This article is a series of articles on invalidation, including the experiences of a child or parent that has been invalidated and how parents, professionals and practitioners can validate children to make a difference to their outcomes.
The invalidated child can seem like an enigma and is easily misunderstood. They come from all backgrounds, walks of life, race, culture and class in society.
An invalidated child can look like a child that is:
- Seeking attention
- Sabotaging their own success
- Attempting suicide
- Self harming
- Experiencing BPD (borderline personality disorder)
- or exhibiting other maladaptive emotions to compensate for the “lack”.
The “lack” could include lack of:
- Being heard
- Having their experiences validated as real for THEM!
- Having their opinions accepted
- Having their feelings heard or accepted as valid and real for them
- Being cared for resulting in neglect
- A sense of self
An “invalidating environment” (Marsha Linehan; 1993) encompasses some or all of the above for the invalidated child.
How does a parent, caregiver or other significant adults invalidate a child?
(This also includes professionals and practitioners)
Examples of how adults invalidate children include:
All of the above examples highlighted in the “lack of” section; for instance, not listening to them; etc.
- Abuse: – verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, psychological
- Denying their feelings “no (yes) you don’t (do) feel that way (e.g. angry)
- Teaching children to lie “tell them I’m not here” or “this (sexual abuse) didn’t happen and if you tell anyone I will kill you!”
- Responding erratically, inappropriately or in extreme fashions to the child’s communication or feelings
- Ridicule them
- Disregard their painful or distressing emotions
- Non- responsive to needs of the child
Marsha Linehan suggests that sexual abuse is the most extreme form of invalidation for a child. These children are generally lied to about the nature of the abuse and threatened by the abuser if they “tell”. Additionally, the child is further burdened by the guilt and shame of the abuse, coupled with the abuse not being acknowledged by other family members and face being blamed or disbelieved if they pluck up the courage to “tell”. clinicians and researchers suggest that it is the secrecy surrounding childhood sexual abuse that may be a key factor for people experiencing BPD (Bipolar or Borderline Personality Disorder).
The invalidated child is one that is also very susceptible to being scapegoated within the family setting, especially if they appear as an enigma to family members and others around them. The likely result is that they consciously or unconsciously embark on a journey of seeking approval and reassurance, especially from their parents, with the likely effect of a cyclical process of denial and punishment, followed by more scapegoating.
That said, all children need approval, reassurance, need to be loved, to be validated and to feel safe and secure in their environment as their secure base.
Part 2 of this article will include:
- Looking at further effects of invalidation for the child.
- How to validate a child
Linehan, M.M., (1993 ). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: London: Guildford Press
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