What is invalidation? 5 things you shouldn't say

‘At least it’s not…' or ‘It could be worse'

The suffering of another can elicit strong discomfort for those who witness it. Compassionate people want to fix it or make it better. When someone cries, we offer a tissue to wipe away the tears or a tender sentiment in hopes of a smile. If those efforts don’t work, the ante is upped with stronger efforts to bring some relief.

‘I’m sorry you feel that way.'

Telling someone ‘I’m sorry you feel that way' is simply a socially acceptable way of saying, ‘I don’t care how you feel, your reality is wrong' (or worse: your experience is stupid).

‘You shouldn’t feel that way.'

The message of ‘you shouldn’t feel a certain way' conveys contempt and superiority. It also communicates that a person’s emotional experience isn’t a valid one. The truth is, you have no authority to decide how a person should or shouldn’t feel. Only they know that! Denying a person’s perspective can - and often does - make them feel crazy, invisible and small.

‘Don’t think about it, just get on with it.'

People tell themselves all the time to dismiss a feeling. Certainly, there are situations when we need to set our feelings aside so that we can function adaptively. However, I’m referring to the times when feelings are harmfully stuffed, brushed aside, and suppressed. Paradoxically, encouraging such emotion dismissal leads to even greater psychological distress. When we trivialise feelings, we inevitably cause the emotions to grow.

‘I’m not having this discussion!'

We’ve all been victims of one of the most powerful non-verbal invalidations: The silent treatment. Leaving the room, ignoring phone calls/ text messages, rolling our eyes. The urge to disallow a contrary emotional state to exist is understandable especially when we disagree with it. Validation is having the capacity to allow another person’s emotional state a space to exist and it can start with simply being present and listening.

How to validate someone


Recognise that validating someone’s emotional experience does not necessarily convey agreement


Avoid becoming defensive or offering unsolicited advice


Understanding must precede intervention


Reflect the feeling


Summarise the experience

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