Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

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Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Validation and Invalidation

As I age I find that I'm increasingly able to identify broad themes in my life and relationships. Years ago I was able to identify peace as a quality I want and must have in my home life. Peace, stability, consistency. I chose a partner who offers those things, and consequently, my home is peaceful, a safe place to come back to. Hostile, unpredictable people are not invited in or welcomed back. This rule will continue to hold, in all likelihood more firmly, once there is a child in the house.

I believe that choosing a life partner is a lot like choosing a "parent" for your second childhood. If you choose someone who is unreliable, cruel, and emotionally chaotic, you are setting yourself up to relive a childhood with an unreliable, cruel, and chaotic parent. If you choose someone who is reasonable, gentle, and consistent, you are guaranteeing yourself a much more humane and nurturing "second childhood."

Anyway, peace has been an issue for me for a while. But recently I've come to acknowledge another issue, especially in my relationships. It concerns validation and invalidation. I've spent most of my life in relationships with people who invalidate my experiences. I've been told, "No, what I did was just fine, YOU are too sensitive." I've been told, "Stop crying, that didn't hurt." I've been told, "It's not broken, we're not seeing the doctor." I've been told, "You had it coming." I've been told that what I remember was wrong, that my anger or sadness were inappropriate or unfounded, that what I say happened could not have happened.

I spent 15 years in close friendship with a woman whose invalidation specialty was "That's nothing, you should hear what happened to ME." That relationship ended when I called her on it. We had an unspoken agreement that my job was to validate her, and her job was... to be validated. I grew tired of it.

When I posted about my dietary frustrations on this blog, a former perfume acquaintance posted that her dietary situation was much worse and at least I could look forward to an end to my troubles. I wondered why her post made me so angry until I realized that it was a classic example of invalidation, of the "That's nothing, you should hear what happened to ME" type. But did I call her on it? No. I fell right back into the validator role: "Yes, you do have such a difficult diet to follow." Sigh.

Much of the invalidation I've experienced has come from family. I know I'm not alone in this. As the youngest child and only girl, I was not spoiled -- quite the contrary. I was constantly told that I was wrong, that my observations were ignorant, that I would change my tune once I experienced "the real world." The only two people in my family who ever validated me were my oldest brother and my dad. It is mainly on this basis that I still feel affection for them, in spite of other ways they've hurt and disappointed me. But I was deeply hurt recently when I told my dad that my asthma may have come from years of second-hand smoke exposure (I grew up with four 2-pack-a-day smokers in the house), and he replied that he never believed my asthma diagnosis. As if asthma sufferers don't have symptoms! I couldn't breathe, for heaven's sake. But yet, somehow my physicians and I were "wrong." I wasn't sure why his reaction hurt me so much until I was able to give it a label -- invalidation. I'd expected him, of all people, to validate me. But since he was one of the smokers, perhaps he didn't want to believe that he'd contributed to my illness.

There is nothing more devastating than to marshall the courage to confide in someone and have them invalidate your feelings and experiences. This is why I'm shy and hesitant to talk much to others about the deeper aspects of myself, and especially about my childhood experiences. I'm always playing the role of validator but find that only a few people in my life validate me in return. I take responsibility for this -- only now am I learning to distinguish validators from invalidators and to aim my relational investments accordingly. My friends Mindy and Maria are wonderful validators. I cherish them for that. My blogger friend Barbara is a great validator. My husband too. In fact, I've come to realize that the times I've been most deeply angry with him are the times when he's refused to validate my experiences. But now I have a language to talk to him about it, and we continue to move forward.

Why people invalidate is beyond me. I can only guess. Two possibilities come to mind, denial and competition. Denial: they don't want to believe that some mothers don't love their offspring and want to see them abused, that some clergy violate children, that some soldiers torture prisoners, that they themselves have damaged others with their behavior. Competition: they have identified themselves as the Supreme Victim and are not willing to acknowledge that their friends/partners/children have endured difficulties too, some more horrifying than their own. These are the only two I can think of now, though I'm sure there are more. One thing I am convinced of: the reason so many people have therapists these days is because their therapist's office is one of the few places where they get guaranteed validation. It's a shame that more of us don't learn to simply listen and validate our loved ones without forcing them to shell out thousands of bucks for a therapist. Trust follows directly from validation. How many people do you have in your life whom you trust without reservation? If you can count more than two, consider yourself lucky.

