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What is emotional invalidation

Emotional invalidation: Why childhood abuse is inherently invalidating

What is emotional dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation is a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) term used to describe a core problem many people face – difficulty in managing emotions.

If you’re emotionally dysregulated, you have a lot of strong emotions that come on quickly and take a while to pass. You say and do things when you’re upset that you later wish you hadn’t. Or, you may feel numbed out or confused by your emotions, but look calm on the outside.

DBT’s biosocial theory of emotional dysregulation:

The biosocial theory is a theory that helps explain why your emotions and behaviors are hard to manage.

DBT’s biosocial theory holds that emotional dysregulation is created by a mix of biological factors (the bio part) and environmental factors (the social part).

Biology:

Some people are wired to feel things more strongly. There are good things about this. If you are biologically predisposed to stronger emotions, you may feel deeply, care about things passionately and be considered more sensitive.

Environment:

If you were raised in a family where your emotions were dismissed or minimized over and over, then you grew up in an emotionally invalidating environment.

You weren’t taught how to recognize and manage your emotions effectively by your parents or other important caregivers.

 

What is emotional invalidation?

Emotional invalidation is an environment where you repeatedly got the message that your emotions were wrong, or that you had to deal with hard emotions by yourself.

Here are some examples of invalidating statements:

  • Stop crying so much, no one else is upset.
  • Get over it, you’re too sensitive.
  • Stay in your room until you calm yourself down.
  • Stop making such a big deal over everything.

Why emotional invalidation over time causes problems:

Everyone is invalidated when they’re growing up some of the time. Parents and caregivers are human, and therefore may be stressed out and unable to consistently validate a child’s emotions.

If you’re not wired to be very emotional, this may just slide off your back. But if you are wired to be more emotional and you are invalidated repeatedly, you will start to feel that there is something wrong with you and your emotions.

You might learn not to trust your emotions or push them down. Some people push their emotions down so much they feel numb. Others push them down for a while, until they get too uncomfortable and then explode.

Childhood abuse is emotional invalidation:

The experience of being physically or sexually abused as a child is inherently emotionally invalidating.

The part of you that sensed something was wrong about the way you were being treated had to be ignored in order to survive.

  • If there was no one to tell about the abuse, or you told someone and they ignored it or blamed you for it, that was (and still is) invalidating.
  • If you had to not cry or were told you deserved it, that’s also invalidating.
  • If you were made to do things that you felt were wrong, that’s invalidating.

If you were abused as a child, you had to swallow your emotions and had to attempt to deal with them yourself. This is effective as a child because it helps you survive.

As an adult, though, ignoring your emotions until they completely overwhelm you, believing that you have to deal with your emotions by yourself, and suppressing what you really feel can create serious problems in your life.

 

You do not have to continue to live this way.

DBT can help you learn to understand your emotions and manage them in effective ways.
In effect, DBT can help you to deal with your emotional invalidation.

 
Call 415-310-5142 to see how DBT can help you.