If there is one thing I have seen as a common thread to a childhood of trauma, it is the invalidation of everything we believe to be true.
Our needs aren’t validated or met. Our emotions are not validated. They are touted as problematic. Our memories are not validated. Often we are told we are making things up. And our narratives are not validated, leading to a defensive creation of a false reality just to get through childhood.
And if there is one thing that is hardest in recovery, it is learning to validate ourselves. We usually come to the recovery process with no sense of self. We don’t know how to trust ourselves or how we feel and we aren’t sure how to get there. We may get flashbacks and excuse them away as made-up. We may start to feel an emotion and hear that voice telling us not to be ridiculous. It is a pattern set deep in our psyches and we are not going to overcome it easily.
But as I have become aware of my inner parts, I have learned one very important thing. My parts are telling the truth. It isn’t just their memories that are true, but their emotions and beliefs are completely evidence-based. When I allow my inner parts to feel and to share where those feelings are coming from, they are valid and justified.
You may be thinking that can’t be true. When you are walking down the street and are suddenly in a panic, it is not a valid response. And from that standpoint, you would be right. But your inner parts don’t live in today’s world. They live in the past. And something about the current experience reminds them of something very bad. Based on that bad experience from 30 years ago, the emotion is completely valid. And that is where we must start.
So what do we do about this? The most important step we can take is to validate that emotion. We must learn to stop the invalidating inner statements we learned from our abusers all those years ago. We must allow the emotion from the past. And we must work to understand where it came from. That understanding might come from the examination of memories. But one thing I have learned over these years is the understanding will not come as long as we are invalidating ourselves.
So how do we validate ourselves?
- Recognize the invalidating statements you were taught. More than likely, the statements you use to invalidate your emotions and memories were told to you when you were growing up. Your controller is now using them to keep your false narrative in place. Start building your awareness around those statements. What are you telling yourself? Where did those statements originate?
- Get curious. Invalidation creates a rigid narrative within us. We refuse to step out of that narrative to see things differently. One of the most important steps in this work is to get curious about our reality. If you sense that something may not be true, get curious about it. You don’t have to throw out your reality with one fell swoop, but consider other possibilities.
- Start the discussion. You have inner parts who know the truth. They have been trying to get your attention for a long time, but your defenses have stopped them in their tracks. While you may need to start with the defenders to make progress, the goal is to start the discussion. Let them write to you about their reality. Let them tell you why they want to defend, why they want to share, why they resist your daily life and why they are in pain. Let them open up to you about life as your inner part and you will begin to get a sense of your true reality, as opposed to what you have told yourself for all these years.
- Feel. While understanding your new reality on a cognitive basis is critically important, you can’t integrate this new found understanding without letting go of the old reality. You must make space for it. And that work often comes in the form of grief, shame and rage. If you don’t allow yourself to feel these emotions, you will sit in the space between the old and the new. And I will be honest, it isn’t a comfortable place.
The next time you hear the invalidation start, take notice. It might sound like:
“You didn’t have it that bad. Just get over it.”
“You are overreacting and need to calm down.”
“You have more important things to do than focus on this old stuff.”
Allow yourself to consider that things might be different than you think. Allow yourself to consider how your inner parts are suffering with this continued and triggering invalidation. Allow yourself to consider how you might be lying to yourself about what happened in your past. Respect your parts and their perspective, so you can help them heal from their horrific experiences. They have suffered for a long time and it is up to you to stop that suffering now. You are the only one who can.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW