How to Measure Emotional Self-Invalidation
New research reveals how emotional self-invalidation may work against us.
Posted November 12, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Emotional self-invalidation is unfavorably viewing emotions and consequently seeing oneself with less self-respect.
- A team of researchers created a measure of how people self-invalidate based on their feelings.
- The researchers found evidence that emotional self-invalidation is linked to various adverse experiences.
How often have you felt angry, sad, or hurt (or some other emotion) by how someone responded to you? You don’t need an exact figure to know that the answer is probably “a lot.” That makes sense, even in the best of circumstances. Human relationships are complex, and even the most well-intentioned partner, friend, or family member can say something that doesn’t feel so great, even inadvertently.
But what about how we treat ourselves? The relationship people have with themselves is constant, and yet most arguably don’t give this inner relationship as much of the spotlight as they cast on the relationships with those around them. There are a variety of ways people can treat themselves, and one of these was the focus of a recent study.
A team of researchers has now created a measure to assess a concept that, as they pointed out, has received very little attention in psychological research: emotional self-invalidation. What does this mean, exactly? The researchers defined it as having two elements beyond the emotion (or emotions) a person is feeling. Namely, it involves someone’s view that a) their emotion(s) isn’t okay, and b) the “improper” emotions they’re feeling mean they’re less respectable and worthy as a person.
The researchers also examined emotional self-invalidation in the form of someone seeing their emotions as excessive (e.g., “I do not have a good reason to be as emotional as I am”) or as insufficient (e.g., “I feel like less of a person because I feel too little emotion”).
Across a series of five studies, the research team not only found evidence that their measure is a reliable and valid one, but they also identified various difficult experiences linked to emotional self-invalidation. More specifically, people who invalidate themselves for not having enough emotion were also less inclined to show their feelings.
What about people who self-invalidate for feeling more emotion than they think they should? They were also more apt to struggle with managing their emotions and to feel more upset; they were also prone to find that their emotions are more readily activated, feel stronger, and last longer. According to the research team, the tendency to self-invalidate for having a high level of feeling could open the door to a person having an even tougher time with their emotions and being even harder on themselves, thereby continuing a cycle of suffering.
The researchers were right to point out that research in this area is preliminary, and much more work remains to be done to understand emotional self-invalidation as it’s defined here. In the meantime, is there anything that we might draw from these findings? As the researchers pointed out, part of emotional self-invalidation involves viewing one’s emotions as improper and as something that defines who a person is on the whole.
Drawing from this, see if you can try gently reminding yourself of two truths: First, there’s nothing wrong with emotions. After all, emotions aren’t the same as behavior. For example, a person can feel angry (emotion) and then talk with someone about how they can fruitfully address the situation (behavior) or yell at someone and call them names (behavior). The emotion is the same, but the first behavior is healthy, and the second is not. Second, try to remind yourself that how you feel is a part of your inner world, but it doesn’t define you as a person. Just like pain when you scrape your knee, or the release of tension in your back doesn’t define you, an emotional experience doesn’t either. You’re far beyond what you feel in the moment, and what you feel is okay.
Schreiber, R.E., & Veilleux, J. C. (2022). The Self-Invalidation Due to Emotion Scale: Development and psychometric properties. Psychological Assessment, 34(10), 937–951. https://doi.org/10.1037/pas0001155