No clever end to this post -- just had to get it out there. Thanks for reading.

26 Comments:

Anonymous lightspeed said...

With regards to Bela's comment...I'll say here what I've resisted saying elsewhere (because in the end it really doesn't matter). She is truly a miserable, bitter, lonely - deeply lonely - person, without the slightest interest in any focus other than herself and her own opinions. That is a very small universe in which to exist.
I'm sorry you were so hurt by her.

11:34 AM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger anjali said...

Kris -- I can't even come up with anything real to say to this post just because it makes me so sad. You are one of the strongest, most intelligent, most funny, most clever, most witty and most beautiful people I know...that anyone would, or even *could* try to invalidate you is incomprehensible to me. I am at least glad that you realize what other people are doing and give a name to it, instead of feeling that anything is wrong with yourself, or that you are actually wrong because you are NOT. You are amazing, and know that, if you ever need one, you have another validator here who will always believe in you and who already looks up to you more than you know .

11:41 AM, August 15, 2005  
Anonymous amandampc said...

You have my deepest empathies, Winterwheat.

Oh, to come from a family of validators - what would THAT be like, right? Not to in- or under-validate your experiences at all, but to say that I do very much empathize with all you have said here and laud you for voicing it so thoughtfully and rationally, as these are such tremendously hurtful experiences that can so easily rouse intense feelings of fury, bitterness, even loathing in their recounting. Good for you - and your husband - for finding a means through which to work through and ultimately beyond the scar tissue and make your way to a place of peace.

Your "second childhood" analogy is so incredibly insightful; I have read some theories on this that have basically stated we seek out significant others whose traits closely resemble those of another in our lives - usually a parent - with whom we have unresolved conflicts or issues, for the purpose of working through those conflicts and issues successfully "the second time around." In my case, the number of times in th epast that I have accused my husband of being EXACTLY like my mother - the world's MOST unempathic individual - is myriad. Happily, said husband has recently started work on his masters in behavioral psychology with a specialty in conflict resolution. And he is taking his studies very seriously in terms of applying them to his own behavior. All comparisons to said mother have blessedly evaporated!

You're a brilliant thinker and I enjoy your blog a great deal. And congratulations on the new addition coming to your family!

Amandampc (from MUA)

1:48 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Many thanks to all three of you for your *very validating* comments.

:-)

Lightspeed -- I hope I didn't come across as accusatory. I didn't think at the time that she intended to be hurtful. My anger at her comment seemed quite out of proportion to the comment itself, which was my signal that personal issues of validation were being aroused. It sounds like you have had more personal experience with her than I have, and I will grant you the validity of YOUR experiences, whether they match my own or not.

Dreamstorm -- I think the world of you and hope my daughter (or son) grows up to be just like you. :-)

Amandampc -- Bless you for your highly intelligent insights and support. You do truly understand. I knew I wasn't alone in this. I try to keep this blog funny and upbeat but sometimes the old pregnancy hormones tug you down. :-) About the partner selection thing: so true. Bless your husband for bringing his personal growth into the marriage, and bless you for being willing to grow with him. Anyway, what guy wants to be told he's just like his mother-in-law? If I were a guy, that would get the fires of change burning under my feet pronto. :-)

2:50 PM, August 15, 2005  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Kris,

YOu are such a beautiful spirit. My eyes are crying as I read your heartfelt words.

I love the line that choosing a partner is like choosing a second parent...What a revelation that is! Althought, the second parent, you will hope, and I know this to be the case with G, is someone who matches you in wit, wisdom and strength.

When we look for validation in others, and are unable to give it to ourselves, we chisel away at the core of our being. Ultimately, I think that we are our own true best friend, that is to say, the self. When we have a good connection to who we are, and what we want, then we can flourish, grow and blossom in the best of all possible ways.

You are an angel:)

6:46 PM, August 15, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope there is a place or a point inbetween both validation and invalidation ,that is called commiseration (sp) or empathy. And you are NOT whining ,but have had some big changes in your life.You are adjusting, that is a big deal. Shame on me for trying to get stuff like fiber into you.
Sharing & caring is hopefully validation. How about a hugs,praise & some good old fashioned support. Ox's Katie

12:13 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger katiedid said...

