Invalidation, Control, and Bullying: Who Wins?

Nacicisstic InvalidationDo you recognize the picture? Better yet, can you identify with the feeling of repeatedly experiencing the sting of emotional abuse coming from invalidating words, attitudes, and actions?

Invalidation is the tool that abusers, bullies, and manipulators use to attack the emotional self-confidence of the object of their destructive actions. The recipient of invalidation unwittingly is marked by the abuse as a victim who can be emotionally controlled by taking away their virility, or 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, thinks and behaves. As a result, invalidation is an attempt to gain control of the emotions, 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 dis-empowered comes in the middle years, or at times characterized by significant developmental changes. While growing up, a sensitive child, repeatedly invalidated becomes emotionally confused and begins to distrust his 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 life an unhealthy and dysfunctional environment that creates an image of the social world characterized by the experience of invalidation. 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 a victim of invalidation 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, too 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 emotionally process what is being said to them. Attach those remarks to an emotionally sensitive child or place it in the 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 an 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 and reinforced by getting by with abusive behavior. 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.

A personal experience reinforced the lengths that abusive people will go to in when someone resists their control. I remember one night after a business meeting that one of the persons who had always been in control exploded after things did not go his way. Anger led to accusing words, words to physical aggression until physical restraint had to be used 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 riddled with abusive behavior against others over a period of 25 years. The same efforts had been exhibited in a life-long pattern abusive behavior used to demoralize and exert control over people perceived to be weak. The outcome was not what the bully hoped for, and he was introduced to someone who would not be bullied. Something learned from the story is that when people who are constantly being invalidated make an effort to assert independence, the abuser feels threatened and will mostlikely trigger a drama. Unfortunately, in this case, the bully became verbally and physically abusive found himself in a position where he became the victim of his own destructive behavior. 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 way relationships are acted out through 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 rationalize the behaviors of bullies and abusers by saying, “It is what it is”, but, in reality, it is what you allow it to be.

The unfortunate result for people feel trapped inside a social or family-system characterized by invalidation, abuse, and dependence is a loss of essential hope felt. It is a loss of 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, systems, or sub-systems have 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.

An important matter that every person needs to understand is that, even while life is lived in a community, the potential quality of life 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, draw a line in the sand, and not allow others to determine your happiness nor outcome in life. A popular saying states, “When you choose a behavior, you choose a response.” How people live can be a personal choice when it is empowered by clear boundaries.

Creating healthy boundaries for relationships is a way of choosing what will happen in life through relationships. Unfortunately, constant invalidation eats away the energy of life that enables creativity, well-being, security and healthy boundariesthe ability to live in an effective manner. The truth is that the only person that can change your life is you. So, what are waiting for?

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