Dismissal and Invalidation: Insight on Their Impact and Significance
In any relationship that we can think of, whether it’s a romantic one or a very close friendship, communication is one of the most important aspects in our relationships with others. It helps us understand each other and allows everyone to feel heard. We understand it to be something that we use in our everyday lives, even non-verbally.
What happens, though, when the way that communication happens leads to a feeling of dismissal?
If we were to Google the definition for “dismissed”, one of the definitions that comes up is to “treat as unworthy of serious consideration”. This type of communication in relationships sends the message across that what someone is experiencing subjectively is inaccurate, insignificant, or even unacceptable. In other words, one’s experiences are invalidated. Feeling dismissed is also to have your thoughts and feelings become minimized.
Thinking back to the question posed earlier, when communication leads to feeling dismissed, this might mean many things. Some of which can be focused on relationship dynamics and how one side of the relationship might be accustomed to communicating with others. As mentioned, the result can be a sense of belittlement. Often times, some might consider dismissing them a sign of emotional abuse where consideration towards them is not being taken.
The focus in this article is to understand what dismissal and invalidation is, its significance to the way that we communicate in our relationships. This writing will also provide examples of what dismissiveness sounds like so you can have an idea of what not to say to those important in your lives that might be in need of validation or affirmation.
How Come Dismissal Happens?
Many times, people might not be aware that the things they say are dismissive or invalidating. At the same time, some people might also consider their unknown dismissive feedback as positively responsive towards what the other might be saying. Psychiatrist Dr. Sonal Anand has said that children who have faced invalidation from their caregivers have been shown to be invalidating towards others in their future. This suggests that because some people might not have been shown what validation and affirmation looks like, but only have been shown dismissal, that their known responses and reactions may be something similar.
The flipside here is that many times, people indeed are aware of what they say and the consequences of those words. Continuing to speak in such a way can be seen as manipulative as well as dismissive of the others’ feelings.
Effects of Dismissal and Invalidation
Invalidation and dismissal can impact a person’s ability to regulate their own emotions and responses. Many studies have suggested that frequent dismissal can increase the likelihood of personal harm, psychological distress, and mental health issues including depression and anxiety. In general, the effects of constant dismissal can also result in a disconnect from strong self-worth and can lead to a tendency for pushing away our own feelings of validity.
What not to say
Here are a few spoken examples of dismissal:
“I’m not talking about this.”
More or less giving the silent treatment, there can be a strong pull for us to respond by not responding when we feel frustrated towards someone. The individual feeling frustrated enough to shut out the person completely can result in the other’s feeling ignored and questions of their worth in the relationship. Consider that the stronger the frequency of saying we don’t want to talk about something, the more likely it is that our partners stop expressing themselves.
While the pull to not let someone else’s emotions come to light because we disagree with it is understandable, validation does not mean we agree full with someone else’s reality and experiences. Rather, it is being able to understand and have the capacity to let someone’s emotions be felt and exist.
Placing blame towards someone else by suggesting that they “always do this” can often times sound like a personal attack. When someone makes the suggestion that this always happens or that someone “always does this”, that leads the person to feel singled out. It also lets them know that what they’re experiencing and feeling is “wrong”. Blaming and attacking someone dismisses the issue at hand and generalizes the situation. The absolute of this phrasing shifts the theme of the discussion to proving someone wrong rather than acknowledging the feelings that are truly present.
While the phrase “why” in itself suggests asking a question, the tone that comes from it can also suggest judgment and interrogation. When we think about wanting to ask about someone’s experiences or feelings, asking “why” questions could not only express dismissal of the emotion, but can also express scorn towards the perceived absurdity that this emotion is even being felt.
A rule of thumb might be to focus on reflection versus question. Understanding through validation and empathy can allow for stronger connections in communication and conveys investment in what others have to say and are experiencing.
“Have you tried…?”
It can be understandable that one of the first instincts that we have is to find a quick solution to our partner’s conflict or hurtful experiences. At the same time, focusing on the issue at hand, instead of the person can also be dismissive. Finding a quick solution ignores what that person is feeling and can also suggest that the listening end of the conversation wants to get out the problem as soon as possible.
In many ways, asking about solutions is essentially the opposite of actively listening and validating. It is understandable to try and find a solution to the situation, but sometimes the solution is to simply listen. It is also understandable that there might be confusion about how to approach the situation. Knowing when a conversation calls for active listening and validation or problem solving can also be a part of validating as it follows along with what someone says they need at that moment.
“You shouldn’t feel / think that way”
Perhaps one of the most dismissive phrases that can be said. Telling someone that they should not or cannot feel a certain way completely disconnects that someone from the moment and creates a strong sense of wrong doing on their part. As mentioned, the truth is that what someone feels and thinks is very much valid.
We all have our ideas for how we should or should not feel in a given situation. Notice the key word in that phrase: “We”. This implies that it is subjectively about ourselves that we want to not feel this way, so the other person should not feel this way about that situation either. However, the challenge and important question to be asked is if we truly have the power and the right to tell the other person how they should be feeling or thinking.
Dismissal denies the ability for our perspective to be heard and can lead us to feel much more insignificant. By extension, our thoughts are also considered insignificant if invalidated.
At the end of the day, it is extremely important to be heard and acknowledged for all that we feel and experience!
A reminder here that having our experiences being acknowledged by someone does not necessarily mean that they have to agree with what you have to say. It affirms that what you’re going through is real to you. Validation is the recognition that someone’s feelings and opinions are worthwhile; while dismissal suggests that those same feelings and opinions are false and should not be considered.
As an additional reading to consider, please take a look at our article about toxic relationships.
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