Invalidating Environments

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Our environments tell us a lot about ourselves. People around us respond to our emotions with attention, respect, and understanding, or they ignore, discredit, and misunderstand. Emotions express our most intimate connections to life. Through emotion, we experience the depth of our true self. In essence, we say, “I’m hurt, I’m afraid, I’m happy” as an expression of emotion. These expressions not only offer opportunities to connect, but also create information to manipulate. With expression of emotion, we become vulnerable to ridicule or rejection. Since emotion is an intimate part of our selves, rejection of our emotion is also a rejection of our self. A primary function of loving relationships is to provide security through a validating environment. Invalidating environments humiliate and discredit our value as a human being.

Invalidating environments strikes the sense of self for anybody, but it is especially difficult on children, who have yet discovered a firm identity. Validating emotion is a key element of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). In DBT, the therapist creates a validating environment. They also teach patients the value of validating emotion.

Key Definition:

Invalidating Environment is an environment that does not respect our individuality, rejecting our core need for autonomy.

The Impact of Invalidation

T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “invalidation strikes at our core, damaging self-worth. Children and adults continually invalidated struggle to find security. Invalidation shakes the foundations of mental health. When invalidated, expressions of  individuality brings fears of rejection. The world feels unsafe. Emotional safety is strangled and we suffer in quietness” (2021).

When a significant person rejects our emotional expression or experience, we feel invalidated. We receive the message that something is wrong. Emotions are a key motivator, pushing us to act in a certain way. In other words, when someone labels our internal guide as defective, we doubt ourselves.

Diana Fosha, in an example of an invalidated patient, wrote “to let pain go before it is witnessed and gains reality through existing in the emotional reality of another would be to lose touch with a part of herself.” She continues, “once her pain is witnessed and apprehended by another, however, it acquires reality and becomes validated; she no longer has to manically hold on to it” (2000). 

Dr. Alan E. Fruzzetti teaches that a response to our emotional expressions impacts us in significant ways. He explains that “certain responses, such as understanding and validating our experience, soothe our frayed emotional edges, but others, such as criticizing or invalidating our experience, are like salt in an open wound in our hearts” (2006, Kindle location 135).

Invalidating Environments and Children

Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD. explains that “a child growing up in an invalidating environment learns that their emotions are somehow incorrect, perhaps not even worth considering” (2021). Children growing up in invalidating environments may suffer from emotional dysregulation as an adult. Their first experiences with emotion teach that they should not trust emotions. Feelings create confusion for the child. Accordingly, the child must confront the cognitive dissonance between what they feel and what is acceptable.

​Sheri Van Dijk, a mental health therapist, specializing in the treatment of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders, wrote, “one of the most common contributing factors to emotion dysregulation is growing up in an emotionally invalidating environment, an environment in which you were taught that your emotions were wrong, inappropriate, or not okay” (2012, p. 3). 

What Does an Invalidating Environment Look Like?

We don’t need to be intentionally mean to invalidate. Some actually think they are actually training a child when they invalidate their feelings. Invalidation can occur through rejection of indifference. An adult that grew up in an invalidating environment, while they know something was wrong with their childhood, often maintain the same invalidating behaviors, and justify their invalidating parenting as something that is healthy for the child. We reject emotional expressions when we directly respond with invalidating remarks or behaviors.

  • Stop being a baby!
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • You have no reason to be upset.
  • You’re too sensitive.

The correcting remark identifies the emotion as inappropriate. Validating emotion does not infer we immediately jump in to resolve the situation causing the emotion. Validating is just understanding and accepting the emotion as a ‘valid’ emotional reaction.

We live in an age of indifference. Perhaps, real life just doesn’t stimulate the way the virtual world can. However, when a child expresses an emotion and we fail to notice, the invalidation is just as damaging as an out right rejection.

Why Does Validation Matter?

Fosha explains that validating emotion “involves the experience of having an important aspect of one’s self affirmed, recognized, understood, and appreciated.” She expands on this saying that “a deep transformation occurs within the self as a consequence of being with another…of being seen, loved, understood, empathized with, affirmed” (2000, location 2,026).

We should learn to validate our own experience as well. We carry childhood invalidating environments with us into later life. The rejecting or indifferent voices of our parents live on inside our mind. We perpetually recreate our barren childhood environments, with the same toxicity. When we learn to validate our emotional experience, and surround ourselves with others that also validate, we give “rise to the second type of healing affects: love, gratitude, appreciation, and tenderness” (Fosha, 2020).

Psychology Fanatic New Article Updates


Fosha, Diana (2000). The Transforming Power Of Affect: A Model For Accelerated Change. Basic Books

Fruzzetti, Alan E. (2006). The High-Conflict Couple: A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide to Finding Peace, Intimacy, and Validation. New Harbinger Publications; 1st edition

Murphy, T. Franklin (2021). Emotional Validation. Psychology Fanatic. Published 12-30-2021. Accessed 10-15-2022.

Salters-Pedneault, Kristalyn (2021). ​The Emotionally Invalidating Environment in BPD. Verywellmind. Published 1-18-2021. Accessed 10-15-2022.

Van Dijk, Sheri (2012). Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life. New Harbinger Publications.

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