“Invalidation,” according to Dr. Jamie Long, psychologist, “is the process of denying, rejecting or dismissing someone’s feelings. Invalidation sends the message that a person’s subjective emotional experience is inaccurate, insignificant, and/or unacceptable.”
One hot August evening, my mom took me and my brother out for footlong hot dogs. We were excited! While waiting in the car for our order, Mom asked, “How long is a foot”?
I quickly shouted, “12 inches!”
She asked me if I was sure. I thought to myself that a foot is the same as a ruler, and the ruler is 12 inches, so I answered “yes.”
She asked me again if I was sure.
Now, I’m wondering why she keeps asking me the same question. Yes, I was sure that I had given her the correct answer, so I thought about it.Doubting myself, I asked, “Is it 10 inches”?
She laughed out loud and told me I was silly. “You know the answer is 12 inches.”
With that, she exited the car to get our order. We enjoyed our footlong hot dogs that night. I was ten years old.
That was the end of it, or was it?
That one lack of validation would follow me into adulthood. It was always there, under the radar. Something took up residence that evening to “help” me to not be laughed at again. From that day on, I would not speak up or stand out for fear I would be laughed at. Even when I had something of value to say, I kept quiet.
My mentor, Dr. Eric Kelly III always says, “If you don’t value your value, then your value isn’t valuable.”
I had not learned the value of my value and my voice.
The lack of validation can stifle your words and your value. When this happens, three habits can develop as a result.
- You Can Start To Self-Mute Yourself. I was labeled as shy. Every time I would be in a situation where I was expected to speak up and wouldn’t, my mother would say, “She’s shy”. I heard it so much that I began to tell people that I was shy. It was frustrating for me because, inside, I knew I always had an opinion that I chose to not give voice to. When I was alone with my brother or a few close friends, I would tell them everything I would have said but didn’t. This was frustrating to them as they would often ask why I didn’t just speak up in the moment. My response was always, “But what if they laugh at me? What if it comes out wrong and they laugh at me”?
- People Pleasing Behavior became second nature to me. I especially wanted to please my mother. It never seemed to be enough, no matter what I did. This behavior spilled over into other relationships, friends, at work, etc. I just wanted people to like me. The feeling of not being enough, feeling like people wouldn’t accept me was further lack of validation. I would be quiet and smile.This way, I would not say something that would make them not like or accept me. I always felt like I was trapped within myself.
- Insecurity. My words didn’t matter. My feelings didn’t matter., I didn’t matter. These were all lies that I had believed well into my adulthood. Because of my insecurities, I allowed people to speak over me and dismiss my feelings. This way of being is not healthy for anyone.
There is good news! I became a born-again Christian at 28. I became a new creature in Christ Jesus. I had a new freedom and boldness that was a little scary at first. 2 Corinthians 5:17 became alive in me, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” I was eager to settle into this new way of being. I liked it and never wanted to go back to my old way of being. The lack of validation no longer had a hold on me. I felt as though I was just allowing myself to be who I always was on the inside. I had never given her permission to live out loud through me.
From my own experience, a parent’s validation, or lack of validation, will follow their children into adulthood. My mother and I have always been close and still are today. When I was in my fifties, as I was sitting at my desk one day at work, I had a vision of that same August night. It was so real, as if it had just happened. I was surprised as the scene played out. That’s where my “shyness” stems from. It had filled my whole life after that moment.
This realization gave me the opportunity to forgive my mother and release myself from the offense. It was like putting the ax to the root of the matter. After I had this revelation, I had a chance to speak to my mother about it. She didn’t remember the incident but was glad I had some relief.
That is the reason why parents and authority figures should be mindful of how their lack of validation can affect the children under their care. If one incident could affect my behavior well into my adulthood, I imagine it can have the same impact on others. I believe there are many adults not living out loud because of some childhood lack of invalidation that they cannot even put their finger on.
It is my hope that my story helps you get in touch with what is hindering you from giving yourself permission to speak up and be heard.
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