Invalidation, Control, and Bullying: Who Wins?


Do you recognize the picture?  Better yet, can you identify the feeling of repeatedly experiencing the sting of emotional abuse that comes from being invalidated?

Invalidation is the tool that abusers, bullies, and manipulators use to destroy the emotional self-confidence of their unwitting victims taking away their virility and power to create a meaningful life apart from the abuser.

What is invalidation and how does it affect what happens in life?  Some ways that invalidation is expressed comes through rejection, being ignored, mocked, teased, judged, or having your feelings diminished. It is an attempt for one person to control how another person feels and how long they feel it.  So, invalidation is an attempt to control what is felt, to tell you what you should think, but most of all to control what you do. The goal of invalidation  is to gain an advantage over you resulting in control over what you do, think, and feel, so as to benefit the abuser personally i.e. meet their emotional need and validate a feeling of control.

How does invalidation affect emotional development?

The effect of constant invalidation in families and relationships unfolds systemic patterns of interaction that inhibit a secure sense of self in the world.  Invalidation may be one of the most significant reasons a person with high innate emotional intelligence suffers from the effects of unmet emotional needs later in life.  The crisis point for many people who have been invalidated or feeling disempowered comes in the middle years or at times characterized by developmental changes.  While growing up, a sensitive child, repeatedly invalidated becomes emotionally confused and begins to distrust his own feeling and intuition.  The impact of invalidating emotional abuse is that the developing child fails to develop confidence– a sense of the self and healthy use of the emotional brain.  What occurs is that the child adapts to adapt to a unhealthy and dysfunctional environment.  The child adapts to a way of understanding life resulting in a working relationship between thoughts and feelings built upon faulty beliefs about self, others, and life.  As a result, emotional responses, emotional management, and emotional development will likely be seriously, as well as, permanently affected by the results of abusive relationships.  The results understood by reveal that the emotional processes, which worked for the person as a child, begin to work in opposition to an effective adult life.  Indeed, invalidation links in effect to many of the mental health challenges and disabling relationship problems that adults face in the family system.

How does invalidation occur?

Do people set out to be invalidated or are people just born to be abusive, making it their life’s mission to invalidate and control?  The answer may be yes and it may be no.  People are the product of their parents, are born in a certain order, and are predisposed to a certain genetic makeup, but what happens in the process of life is largely because of experiences through life.  Abusive people may have certain characteristics of behavior, but they learn very early in life that they can get results through abusing someone else.  Abusers learn to control by abusing and victims learn victimization through abuse.  An older child tells a younger child that they are going to be held back in school because they are stupid or not smart enough by an older child.  What impact does that have on self esteem?  When a mother who tells a child that they are mentally ill, they are stupid or retarded.  What impact does it have on a developing child?  The answer is that it depends on the child and the way that particular child will process what is being said.  Attach those remarks to a emotionally sensitive child or place it in a family system characterized by insecurity and self-esteem problems and invalidation takes on meaning not felt to someone who has a different life experience.

What does yesterday have to do with today?

People may not set out to be abuser, but what happens is that the pattern of relating so ingrained in behavior is automatic.  Invalidators and abusers have difficulty stopping the behavior because responses are from a learned pattern in a system of behaviors, which have worked throughout the life experience.  What can be observed is that abusive people have patterns of relating that are evident, which like a scarlet thread run through working relationships, professional and business affairs, family interaction, and marriage, and children.

I remember one night after a business meeting that one of the members who had always been in control exploded became very abusive to my wife to the point that I had to physically restrain him to calm him down.  In the exchange, there was heated verbal abuse, invalidation, physical aggression, and an effort to control through intimidation.  What I knew about this person was that there was a history of abusive behavior against former pastors using a pattern of attacking the wife and children to demoralize and exert control.  The outcome was not what the bully hoped for and something learned is that when people who are constantly being invalidated make an effort to assert independence, the abuser feels threatened and will most- likely trigger a drama.  Unfortunately, in this case, the bully became verbally and physically abusive in order to demoralize and control their unwitting victims, putting him in a no win situation.  The connection between childhood patterns and the lived-experience of an adult is the systematic ways of relating formed in the early years affects the ways relationships through are acted out in life.  For the abused person, until there is enough strength of character discovered to stop the bullying, invalidating, and abuse, the pattern continues in relationships.

Boundaries and outcome

Some people say, “It is what it is”, but really it becomes what you make it.

The unfortunate result is when people feel trapped inside a social or family-system characterized by invalidation, abuse, and dependence; there is a loss of essential hope felt– a fundamental belief that life cannot be any different.  One of the reasons for hopelessness is that every person in the system is intertwined in a maze of assumptions behaviors, rules, mores’, and perceptions that are connected to self-esteem and value in the social construct.  The pressure of social acceptance felt in family, groups, system, or sub-systems has a direct impact upon efficacy in life.  When life is characterized by emotional abuse, physical abuse, invalidation, and self-esteem problems, it will normally go on until a crisis occurs that requires-forces a change to take place.

The important factor that every person needs to understand is that, while life is lived in a community, the quality of life to be experienced comes through an individual choice –a personal journey toward wholeness.  Every person must individually take responsibility for what they will do and what life will become.  The hard truth is that people who have invalidated you will continue to do so until you take responsibility for life and not allow others to determine your happiness and outcome in life.  A popular saying states, “When you choose a behavior, you choose an outcome in life.”

Creating healthy boundaries for relationships is a way of choosing what will happen in life through relationships.  Invalidation eats away the energy of life that enables creativity, well being, security, and healthy boundaries –the ability to live in an effective manner.  The truth is that the only person that can change your life is you.

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