How to Break the Cycle of Self-Invalidation

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Let me set the scene.

Amanda has forgotten to do something she promised to do. When she realizes this and apologizes, promising again that she’ll do it, she’s met with hostility and anger. There are two other people in the room besides herself and the angry one, and they’re watching the scene impassively.

Amanda’s hurt.

While she knows it’s her fault for forgetting her promise, she’s just been verbally abused and none of the bystanders did anything to stop it.

In fact, when Amanda’s husband later confronted them, they said, “She must just be tired.”

Excuse me?

What just happened?

Amanda’s feelings were invalidated.

As if her feelings didn’t matter. As if her emotions were driven by feeling tired, instead of actual hurt inflicted upon her.

What’s even worse is that a lot of the time, we do this to ourselves.

How to Break the Cycle of Self-Invalidation

Well, what does that look like? In fact, it’s pretty easy to spot. Most of the time it starts with “I shouldn’t” or “I should”.

  • I shouldn’t feel so tired and stressed out. Other people have it worse than me.
  • I shouldn’t feel excited about this victory – I’ll look so egotistical and arrogant.
  • It’s okay to take on more things than I can really handle because my boss is counting on me.
  • My weight loss isn’t as dramatic as a lot of people’s; I shouldn’t show too many people or they’ll think I’m just looking for attention.
  • Ugh. I need to just get over this.
  • I don’t deserve to feel bad about my life situation.
  • I’d mess up that presentation so badly – someone else should give it.

Sound familiar? 

It certainly does to me. It’s also known as negative self-talk.

What’s happening here is that you’re invalidating your own feelings. As if your experiences and struggles aren’t worthy of being acknowledged because someone else has it better or worse.

I’m calling bullshit.

Your feelings are ABSOLUTELY valid.

They’re valid because YOU’RE feeling them! No one else is feeling what you feel. They might relate, or sympathize, or empathize, but they cannot feel what YOU are feeling.

So when you invalidate your own feelings, it’s worse than when someone else does it. You’re denying yourself permission to feel what’s natural to feel.

The real question then, is how do you stop invalidating your own feelings?

1. Recognition

Try to recognize when you have these thoughts or patterns of negative self-talk. Are you constantly putting yourself down at work? Are you doubting your ability to perform well in school, and saying it’s because you’re probably just too dumb to get it?

Is there a pattern of events that lead up to self-invalidation?

Once you can recognize when it’s happening, it’s time to identify.

2. Identification

What are you really saying to yourself? Write it down. Seriously. Write it down on a piece of paper, and then read it out loud. Does it sound ridiculous? Does it sound true?

Give these thoughts and feelings an accurate, representative label.

“I can’t give that presentation. I’d mess it up.”

Turns into:

“I’m uncomfortable with public speaking because I’ve never had the courage or confidence to stand up in front of a crowd.”

It sounds different, doesn’t it?

3. Acceptance of thoughts

This is the part that a lot of people have trouble with. Accepting that the thoughts you’re having exist, and are just thoughts! They aren’t representative of who you really are, they’re just thoughts.

When you’re able to accept the thoughts as-is, it’s easier to realize that you don’t have to react to them.

Accept the thought for having popped up, and move on.

4. Validating yourself

This is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of telling yourself you CAN’T do something or you SHOULDN’T feel a certain way or you NEED to get over it – tell yourself the opposite. 

Because you’ve already recognized and identified the real reason behind a negative thought or invalidation, you’re now primed to start telling yourself things like this:

  • I’m tired and stressed out. (Recognition that other people are not you)
  • I am SO overwhelmed. (Recognition that you need some structure)
  • I’m so excited about this victory – it’s a new personal best! (Recognition that you deserve to feel good about your wins!)
  • No, I can’t take that on right now. My plate is too full and I’m worried I wouldn’t be able to do my best on it. (Recognition of your limits)
  • I am so proud of my weight loss – this is huge for me! (Recognition that other people are not you)
  • I’m upset about this. (Recognition that you do not need to “just get over it” by a certain time.)
  • I feel bad about my life situation. (Recognition that other people are not you)

5. Establishing boundaries

A good example of doing this is the bullet point about not taking on more than you can handle. When you establish strong boundaries with yourself, not just others, you make it easier to stop the self-invalidation.

