Emotional invalidation is something that's easy to understand, but hard to stop doing. It's the process of dismissing somebody's experience, or telling them not to feel the way they feel.
Over a tense Facebook Messenger conversation between Wellington and Canberra, I emotionally invalidated a close mate's problems last week.
I've been thinking about it ever since because the damage I could have caused is what leads to life-long mental health problems.
As humans, we invalidate each other's feelings all the time.
Our parents emotionally invalidate us when we explain a problem to them and they tell us we need perspective, or how good we have it compared with others. Our friends emotionally invalidate us when they tell us "just keep yourself busy" or "you'll get over it".
I emotionally invalidated my friend by telling him his self-confidence issues weren't warranted and that he should feel fortunate for what he has. Over a week later, despite apologies, soul searching, and rectifying my behaviour, what I did haunts me.
Invalidation is powerful, yet it's often the byproduct of misguidedly trying to help someone. When the people we love pour their hearts out to us, some of the worst things we can say to them include statements such as, "at least it's not...", "it could be worse", "you shouldn't feel like that", or "we've talked about this before".
What this does is forces the recipient to question the legitimacy of whatever they are struggling with — essentially adding more weight to an existing burden. They are left to think they aren't allowed their feelings.
They will beat themselves up. Over time, they could develop anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions because they overwhelmingly have felt invalidated throughout their life.
When I invalidated my friend's feelings about his body confidence — I basically told him his self-perception of how he looked wasn't warranted — I trivialised him. I disavowed and dismissed his emotions because I didn't understand how he couldn't see what I see. In turn, I caused him even more psychological stress.
What's paradoxical about this situation is that I spent years in his shoes. I felt emotionally invalidated for much of my early adulthood and, three years ago, spent time with a psychologist understanding its cumulative effect.
What I then failed to comprehend — and have since acknowledged — is that not everybody has been able to talk through their life's problems with a professional. Not everybody has come to this same level of self-awareness.
It was quite the contradiction: I pride myself on understanding myself so much that I had lost the ability to understand another.
There are many other ways we invalidate those we love. Sometimes we give them unsolicited advice. We deny or minimise, we scold, we lecture, we compare, we question.
While I do believe there's a place for perspective in emotional turmoil, more important is simply feeling acknowledged; being supported and given the space to understand that it's okay to feel that way.
I want you to think about how you might invalidate the people close to you, and then consider rectifying it. I'm not big on "sorries" because when damage is done, they often mean little.
Instead — and this is the approach I took with my friend — I made a point to tell him I accepted fault, felt terrible, and would strive to change my behaviour and never invalidate him (or anyone else) again.
This will be a continual journey. As I said, emotional invalidation is often born from trying to help. There may be no malice in it, but that doesn't mean it won't cut as deep as any other kind of emotional misconduct.