The Pain of Invalidation: An Open Apology To Everyone I’ve Invalidated

I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for every single time I’ve invalidated someone’s feelings. I consider it an honor and a privilege when someone feels they can share their feelings with me. I aim to be a supportive and validating confidant. If I cannot, at the very least my goal is to be an empathetic listener. But for the majority of my life these were not my aims, and I did not know how to listen. As a result, I fear I have been a disappointment. People, maybe even you reading this now, have come to me to share and to be heard. And instead of feeling heard or affirmed, I invalidated your feelings and inflicted the pain of invalidation. I let you down.

I sincerely apologize.

There is no excuse for invalidating your feelings. But I want to share with you that I know now why I’ve done it. Most likely, what you said made me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps you were brave enough to express a fear, a fear that may live deep within my soul. And in that moment, I became afraid. And so it was easier for me to disregard your concern with a wave of the hand and a “pssh, that will never happen.”

Or perhaps you spoke of a change you wish to make. And it triggered a longing or guilt or resentment within me, and so again, I disregarded what you said in order to ease my own discomfort. I may have tried to squash your desire in order to make myself feel better about my own life.

Regardless of what it is you shared, I shut you down. It was supposed to be about you. And I made it about me.

I sincerely apologize.

There are countless reasons we may begin to feel uncomfortable in conversation. I recently sat at a table with a friend who became honest and vulnerable with her family. I watched, saddened, as her family literally began to shift in their seats with discomfort. They then proceeded to shut her down.

Honesty, presumed weakness, vulnerability, talk of dreams and change beyond the status quo… these are cause for discomfort. I have been so incredibly self-centered that I have inserted myself into things people have said and shared. And although what they said only had to do with them, and not me, I allowed myself to feel judged or countless other emotions. I invalidated people’s feelings in order to save or validate my own.

I sincerely apologize.

Going Forward

Perhaps it’s Karma that my feelings have been invalidated and my words ignored so much lately. It’s nothing new, but ignorance was bliss. It didn’t hurt so much.

Now it hurts immensely. Because I understand why it’s happening. My heart aches not only for myself, but for the people invalidating me. Like the person I recently shared exciting news with. I watched as her eyes glazed over and she wordlessly got up from the table and walked away. She uttered not one syllable of validation or encouragement. It hurt because this is someone who claims to love and want good things for me. But it also hurt because I know of the war going on within her that prevents her from ever being truly happy for anyone else.

I suppose that as I attempt to process the heart-wrenching pain of so much recent invalidation, I have identified growth opportunities. One, I am able to apologize… for whatever it’s worth. And two, I have identified yet another area to practice compassion.

It’s not easy, though. If you’ve ever confided your feelings with tears streaming down your face and asked to be heard only to be told that you are “ridiculous” or “acting like a teenager,” then you know my pain. And I sincerely apologize that you know that pain. It is the pain of invalidation. And it hurts.

But there is room for compassion. The person who told me I am ridiculous has zero frame of reference for the pain I was describing since it was a life experience he was fortunate enough to avoid. When my Mom told me I was acting like a teenager, I know now that my behavior triggered her guilt and scared her. In all instances I’ve mentioned, I unknowingly caused discomfort. My feelings were invalidated as a result.

It hurts all around. I know since I’ve been on both sides of the coin.

And maybe you don’t know that pain. Maybe you do the invalidating and have no idea why. Maybe now you can begin to see that is because of your own discomfort. And maybe you can just sit with that for a moment…

And when you’re ready, maybe you can try to work on that.  Because it is an honor and a privilege when someone chooses to share something with you.

Going forward, I aim to live up to that honor.

People confide in us and we tend to inadvertently inflict the pain of invalidation as a result of our own discomfort and inability to listen properly.

What do you think?

  • Thank you for sharing this Jessica. I have known invalidation deeply. I’m a sensitive soul and for many years that was a disregarded part of me, brushed away with “you’re too sensitive”. I’ve come to embrace this part of me now and agree with you that people who invalidate have their own problem in the way of empathy for another. This message needs to be shared. Validation is important.

    • Dear Danielle, I’m sorry you know that pain. I too have been told throughout my life that I am too sensitive. I don’t view that as a weakness, but as a strength. I am glad you embrace that part of yourself and can see where there is room for compassion for those who don’t understand. Validation is so very important. I was glad to remind people of that. Thanks for reading.