What Do You Do When You Are Invalidated?

Invalidation tends to trip some switch in our souls that lead us to reach into our bag of nastiness. Have you ever blamed, cursed, cried, shouted, or did something that you understood would create pain for the person who has invalidated you? Just as skunks are equipped to inflict their predators with spray, humans are equipped to inflict emotional predators with rage. We all came to life equipped with rage. Rage, however, begets rage between individuals, families, institutions, and countries. In rage, we offer the silent treatment, hire lawyers, build bombs, or even blow up the world.

Equally nasty is avoidance—which causes us to erect barriers to others loving us and withhold our love for them. Avoidance occurs when we choose to freeze, run away, or build a wall to keep us isolated and safe. Avoidance can be a silent, slow suicide or homicide, chopping years off of longevity in both the avoided and avoider.

Rage and avoidance are avoidance behaviors that can keep conflicts alive for generations. Who of us has not developed ways of defending ourselves from the potential negative reactions in the process of coming together as humans? Being hurt and giving hurt becomes a circular process forcing us to rotate between the role of victim and victimizer.

How to Relieve Suffering

George Hegel (2009) proposed that mankind learns effective solutions by bouncing off of seemingly impossible contradictions (a paraphrase of his “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” idea). Generations of human beings who have bounced off the dilemma of giving and getting hurt in the process of desiring to be loved have come up with a solution that is surprisingly similar: Acceptance can put an end to interpersonal suffering.

In our generation, the solution has come from pioneer psychologists, starting with Marsha Linehan’s (1993) recognition that Hegel’s observations could be used as an intervention to help patients with serious mental illness. She recognized that these patients had excessive experiences as recipients of invalidation. She recognized that the initial response to invalidation is to resist and push against the invalidating event. She labeled the natural push back “willfulness”. She taught her patients, that instead of pushing back, they should accept the invalidation “willingly” and move on with life.

A decade later, Tara Brach (2004) popularized the term “radical acceptance” to describe the cure for emotional suffering. She noted that that the power of radical acceptance has been understood for more than millennia, and in fact, was practiced by the Buddha. The first truth of Buddhism is accepting suffering, as it is inevitable.

But wait—the Christ taught it, when he told his disciples to respond to the hurt inflicted by others by turning “the other cheek”. The Jewish mystics taught the Kaballah—which literally means “acceptance”. Gandhi used the principle to earn sovereignity for India. Nelson Mandela led his nation to accept the injustice of Apartheid by having people on both sides of the controversy come together, acknowledge their pain, and move on. In nearly every faith and philosophy throughout earth’s history, there has been articulation of the wisdom of accepting rather than retaliating against hurt.

The strategy of acceptance is as effective for today’s interpersonal pain as it has been throughout the millennia. The victim and the victimizer; the spitter and the spat upon—we will all take our turn giving and getting pain. Will we choose to accept it, and move on with living?

I like it best the way the Beetles sang it:

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree,
There will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see,
There will be an answer: Let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

Stay tuned. Our next post will review some specific strategies that psychologist teach to facilitate the practice of accepting pain.


Author's Bio: 

Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD writes about the strengths and skills people use to face their mental health issues with empowerment (moxie) rather than victimization.

She has turned her 30+ years of clinical experience with thousands of clients into stories and tips about how her clients were able to recover from mental illness and addiction and return to the roles they enjoyed during times of wellness. She is author of the website www.moxiementalhealth.com. Her email is katrina@moxiementalhealth.com