To start off this post, take 2 minutes to do a mindfulness activity. For the first minute, imagine that you just failed a test. Write down all of the things that come to mind about how you're feeling, what you'd say to yourself. After the first minute imagine that your friend came to you saying they failed the test. Again, write down what you'd tell them in that scenario.
See any difference between the two conversations?
Here's a few examples of what came off of mine versus the one to my "friend":
You should have studied harder/longer/more.
You're going to lose your scholarship.
Everyone is disappointed in you.
Maybe you're not smart enough for this program.
I'm really sorry to hear that happened.
This one test doesn't define you, or your success.
You've been working really hard, and I'm proud of you.
So, what's the deal? Why are we SO quick to react negatively and in a mean way to ourselves, and then able to quickly flip the switch to be kind and validating to others in our lives?
Check out the chart below, called the self-invalidating process. We went over this today in DBT, and it's made a lot of sense to me.
It starts with emotional vulnerability (your temperament, sensitivity, reactivity) and is combined with a history of invalidating responses. This then makes you more likely to react with judgements and heightened emotional arousal when a certain event happens (i.e. failing a test). For example, your reaction may initially be embarrassment or sadness, but it can come off as anger, and that's what others see as well. This then leads to invalidating responses, which can come from yourself and/or others, and the cycle gets stronger and repeats itself over and over again.
This was SO important and stuck with me for a number of reasons. If we look at psychology, punishment is meant to decrease a behavior. When we invalidate ourselves and act in this way, we are punishing ourselves with the intention of increasing a behavior. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, right?
Punishment of yourself doesn't decrease suffering.
Self-invalidation is simply a punishment, and it doesn't actually get us anywhere. It keeps us stuck. As you can see in the chart above, it's cyclical, and unless we are actively practicing and trying to get out of it, it makes a lot of sense why we remain in this cycle. And why it keeps us miserable.
So what do we do? How can we take our skills for validation that work so well with others and apply them to ourselves?
There are 3 major components to validating yourself, which again, are SUPER important in improving behaviors and reducing suffering.
1. Use mindfulness. Be mindful of the thoughts & feelings, notice judgements, do not attach to them. Let them go. Try to accurately identify feelings and focus on the primary emotions.
2. Use radical acceptance. Search for understanding and legitimacy, try radical acceptance of feelings, thoughts, and actions, and practice willingness to accept this experience.
3.Change how you respond to yourself. Normalize emotions, rather than criticize or judge them. Find compassion for myself when I'm suffering, as I would for any other human being. Use my wise mind. Provide myself nurturance and support, or seek it from others.
So there you have it. A very quick breakdown of what self-invalidation is, why it remains so hard to change, and some possibilities on how you can break through the cycle. We went through this today in DBT and it was so revolutionary to me, as someone who has been so self-invalidating for so much of my life. I really want to practice these skills and continue to work towards self-validation, and I hope that my sharing this sparked something within you as well.
Let me know what you think!
You can learn more about DBT, created by Marsha Linehan, PhD, here.
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 24 year old navigating life in NYC and mental health recovery. I am passionate about public health and eliminating stigma.