How Childhood Invalidation Affects Adult Well-Being

How Childhood Invalidation Affects Adult Well-Being

Validation is the act of understanding and recognizing a person’s needs, feelings, thoughts, emotions, and behavior as valid. It’s based on being able to empathize with another person and relate to their reality based on their lived experiences.

On the flip side, invalidationoccurs when a person is made to believe that their needs, feelings, or lived emotional experiences don’t matter. In essence, if a person is conditioned in their childhood to believe that how they perceive their world is unreasonable or insignificant, these messages can later generalize to feelings of insecurity, deep depression, issues in trusting themselves or others, and an unstable sense of self-identity.

How parents and caregivers respond (rather than react) to their child is critical for that child’s emotional development, positive socialization, and development of a self-identity. Healthy and consistent validation on the part of the parents can help to instill a sense of worth and value in their child as being seen and heard.

Childhood invalidation is thought to be related to many mental health issues in adulthood including an increased risk for both borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. While invalidation may or may not include overt verbal abuse, its effects are typically longstanding and often carried with that child into their adult relationships.

If a child routinely had their reality dismissed, minimized, or denied, they can struggle with identifying or expressing their emotions as an adult. They may become emotionally unavailable and can struggle to form or keep intimate relationships when emotional vulnerability is on the line.

Emotional unavailability is based on survival mode; if a child is conditioned to wrongly believe that emotional neglect and invalidation are “normal,” they may become an adult who sees emotional intimacy as threatening and something to fear. This pattern is correlated with an increased risk of pathological narcissism in adulthood, research finds.

Perhaps equally common is a tendency to overreact to stressors in their adult lives. This pattern is conditioned by caregivers who wind up inadvertently shaping their child’s extreme reactions to being invalidated where the child learns that emotionally overreacting is the only way they get their parent’s attention. The message the child is learning is that normal reactions will be dismissed or ignored while overreacting will receive attention, even if it’s negative attention. Ultimately, this pattern negatively reinforces expressing intense emotions and dysfunctional reactions, which has been associated with increased risks of borderline personality disorder.

Relationships that are safe and affirming can help establish a solid foundation for trust and feeling validated. A person's ability to feel safe in their relationships is critical to their overall relational satisfaction.

Yet when a person is regularly invalidated in their childhood, a sense of safety, predictability, and reliability often wind up missing. The result is that relationships can emotionally trigger them in feeling dismissed and helpless.

If we can't feel safe in our relationships, we can't trust ourselves or others in our lives. It is very common for people who have experienced significant invalidation in childhood to be drawn to partners who wind up negatively reinforcing their core trauma and further hurting them, or shutting down from relationships altogether as too unsafe.

Because emotional invalidation is typically learned and conditioned in childhood, these experiences can be repeated in our adult intimate relationships. Sadly, we may not be consciously aware of these patterns, especially if they feel “comfortable” and “familiar.” Some common red flags include:

It’s important to know that healing from early emotional neglect and invalidation is possible. Psycho-education and emotional awareness are critical in helping a person overcome feelings of invalidation and to begin understanding how to validate their own lived experiences. Because we can’t be expected to know what we were never taught, learning how to identify feelings and needs can be a slow process that requires dedication, the practicing of self-love, and reaching out to a therapist who specializes in healing relational trauma.

To find help near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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