"Invalidation"

Thanks K for that word. I didn't know what to call it either. And now I do. Thank you.

12:27 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Atreau said...

((((Kris)))) Brava! Brava!

You are not at all alone! It's because of invalidation that I've been a self-injurer for the majority of my life.

Thank you for writing what I've always wanted to say!

5:07 AM, August 16, 2005  
Anonymous lightspeed said...

Funny enough, I've never met nor corresponded with the 'invalidator' which I mentioned above. Over the past couple of years, I've just seen an endless stream of one-uppings, complaints and perceived wrongdoings come from her online.

I have a friend who is very much like this. And yes, I would most definitely call her a friend. I often find it difficult to watch her isolate herself, pushing everyone around her both down and away. She's not remotely stupid, so I cannot believe that she has no idea how she hurts other people (as well as herself). But she most definitely resists acknowledging her part in the process.

I think this is what I have been trying to get at: People who insist on trumping the suffering/difficulties of others most likely had their own suffering repeatedly denied/trumped. They are trying to have their own feelings heard and acknowledged (validated), unfortunately by shouting down or strangling the voices of everyone else.

I hope this provides a more compassionate perspective to my original comments.

7:50 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Jonniker said...

So well done, Kris. *Mwah* to you and G and Jermajesty.

I believe Noodles, too. Wish I could just hug her.

8:30 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Barbara -- thank you. *mwah* I mean what I said.

Katie -- you were RIGHT about the fiber! Believe me, it makes me feel good to know others have gone through this and have advice to offer. I see a big difference between, "You're not alone, it DOES suck, I've gone through it too" (commiseration) and "That's nothing, you should hear what happened to ME" (invalidation).

Katiedid -- {{{{hugs}}}}

Atreau -- Nonstop invalidation is crazymaking, isn't it? I wish I could give you a big warm hug right now. I hope you've found people IRL who validate you so you don't feel the need to punish yourself for feeling what you "shouldn't be" feeling. :-(

Lightspeed -- thank you so much for further clarifying your position. I think you are right on the money. When I think of the people who've been least willing to validate my experiences, they are almost without exception people who've been terribly undervalidated in their own lives, especially as children. It's like they're desperately seeking validation as adults and find repeated opportunities to do so by trumping others' miseries. I think I understand this in part because I've done it. *cringe* I was chatting with another blogger about this via email and we agreed that invalidation can make you go one of two ways -- toward compassion or toward repeating the cycle of invalidation with others. I don't want to end up walking the latter path.

BTW -- you are brave and I really appreciate your honesty.

Jonniker -- thank you for your kind words, and for remembering about "Noodles." How's the move? Are you in the tropics yet??

9:07 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger mreenymo said...

Hello, Kris! I meant to send a message to you yesterday when I read your post, but I guess life got in the way. :):)

Sending you hugs and love. I think your observations on validation/invalidation are spot on.

11:26 AM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Love ya, Robin. Thanks so much for the phone conversation today. It was *exactly* what I needed. {{{{hugs}}}}

2:07 PM, August 16, 2005  
Anonymous SuburbanSue said...

K., wonderful and thought-provoking post, as usual. I love the way you examine issues and get to the heart of the matter. You really make me think.

Here's a question. Do you distinguish between invalidation and commisseration? Sometimes when people post about different problems or issues they have, I'll chime in and talk about my own -- not in an attempt to "one-up" the other person, but as a way to empathize. For example, I'd say, "Oh yes, hypothyroidism is an annoying condition. I have it as well. My experience is (blah, blah, blah), tell me more about yours."

Does that sort of thing strike you as "invalidation?"

4:04 PM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Hi Sue,

Thank you for your comment, and great question. Katie mentioned this above. Yes, I definitely make a distinction between the two. One (commiseration) communicates, "I've been through it too so I know what you're dealing with is real and you are NOT crazy or wrong to feel that way" -- which strikes me as very welcome validation. The other (invalidation) communicates, "I (or others) have been through much worse so you have no right to complain -- your emotional reaction is wrong/invalid." I think of validation as acknowledging that someone else is having a hard time and that her feelings are justified, whereas invalidation is either refusing to acknowledge the pain or telling the person that her feelings are wrong or unjustified. Often the people who are most equipped to validate your feelings and experiences are those who've been through the same thing themselves.

