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Avoid Invalidating The Feelings of People with Mental Illness

Avoid Invalidating The Feelings of People with Mental Illness


Let's be honest, sometimes we can get bogged down with our own struggles and our hot mess of a life that we forget others have their own hidden pain. I'm a big fan of the saying, "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." 


This is especially difficult to remember when people are struggling with mental illness because it's something we often can't see. And when we can't see the illness we often don't empathize when it's needed. People who endure invisible illnesses often feel invalidated by others because those people lack the understanding, empathy, and awareness required to validate someone. 


Invalidation includes rejecting, ignoring, judging, denying, blaming or minimizing someone's feelings or experiences. It can imply that the person is wrong or lying and can cause strain and emotional distance in a relationship. 


Here are some examples of invalidation that should be avoided:

  • You make a big deal out of everything.
  • I'm sorry you feel that way.
  • You'll get over it.
  • It could be worse.
  • Don't be so dramatic.
  • I know exactly how you feel.
  • You're overly sensitive.
  • Let it go.
  • Don't think too much about it. 
  • Just get on with it. 
  • You're making that up. 
  • You shouldn't let it bother you.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • I'm not having this discussion.
  • You shouldn't be angry (or fill in the blank with another feeling).


Few people would deny that they would intentionally invalidate someone else. Yet many well-meaning people may be uncomfortable with intense emotions or believe that they are providing support when they're actually doing the opposite. The best way to stop invalidating others is to repeatedly practice validation. Recognize and accept another person's feelings, thoughts, sensations, and behaviors as understandable. Remember validation can also be a way of communicating that a relationship is important even if there is disagreement on the issue. You don't always need to see eye to eye with the other person, but you do need to be self-aware of their struggles and understanding of their needs.    


How do you think you could demonstrate more validation in your life with those around you who are struggling? 


Categories: Mental Health / Hoarding


  • My son has an invisible disability--multiple food allergies--and I grapple sometimes with what to say back to him when he expresses his frustrations. I do my best to be mindful of possibly invalidating his feelings. I remember as a child feeling invalidated at times and I'm not looking to do the same to my son. Got some good ideas from your post and the comments of our colleagues. Thanks for this important reminder!
    7/30/2018 10:03:39 PM Reply
    • @Stacey Agin Murray: Thanks for sharing about the experiences with your son. A few things I always say include: I'm here for you and That IS hard. Sometimes it's just sitting with the person in the moment when they're feeling frustrated is the most validating thing you can do. Oh and hugs, I think hugs definitely help with loved ones! :)
      7/31/2018 6:55:57 AM Reply
  • As I read your list of common responses I realized that I have some of them in my head from time to time. I never mean to invalidate another person's feelings or opinions, however, I know that I have used some of the responses - perhaps, because I didn't know what else to say in that moment. I will keep this list in mind and do my best not to revert to them.
    7/30/2018 2:03:40 PM Reply
    • @Diane Quintana: I think we've all said something off the list, Diane! We're human and well-meaning! As I was researching this post, some of the statements surprised me too. I think the more we can just be a listening ear and reflect back what the person is saying, the more likely the person is to feel validated by us.
      7/31/2018 6:53:37 AM Reply
  • I found that my mom would say at least half of these when I was a kid. When that "voice" comes up in me when my kids do something, I stop and confirm that what I am about to say will not demean them and their process. If I can't find other words, I just sit there and listen. I found that reacting before thinking creates more issues in a relationship. It's better to step back, write the issue down, figure out why I react, rework/rephrase what my feelings mean, then approach the person when I am more relaxed and know what I want to say.
    7/30/2018 10:39:32 AM Reply
    • @Sabrina Quairoli: Sounds like you've found a really good way to respond to others in the most validating way, Sabrina! I love that you will write down the issue. I find that when we get our thoughts on paper it helps to give it a new perspective. Thanks for sharing.
      7/30/2018 1:27:13 PM Reply
  • What a beautiful post, Sarah! I love how you described all the ways that our words can come across as being insensitive or invalidating to others. And as I read the sentences you listed, I could see how some of those phrases might be said to mean well, but in fact, aren't validating the other person's feelings. The point you've made is to listen, give space for the other person to express themselves, and then gently mirror back their words (without judgment) so they know you've heard them. It sounds simple, but I know it takes practice to really be able to do.
    7/30/2018 10:18:41 AM Reply
    • @Linda Samuels: Thanks for chiming in, Linda. It does sound simple, but too often we get it wrong. With practice and grace, it becomes easier.
      7/30/2018 10:35:17 AM Reply
  • I struggle with this every day. How can I validate the other person's feelings without downplaying the impact those feelings have on my own well-being?
    7/30/2018 7:47:34 AM Reply
    • @Janet Barclay: That is a hard question, Janet. I think as long as you can reflect back what the other person is feeling that's sending a powerful message of validation and you don't have to compromise the impact it's having on you. And on your own well-being, I think it's important to find a place where you can feel validated whether that be through a relationship with a mental health professional, by journaling, or even reading memoirs of others in a similar position.
      7/30/2018 10:11:50 AM Reply
  • This is so important. We all want to feel heard and understood. In fact, validating gives permission to then relax a little.. because you feel someone else understands. Otherwise, you energy either goes into defending your position or tuning the other person out because they really don't care. This definitely takes practice, but is so important. It also takes patience.
    7/27/2018 9:37:29 AM Reply
    • @Seana Turner: Yes! I love the point you make about permission to relax. Allowing the person space to feel heard and understood can be a powerful tool for connection. I, obviously, do a lot of this work in my private practice, but even with organizing clients, as you very well know, validation is so important. Being able to hold a safe and nonjudgmental space for another person strengthens the relationship and helps the work progress.
      7/27/2018 11:50:37 AM Reply

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