By Eloise Allen

Eloise Allen

Eloise Allen

It’s all too easy to say to ourselves how we should be feeling, or to tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. We often hold ourselves accountable to these unwritten expectations, ultimately berating ourselves for being complicated human beings made up of complex thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

This is how we begin to fall into the trap of self-invalidation, where we can spiral into questioning our every move i.e. ‘Why am I feeling sad? I shouldn’t be feeling sad right now, I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t understand what’s wrong with me?’

This invalidating of our experiences does not help us in shifting our emotions or experiences, instead we begin to dig a deeper hole of discomfort with the voice in our head that says, ‘this is how it should be.’ (That is not to say we can’t practice gratitude for what we do have in our lives to help shift our experience- taking time to appreciate the people and things we have in our lives to be thankful for!) However, it is through acknowledging both the ‘bad’ and the ‘good’ emotions, feelings, thoughts, that we can find a more authentic relationship with ourselves.

These patterns of self-invalidation we perhaps learnt from our caregivers, the people in our lives growing up, or from the messages we received from society.

We can define invalidation simply as the dismissal of someone’s feelings, and it actually makes a whole lot of sense that our inner critics invalidate us- in their own way, they are protecting us, because if we invalidate ourselves first it’s less painful then if someone else invalidates us. So, in a twisted way, we save ourselves from being hurt by others, by hurting ourselves.

What’s more, it is true that other people too invalidate our experiences, perhaps consciously, perhaps subconsciously, and we can also work with self-validating our experiences to strengthen our resilience against invalidation from other people.

*I want to note here that I am not delving into the topic of invalidation in all its depth, as it’s a complex relational topic, and if you are in a relationship with a person where you feel invalidated constantly, I would suggest assessing the situation and what you need to communicate, or do, in the relationship.

So now we can work on exploring the sensation of invalidation in our bodies- what does it feel like in your body when you invalidate yourself or when someone else invalidates you?

Perhaps it feels like a gut-wrenching turning sensation in your stomach, or a burst of energy through your torso? Begin to develop curiosity- there is no right or wrong answer here!

Or perhaps first you notice your emotions and behaviour associated with the experience of invalidation- do you suddenly feel angry at the other person, or with yourself?

Do you feel distant from the other person, or want to gossip about what they said or did? The invitation here is to just notice what’s going on for you without judging your thoughts or behaviours, simply notice.

As we develop this non-judgemental curiosity around our own experiences, we can begin to build our self-awareness; awareness being the first step to making a change.

The next question then is: How can we hold the entirety of our experience in perspective so that we can move towards being able to give ourselves the validation that we need?

As mentioned, I think it’s important to first learn what invalidation feels like in your body by beginning to observe how you react emotionally, physically, mentally, when someone says or does something where you feel invalidated, this is step one- awareness.

When you begin to know yourself, your reactions, your body, your thought patterns, you can move towards change. You may also like to ask yourself how it feels when you are validated, so that you can recognise the difference experiences between the two.

Louise Hay’s book ‘Mirror Work’ demonstrates the power of affirmations in helping to guide ourselves towards self-validation. (I strongly recommend you read her book to gain more insight into this topic!)

Recent neuroscientific research has found that affirmations work by creating new neural pathways in our brain structure through repetition. So, instead of following the well-trodden pathway of ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way, this is silly’ and other thought loops which no longer aid us in our lives, we can start forming new neural pathways which work to improve our mental health, and our relationship with ourselves.

Over time, if we talk to ourselves in a self-affirming, compassionate way using affirmations when we notice our thoughts veering down the neural network of ‘My feelings don’t matter’, we can teach ourselves that, though others may invalidate us and we cannot control others’ behaviour, we can build enough trust in ourselves to know our own truth, and actually change our brain structure (How insane!)

It is through the continued commitment to hold space for ourselves and our own experiences that we can create change in our lives.

So, here are 4 affirmations that I found powerful to use, inspired by Louise Hay, and some advice on how to use them to start to practice self-validation.

Firstly, I believe that for affirmations to work they need to be somewhat relatable, so if the affirmations suggested don’t fit with you, have a go at making up affirmations that resonate with your own experience- there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach here.

Secondly, before starting your affirmations, see if you can find a way to come into your body through breathing practices, grounding, (any way that works for you), so that you can integrate the affirmations.

Thirdly, if you find them hard to stick to or commit to, try to carve out the same time every day to hold space for your affirmations. Early mornings have been found to be the best time to practice as our brain is not yet fully awake so is more susceptible to changing neural pathways!

Fourthly, try it in a mirror, and/ or with a picture of your younger self, so that you can build this trusting relationship with yourself, and the younger you that perhaps didn’t get the validation that they needed.

Finally, if it feels strange at first, or a bit mechanical, stick with it- repetition, repetition, repetition creates new neural pathways!

So here are 4 to work with:

- ‘I respect and honour myself when I pay attention to and accept my feelings.’

- ‘I know that my feelings matter, and I value the truth and wisdom that they contain.’

- ‘Others may try to invalidate my experiences, but I will hold onto my truth.’

- ‘I can hold onto my truth and also remain open to other people’s perspectives, as long as there is mutual respect. I am learning to distinguish between those who invalidate me, and those who are curious, but have different experiences than my own.’

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