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The Positive Approach - Lesson 1


By Peter Shepherd

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The first lessons are about finding yourself and becoming whole. One of the factors that causes fragmentation of your identity - who you think and feel you are - is invalidation, which happens when you feel made wrong by another's comments or actions.

When you act according to the will of another person and suppress your own wishes, you have identified a part of yourself with the other person. You have let them into your mind, as your master. You have become fragmented. One of the main ways this comes about is through invalidation, or 'making wrong'. If somebody says your effort was 'not good enough' or that you 'shouldn't have done that', then you start to question yourself. You begin to introspect and ask, 'Is there something wrong with me?'

When another person wrongly evaluates or misunderstands your communications or your state of mind, naturally this is upsetting. It means the other has not understood you. Your enthusiasm wanes. You may accept this false evaluation - perhaps because of the authority or dominance of the other person. If you ignore your own feelings and believe they must be right, you begin to follow their will, not your own. A part of you has identified with the other person and split from the real you. The you that is responsible for your choices.

This very commonly occurs with children, where they take on the characteristics of their parents. It is also very frequent in relationships where one partner adjusts to match the other's expectations. And of course it happens at work too. When our goals are suppressed by another - however well meant - it is eventually life destroying. Negative evaluations (personal criticisms, opinions) by another especially at times of stress can cause extreme upset.

Most of us wonder why the populations in the world who seem to have the greatest mobility and most material possessions are suffering from the yoke of despair and depression. One of the biggest causes is invalidation. As human beings we need to be both independent and interdependent. We need to feel a sense of love and of contribution. If either are missing we are sad, we are defeated, we are joyless.

In his article 'Invalidation may be the most damaging form of emotional abuse,' Steve Hein describes invalidation as follows...

Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, control or diminish someone's feelings. It is an attempt to control how they feel and for how long they feel it. Constant invalidation may be one of the most significant reasons a person with high innate emotional intelligence suffers from unmet emotional needs later in life. A sensitive child who is repeatedly invalidated becomes confused and begins to distrust his own emotions. He fails to develop confidence in and healthy use of his emotions. The working relationship between his thoughts and feelings becomes twisted. The emotional processes that worked as a defense for him when a child will probably work against him as an adult.

Invalidation kills confidence, creativity, individuality... and if we do not find a way to re-empower our individual and collective lives and to connect with our humanity it will slowly erode all that we have built into a tower of sand.

The solution that we seek in our lives, in our work and in our world does not lie outside us but within us. We each have the power to move past invalidation by igniting the power of our heart to touch our mind and infuse our life and the lives of others with validation and joy.

Practical: How to handle invalidations
There are many and various ways you might have been put-down by others and as a result agreed to have less power. You need to look again at what happened and ask yourself:

  1. What choices did I make? Consider:
    • What did I decide about myself ?
    • What did I decide about the other person or other people?
    • What did I choose to think?
    • How did I choose to feel? What emotion did I choose?
    • What did I choose to do?
    • How did my choices affect my behavior going forward?
  2. What other choices could I have made? And what might the effect of each of those choices be?

  3. What positive learning can I get from this experience?
The positive learning is basically whatever insight you have found after realizing you have chosen one direction and can revise that choice if you want.

You always have choices. If a mugger threatened you with a gun, you have the choice not to give him your wallet. He might have killed you or given up and run away. But you had the choice. You may have chosen to give him your wallet, which may have been wise. But you never have to do anything against your will. You can always choose.

Following is a list of ways you might have been invalidated in the past, or it may be happening to you now. For each question that applies to you, go through the procedure above and see what you can learn from this experience, and what part of yourself you can reintegrate.

  • Did anybody say you don't have a right to your opinion?
  • Did anybody criticize you unjustly?
  • Did anybody make an unfair generalization about you?
  • Did anybody tease you?
  • Did anybody make you feel insignificant?
  • Did anybody tell you that you shouldn't be there?
  • Did anybody tell you that you don't belong?
  • Did anybody tell you that you couldn't leave?
  • Did anybody force you to follow their rules?
  • Did anybody trick you into an agreement?
  • Did anybody judge you?
  • Did anybody make you do something you didn't like?
  • Did anybody decide things for you?
  • Did anybody take away your ability to choose?
  • Did anybody bypass you or take away your job?

To take an example. Perhaps my wife says I'm a useless lover. I feel invalidated, put down, and upset, naturally. And perhaps I accept what she says, that I am indeed a useless lover and now I really don't want to make love any more. I have chosen to accept what she said as the truth. Looking at it again now though, I can see that it was simply words she spoke and perhaps she had other reasons for stating that - there was certainly a breakdown in communication between us at the time. I realize now that invalidations can occur when what is said is not really meant (after all, many times before that she said I'm a great lover) but is a symptom of a more significant upset. I can repair such an upset by honest and open communication. That's positive learning for me.

(Thanks to Irene Becker, CCTA for her help in writing this lesson.)

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