I've been really worried about my upcoming amnio, and the most comfort and validation I've received is from women who've been through it and said that they understand my reasons for doing it and my anxiety about it, because they went through all of that too. It's so good to know that one is not alone!

hugs,
K

4:37 PM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger still life said...

this is my first visit...hello

to everything you stated, i say
"yes"

people will lesson us...if we allow it

5:24 PM, August 16, 2005  
Blogger Urban Chick said...

a really thoughtful post - i did not have the means of describing why it is i grew tired of some friends, but you hit the nail on the head

oh, and btw, i had an amnio very late in my pregnancy (at 29 weeks) - my son wasn't growing well and they wanted to rule out chromosomal abnormalities

thankfully, it came back clear and thankfully, we didn't have to make a very hard decision

so i empathise

and i'm sure others have told you, but it is not at all painful and over very quickly

not sure when yours is scheduled for, but wishing you all the best

UC

4:47 PM, August 17, 2005  
Anonymous delsfan1 said...

Thanks for that. I truly enjoyed reading it. I've always heard that all anyone ever wants/needs is to be validated for real inner peace. Truer words were never spoken. Why is it so hard for some to validate others? Why do some want to make others feel bad for their feelings/thoughts? My 5 yr old daughter came to me the other day and told me she was feeling "left out" of someting. I thanked her for telling me how she felt and we talked about how she could feel better about the situation. I know some would shoo their kids away with a "get over it" mentality. That breaks my heart. I'm just so proud of her for verbalizing how she feels, and in no way do I want to break her little spirit by not validating that.

Everytime I read your blog, I always think what a great Mom you'll make. :)

6:36 PM, August 17, 2005  
Anonymous Sue said...

K., when is your amnio? I didn't have one but I have heard positive things from people who had it. They say that it's usually not as bad (e.g. painful) as you might expect, and that they experience a tremendous sense of relief later when they find out all is well with the little one. Are you planning to find out the baby's sex?

P.S. I'm just going to identify myself as "Sue" (minus the "Suburban") from now on, if that's OK...I don't post on MUA much these days, so that identity seems clunky.

11:25 PM, August 17, 2005  
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

Hi Kris, I can relate to tihs post on quite a few levels. As the youngest of 8 kids, many would consider me in an ideal spot...spoiled, pampered,etc. As you pointed out, that's not the way of it usually. I had a whole host of people, hell bent on making sure I didn't get too big for my britches. Many of these painful and difficult truths were brought to light and healed as best as possible in my search to re-invent, re-define my life in my thirties. There is never power in allowing yourself to be a victim and once you get out of 'victim' thinking and start being truly accountable for your thoughts, feelings, outcomes, you really feel true power. You also recognize and want to avoid victim mentality in others. What I refer to in 'my context' as vicims, is similar, I think, to what you have described as 'invalidators'.
You are a brilliant, empathic, accomplished woman. Don't let anyone take it away from you with their thoughtless words, ok?

Now, on the subject of amniocentesis; I've had this procedure twice. First, I'll tell you the most amazing thing about it. The baby at this time is a perfect size so you can see the whole thing, every little thing from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. The technicians I had showed me all the bones and organs. It was indescribable. The procedure itself wasn't particularly bad. Didn't hurt much and the only real anxiety was because I'm not experienced at reading a sonograph. It looked like the needle was getting way to close to the baby when in actuality it was far away. The hard part of amniocentesis for me and my husband was the mental anguish associated with the decision. "If you're not going to act on the results, don't take the risk of the procedure." That statement had a huge and frightening impact on our second pregnancy. Now we were in the position to "Know" about parental love, what it would really mean in terms of 'cost' to terminate a pregnancy at that late date. These were painful thoughts to have and it was a difficult decision to make to proceed. Only you and Greg can go to that place together. I'm sorry, but that is the downside.

You can email me anytime you like if you want to talk more about it Kris.
Sending lots of love and hugs your way.
Laura
ljbalanko@dow.com

12:53 PM, August 18, 2005  
Blogger jane said...

