yelling. Difficulty regulating emotions.
Suppression of emotions to the extent that one somatises them. That is : experiences them only as pulling, pain, tearing, burning, squeezing. Difficulty breathing. Panic attacks.
Chronic fear and terror.
Pathological loneliness. Feeling as though no one could possibly ever understand you
(This list is adapted with my own additions from the following source :
What an agonisingly painful way to live. But there is hope. We can begin to learn about the effects of emotional invalidation. Most importantly we need to limit our involvement with relationships which are invalidating (until our recovery is fully centred) and often we need therapeutic or online support from those who reflect back to us our true self and validate our feelings.
Such validation is enormously powerful. One of the most painful effects in my own life of chronic invalidation has been a host of physical symptoms which made no sense, addiction, depression, anxiety, feeling suicidal and being attracted to dysfunctional relationships where old patterns of invalidation and abuse took place.
Two days ago I had a very powerful attack which was exacerbated when speaking to those who in invalidating made my physical symptoms even more acute. All the symptoms disappeared when I spoke to a therapist who was able to validate and reflect back to where I was, who I was and how I was feeling.
One of the reasons borderline personality has that name is that those of us who suffer from it live on the border of psychosis, we live very close to the unconscious, most especially the body unconscious, our triggers of past difficulties, frustrations and traumas are never very far from the surface and often they can bleed through or tear apart our usual mundane conscious space. Getting a handle on when we are triggered by emotional invalidation goes a huge way to easing our pain. It gives us power over our inner world and helps us to make wiser choices informed by our true emotional reality.
Understanding the effects of chronic emotional invalidation and internalised self invalidation is essential to our healing, helping us to shed the false self with all its deeply unconscious fears and insecurities. It frees us from the shame others would dump on us for suffering from the consequences of something we did not choose and most certainly do not deserve. It gives us the power of understanding that enables maturing and self responsibility. It helps us to dislodge the hurtful schrapnel buried deep inside us.