Examples of this could be things like telling yourself that if you start to think negatively or tell yourself you can’t do something because of something that’s wrong with you, that you’ll at least TRY to turn it into a positive.

How does self-invalidation start?

Self-invalidation is a learned behavior. When others invalidate us and our feelings, the longer it happens unchecked the more likely we are to internalize those invalidations and start saying them to ourselves.

This is insidious.

If it happens early enough and long enough, we grow up incapable of feeling like we’re worth anything, which also affects our ability to love ourselves.

Self-invalidation with love looks like this:

  • I don’t deserve you.
  • You’re too good for me.
  • You’d be happier if I just left.

These are all symptoms of self-invalidation and a lack of self-love! Just writing those statements out feels so negative.

So, back to Amanda.

Her feelings were invalidated by someone else. She grew up in a household where every crying fit was because of her being tired, or stressed, or upset for no reason. Amanda learned to deny her own feelings.

But, she’s started to recognize what she’s doing. When she makes a mistake at work and thinks, “Ugh, I’m so stupid!” she catches herself, recognizing what she’s doing.

Then, she identifies what just happened. “I made a mistake because I overlooked a sheet in Excel.” Everyone makes mistakes! Literally nobody is perfect! No one, including Amanda, needs to hold themselves to a standard of perfection that cannot be achieved.

No one needs to hold themselves to a standard of perfection that cannot be achieved. Click To Tweet

Amanda now accepts the thoughts she’s having about her mistake. “I made a mistake.” That’s it. Nothing else. She made a mistake, and now, she needs to move on. (Or, in this case, fix it.)

Now she’s at the Self-Validation stage. “I’m not stupid, I’m really smart. This mistake isn’t representative of who I am – I was just in a rush and completely missed that sheet.”

What might be the hardest part…

From here, Amanda’s going to establish boundaries with HERSELF. She’s going to stop calling herself stupid over simple mistakes. Every time she does so, she’s going to go through this process of recognition, identification, acceptance, and validation. Over time, she won’t call herself stupid anymore – she’ll jump right to the self-validation of “Whoops. I rushed and made a mistake. Time to fix it.”

You don’t need to go through life thinking and telling yourself that your feelings don’t matter. You have every right to feel your feelings. No one else can feel what YOU feel, so why should you act like they do?

Change your thoughts and you change your world. - Norman Vincent Peale Click To Tweet

What thought can you change right now that will help you stop invalidating your own feelings?

How to Break the Cycle of Self-Invalidation

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  1. “No one needs to hold themselves to a standard of perfection that cannot be achieved.” That is such a powerful reminder when we are trying to retrain ourselves to speak life, not just to others, but to us!

  2. I had never thought about that. I normally invalidate my feelings because if I don’t, everyone else will. It seems like nobody is allowed to feel these days. Thanks for this post!

    • You’re totally right – it’s becoming less acceptable nowadays to feel any strong, negative emotions, so we bottle them up and turn them inwards. And then this happens! It’s no wonder we’re all anxious all the time.

  3. Love this post! Negative self-talk has been a bit of a problem for me lately and this is just what I needed to read. ❤ Thank you for sharing!

  4. These are great tips and examples. I used to be HORRIBLE at self-talk. I am getting way better, but I still slip up sometimes. The only difference is that I am able to recognize them. Once I notice I am doing it. I try to stop in my tracks and tell myself the truth.

  5. I have fallen into this trap a few times but I have learned to speak positively to myself. We all make mistakes but my mistakes do not define who I am. You have laid out the steps so well. Thank you for this post.

  6. What a great read. We need to make sure that we are heard and validated. Thank you for this.