Kris, you are so right on! On a personal note, I can see how I chose my husband,as he validates all I do. You know how some people belittle marriage and say it ties them down? Well I've always said that it makes me feel very free; I feel accepted and loved no matter what I do.
Professionally, your comments relate so much to why I started teaching Childbirth Preparation classes many years ago. Women hear horror stories, misleading "facts" and other bits of invalidation regarding their birthing experience. "Get your epidural dear!" "I couldn't make enough breastmilk." Women are told things that result in little confidence in the ability of their own bodies to birth without the help of medicine or professionals.Last night I was addressing this issue in class,and I used your terms to get my point across. It worked!

6:15 PM, August 18, 2005  
Anonymous sarcon said...

hi, all! (I'm a former MUAer, too, from way back)

There are some really profound insights on validation/invalidation here, thank you for this! thank you everyone!

I swear you must have the same former invalidating friend I do! I think it's a combination of extreme self-centeredness (like never made it out of the Lacanian mirror stage) combined with serious fear of inadequacy (I think the competitiveness thing is related to this). The person in my case was also chronically late. I concluded that making people wait for her all the time was another facet of her pathological need to be the center of attention at all times.

May you never be cursed with such people in your life again!

3:38 PM, August 19, 2005  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Hi, I'm a first time reader. Good post. I guess I'm pretty lucky because most of my family have been really good to me.

I don't know what is going on with the ameo but my daughter had to have one with her first child. Some kind of enzymes were down and they told her that she would very likely have a child with downs syndrome. She and her husband decided to have the baby and he is the smartest little boy I have ever seen. He is 3 1/2 years old and he knows all his alphabet, he can count up to 30 and he is wonderful. I can't imagine him not on this earth. This is why it is so hard to make a decision like that. Good luck. Examine all the options. I'll be checking back.

7:35 PM, August 19, 2005  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

Hi Lucy,

Thanks for posting. The amnio tells you for sure (well, over 99.5% sure) whether the kid has Down Syndrome. So your daughter decided to have the child on the basis of information that her kid did NOT have DS, which is exactly what anyone else would do. Hopefully I'll get the same news! :-)

cheers,
K

9:03 PM, August 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you make some good points but I have to say I don't like the way lightspeed took the general issue and turned it into a personal attack on someone else. About half the people in the world do this invalidation thing on some issues and it doesnt necessarily mean they will do it over others. I think Bela rocks and also I know for a fact that she is neither lonely nor mean-spirited; I find her very funny and warm-hearted. She's always done loads to help me out, with advice and all sorts. The area of health has been incredibly difficult for her for years and years now, which obviously slipped out among the commiseration, but there is no way she would ever hurt anybody intentionally, and I think it reflects more on lightspeed that she/he could write such a piece knowing that Bela is likely to read it - that's an intentional desire to hurt, which in my view is worse, sorry. OK, you dont like her, absolutely your privilege, but a private email would have been better than a public forum. (And the 'explanation' was just an excuse to make further accusations.) How unpleasant.

11:16 AM, September 24, 2005  
Blogger Bela said...

Well, here I am four and a half months too late, but these comments have only just been pointed out to me. If it was indeed lightspeed’s intention to be offensive towards me openly, thinking I would read what she’d written, she obviously missed her goal. LOL!

Anyway, I wanted to point out that my comment to you, K, about our diet, was meant as a comfort. I wasn’t trying to say I had it worse and therefore you didn't have anything to complain about. No one is interested in my problems. I myself am not interested any more. I think that knowing other people are worse off can sometimes make one feel better. I was wrong in your case, obviously. I did say I could sympathize. I don’t know what more you wanted. Actually, I do know; it’s what everyone seems to want – for someone to say, “You poor dear! What a terrible time you’re having! Nothing like that has ever happened to anyone else – ever!” This validation thing is greatly overrated. It looks like I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t want to hear someone say, “You have a right to feel that way!” I bloody well know I have a right to feel whatever way I feel. Your telling me it’s ok won’t make any blind bit of difference. Perhaps it’s an American v. European thing. I get incredibly annoyed by people asking for sympathy all the time. It’s akin to pity and there’s nothing worse, in my mind, than pity.

I’m a little bit hurt by the way you automatically assumed that lightspeed had a beef with me for good reasons, stemming from personal experience with me, and the way you ‘validated’ her. It couldn’t possibly just be some vindictive, jealous moron, could it?

My thanks to Anonymous, who, unlike lightspeed, has had personal contact with me.

4:36 PM, January 05, 2006  

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