Do You Allow Your Partner to Invalidate Your Feelings?
It’s a serious problem if you can’t validate yourself unless your partner does.
Posted June 23, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams
- Looking to a partner or anyone else to validate feelings can make a person vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.
- A person's family may have invalidated their thoughts and feelings during childhood, leading to the development of a harsh inner critic.
- Convincing one's inner child that they are fully accepted can help one move past relying on the validation of others and reestablish intimacy.
How does your partner react to feedback about their hurting you? If they take your sharing your feelings about how they’re treating you as an indictment, they’ll respond negatively.
They might—with a kind of pseudo-empathy—say they’re sorry you feel this way (subtly implying you have no good reason for doing so). Or they might attempt to correct you, telling you that feeling this way is wrong. Or maybe that you’re just too sensitive (as though sensitivity itself was a personality flaw). Or that you misunderstood them or their intentions (and perhaps grossly). Or lastly, that you’d be better off letting it all go.
Even worse than these essentially dismissive, non-supportive responses would be their refusing to stay present while you’re venting your feelings. They might reactively click on the TV, process their email, leave the room or, worst of all, punish your candor by subjecting you to the silent treatment—a hostile, passive-aggressive way of adding insult to (emotional) injury.
So in these unfortunate circumstances, what’s the best thing to do? And if you’re not able to do this, what might you need to work on within yourself (or with a therapist) to help you overcome your partner’s refusal to validate you when—probably because of their own unresolved issues—they can’t be there for you? For if, however inadvertently, you’ve run head-long into their self-protective defenses, getting the understanding and support you need from them won’t be possible.
For how could they possibly appreciate your hurt and respond accordingly if somehow you’ve reactivated their own (only dimly recognized) hurts. And these hurts would be from some past assault on their positive sense of self, which prior to this moment they more or less managed to conceal—both from you and themselves.
Obviously, in venting your frustrations with them, you need to find a milder way of approaching them if you’re to neutralize their built-in resistance toward being criticized. But before going further, let me pose a key question, since it represents this post’s focal point:
If you’re not able independently to validate yourself in such situations, why not?
Think about it. Needing to depend on your partner—or anyone else, for that matter—to validate you is to forfeit your personal power. It renders you far more vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others. And it suggests you’ve yet to come into your adult authority to make predominant your own judgment about your behavior. Additionally, this self-assessment, to be part of healing from antiquated self-doubts, ought to be imbued with compassion and sympathetic understanding.
Recognize, too, that another’s attitude toward your behavior will be heavily influenced by their own unrectified issues, as well as their needing to feel okay about themselves in the face of your allegations.
How has your past rendered you susceptible to others’ invalidation?
Chances are that if you grew up in a family that routinely invalidated your thoughts and feelings, your “internalizing” their negative responses would prompt you to develop a harsh inner critic. To feel as secure as possible in your relationship—that is, to strengthen the somewhat fragile attachment bond you had with them—you’d need to defer or acquiesce to their perceived assessment, however false or misguided.
So because of an urgent need to align yourself with them, you’d unconsciously determine to make yourself feel wrong or bad. After all, if you literally relied on them for survival, it wouldn’t seem viable to make them wrong and risk feeling further alienated from them.
Your parents may have expressed disapproval of any (hopefully, not all!) of the seven basic feelings you share with everyone else: namely, happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, contempt, and surprise.
So ask yourself: “Which feelings did I (however unconsciously) think I needed to suppress to avoid a break in the already tenuous attachment I felt with my caretakers?”
It’s likely that these feelings—buried but never obliterated—get reactivated when you sense your partner’s rejecting foundational parts of you. If your parents (and possibly others) couldn’t acknowledge or respect your expressing any of these feelings, then your partner’s now responding similarly to them would lead you either to: (1) criticize them (if you felt emotionally safe enough), which would probably lead to their (counter-) criticizing you, or (2) anxiously shut down your feelings as in the past you felt compelled to.
Regrettably, neither reaction would repair the psychic wounds you experienced originally and which in various ways have sabotaged you—adversely affecting your relationship with others and, more importantly, with yourself (i.e., undermining your self-esteem and your overall sense of self). The end result of such ineffectual tactics is self-abandonment: sacrificing your authentic connection to you.
So how do you solve the dilemma of your past controlling your present?
The best place to start here is to repeatedly tell yourself that none of your thoughts or feelings in growing up were wrong or bad. Given your level of development, genetic endowment, sometimes unruly impulses, perceptions, and knowledge, they were all natural, reasonable, and age-appropriate. In short, they were all valid, despite your family’s inability or unwillingness to confirm them.
When you fully appreciate this, your next step is to talk to the “custodian” of your negative biases: namely, your still suffering inner child self. Your task is to let that child know it’s grown up to be you and, as an adult, it’s now you who possess final authority to judge yourself—apart from whatever adverse adult judgments it believed it had to submit to when you were younger.
You help that child recognize that you’re their parent now and that you honor, love, and accept them unconditionally. And it’s a good idea here to conjure up an image of them, or even talk with them gazing at a representative photo of them (particularly one that reveals their insecurity).
Even if you think you hold ultimate authority to judge yourself, since your emotions emanate from your child self, it may not feel that you do. So remedying your self-doubts or -distrust won’t happen simply by talking to yourself but to the wounded child inside you. For it’s only when that child is convinced they’re perfectly okay that you no longer need to depend on others to validate your viewpoint or essential worth.
Once you’re more self-validating, how can you approach your partner differently?
With increased capability to manage your emotions and a more positive, resilient self-image, your partner’s refusal or inability to validate what you’re sharing will not have the same power to lessen your belief that what you’re saying is legitimate. And because you don’t need to make them wrong to make yourself right, you can communicate differently to them.
That alternative way of giving them feedback will increase the likelihood that they won’t feel threatened by your expressing your disappointment. Assuming your partner truly cares about you and hasn’t been motivated (out of anger, envy, denial, or vengefulness) to hurt your feelings, you can gently inform them that when they couldn’t listen to you and confirm your reality, it made you feel alienated or spurned by them.
Without blaming or shaming them, you non-accusingly clarify how you wanted them to respond and ask whether they’d be willing to engage in a cordial “do-over.” Your stated objective is to reestablish your relationship’s intimacy—one that would confidently enable both of you to feel appreciated, understood, and respected, which frankly is what all couples want.
In learning to mutually repair what can so easily go wrong in a committed relationship, you and your partner will be well on your way to co-creating the bond indispensable to your well-being.
For more than anything else, it’s the misunderstandings—big and small—that prevent marriages from achieving their full potential.
© 2021 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
I’ve written many posts that relate to the topic of self-validation. Here are links to a few of my more recent ones:
How to talk to—and tame—your outdated defenses (2020, Jul 06). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/202007/how-t…
What’s the opposite of anxiety, and how do you get there? (2020, Aug 19). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1149310/preview
Do you feel your life is passing you by? (2020, Sept 23). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1150884/preview
A new way to understand your psychological defenses (2020, Nov 10). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/202011/new-w…
To blame is to shame, so how can you avoid it? (2021, Jan 20). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1156414/preview
Validating your partner’s viewpoint: The Amazing Payoffs (2021, Feb 02). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1157083/preview
All unnecessary suffering comes from outdated defenses (2021, Mar 24). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1159539/preview
Why should you validate your angry partner? (2021, Jun 02). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1162340/preview
Are you holding yourself back for all the wrong reasons? (2021, Jun 16). https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/node/1162821/preview