It has taken me many years to begin to get a handle on where my feelings of shame, confusion, second guessing and low self esteem come from. I remember when I made it to addiction recovery for alcoholism, my Mother congratulated me but was quick to point out I was the only one with problems in the family (not true my elder sister had undergone psychotic episodes a few years before) and it was all down to me being in her words “difficult” and “a late maturer”.
I seem to have gone through my life with a huge backlog of grief over never really having my true self and feelings validated together with a huge impact of physical and emotional trauma from accidents and then the descent into addiction all in an attempt to cope. As my therapist explained it this week.
You were like a human canon ball being shot out and ricocheting all over the place.
Underneath all of this struggle was a great loneliness, a feeling like I was very different and ill fitted for the world, that I needed to keep my feelings inside, shame, longing to be seen and loved all silenced and buried deep down in my body.
It is only since I began my body work therapy last year that I have become aware of the very real deep painful feelings my body had to bury. To this day I contort like a shell shock victim on awakening, trying to get to sleep and after I eat, also after painful interactions with family and abusers. The body therapy is slowly unravelling this contortion but at times when I am alone and on the dark days it has been like a living nightmare and I have entertained feelings of suicidal despair.
From the age of 23 when my father died (and even earlier) I felt I had to do it alone, to hide how I felt and to swallow it all down with alcohol and drugs. I was lucky to recognise the destructive path I was on by age 31 but by then a lot of damage had been done and I was in a relationship with someone invested in me NOT doing the deep psychological work to heal. I only see that now, for so many years I blamed myself on some level.
Today I came across an article which I am sure I have read before on another occasion on the impact of invalidation abuse on psychological health. I hope to share some of what I found in this and other blogs over the next few weeks. Reading this article is helping me realise all the incidences of invalidation I have undergone over years and I although it is painful to realise, it is also giving me a strong feeling of liberation. The feeling of “wow, I’m not so crazy or different after all”. I now see the reason I have been so full of self doubt.
I was very interested in the double bind theory of schizophrenia when I learned about it while undertaking a naturopathy degree many years ago just before I got sober. It was proposed by an anthropologist, Gregory Bateson and championed by the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Essentially it found that schizophrenia often resulted from one thing being said to an individual that was actually a twisted form of what the said person was really thinking or feeling and had the effect of undermining the object while causing much questioning, doubt, angst and deep confusion. The result is a feeling of crazieness of receiving a mixed message that not only makes no sense but causes someone to question their reality.
If we are on the receiving end of invalidation abuse over time we do tend to go crazy.
Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but that we are abnormal. This implies that there is something wrong with us because we aren’t like everybody else, we are strange, different, weird.
None of this feels good and it damages us… When we are invalidated by having our feeling repudiated we are attacked at the deepest level possible because our feelings are the innermost expression of our individual identity. Psychological invalidation is one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse. It kills confidence, creativity and individuality.
Telling someone she shouldn’t feel as she does is akin to telling grass it shouldn’t be green or water that it shouldn’t be wet. Each person’s feelings are real whether we like or understand them, they are still real. Rejecting them is akin to rejecting the person’s reality; it is to fight nature and it is a crime against nature, psychological murder or soul murder.
Such invalidation is also crazy making. As R.D. Laing noted it ties us up in knots. We get twisted in the search for truth which can only end in healing once we begin to recognise the truth of what was done to us when we were invalidated.
It is now understood that such invalidation abuse leads to depression and anxiety disorders. When we are consistently told that what we feel and know is wrong or bad or meaningless or confused we loose connection with our True Self. We may begin to adopt feelings and attitudes being forced on to us in order to gain approval and acceptance or because the heavy cost of loosing love felt too hard for a young person still not equipped to sort out fact from fiction, love and respect from control and negation.
There is an excellent and exhaustive list on this link to different forms of invalidation. Reading through them and copying them into my own archives I recognised at least a dozen forms of invalidation I have been subjected to over the years, not only from family and school teachers, but friends as well.
If we are ever to recover our self esteem and connection to our True Self we must begin to develop an awareness into how that truth has been at times stolen from us by others ill equipped to cope with it. We need to break free of the heavy burden of invalidation abuse which we can and do internalise in the process of growing up and being socialised in society geared towards image, facades and flight from authentic emotion.