8 minute read
Invalidation and narcissism go hand in hand. Ever get the feeling you’re invisible? Like you are entirely worthless and just don’t matter? If yes, you know all too well the obliteration that inevitably comes from narcissistic invalidation. It is the default modus operandi for pathological narcissists, underpinning all forms of abuse, whether physical, psychological, mental, or sexual. The effects are horrendously damaging and disempowering.
Invalidation is used to slowly erase you. After all, when you’ve been emptied of your identity, full compliance to the narcissist’s demands is almost guaranteed. There’s little left to fight with.
BUT…the very fact you are reading this now means you are not down and out. You are still fighting for you.
And in this battle to reclaim your life from narcissism, raising your awareness of when they are abusing you, sets in motion your release from the nightmare.
This article is the first instalment in a two-part series on invalidation and narcissism. In this piece we expose why they do it, and how to spot it in action.
Keep your eyes peeled for part two, where the focus will shift to how it impacts on you, and how to narc-proof yourself for the future through self-validation.
As human beings, we have basic needs, to be loved and to belong. These social needs are just as essential as other survival needs like food, shelter, and safety.
Connection to others and being accepted is at the core of belonging. And being validated by others is an integral part of having these needs met.
So, what is validation?
It is being present and supportive of another’s experience, by acknowledging their thoughts and feelings without attempting to change them.
In being validated we feel accepted by others and we also accept ourselves. We feel heard, seen, and understood. In short, we feel valued.
Appreciating emotional states of others however hinges on the capacity for empathy.
Invalidation is the product of an absence of empathy, hence being a natural space for the pathological narcissist to operate from.
It is the act of purposefully denying, rejecting, minimising, negatively judging, and/or ignoring your expressed experience, thoughts, actions, or emotions.
Invalidation can be overt as is typical in aggressive bullying tactics. It can also be covert, subtle & insidious. Gaslighting is a prime example of just how sneaky invalidation can be.
If a resounding ‘yes’ arose for you in feeling invisible and worthless because of the narc’s abuse, you know, from experience, how bereft the absence of validation leaves you, and how very central it is to your survival.
Sadly, the vulnerability this causes only amplifies the power of invalidation…which is precisely what the narcissist wants in order to feed their needs.
Let’s delve into this some more…
Conceptualising narcissistic invalidation as supply
Once you understand the disordered thinking driving the narcissist’s invalidation, you can begin depersonalising this very personal attack. Truly you will.
By seeing through their mask, in time you develop understanding that their dismantling of you has very little to do with you as a person. Rather, it has everything to do with them as a person.
So here we go…
To protect themselves from facing the reality of their true selves, the narcissist creates a mask, their ‘false-selves’, which is all about being beyond reproach. Maintaining their fragile make-believe world depends on reinforcing beliefs held that they are ‘perfect’.
Disproving the reality of who they are without the mask, drives their existence.
This results in the fixation to constantly source supply. For the narcissist, this is their validation.
Unlike emotionally healthy people however, the pathological narcissist’s version of validation is not contingent on acceptance and understanding. Letting things & people be without the need to change them is not something the narc can do.
Rather, validation (and by this I mean validating them, your needs are completely irrelevant to them) is all about controlling and manipulating you into giving them the hit of supply they constantly crave.
Because supply is needed for their survival, they will score it at any cost. The hunt for validation is an obsession for the narcissist.
This is how it plays out…
Narcissistic invalidation in action
Thing is, being perfect is not a thing.
You and I know this, but the pathological narcissist cannot accept this.
It’s therefore unsurprising that pursuing substantiation of being such a mythical being is fraught with difficulties that cannot be resolved.
To handle these inconveniences, during the genesis of their disorder, the pathological narcissist divided the world into two extremes: the good and the bad. The perfect and the deeply, irrevocably flawed. The black & the white.
This need to allocate people, things, and events into one of the two extremes due to the inability to intellectually integrate both negative and positive qualities in the one entity, is referred to as splitting (for more on splitting read From ‘soul mate’ to worthless: What’s behind the narcissist’s 180? ).
Obviously, the pathological narcissist allocates themselves to the all good/perfect category. And those who validate this view are of value to the narc, often idealised.
However, anyone who does not support this view is rejected, devalued and assigned the ‘all bad’ label.
This stunted and polarised thinking of the pathological narcissist is actually quite simple once decoded (albeit completely illogical and disordered, of course).
It goes like this: to retain beliefs in always being right and superior means that anyone who knowingly or unknowingly challenges these points, must be wrong and inferior.
Facts and logic don’t play into it. The ONLY thing that matters is that your thoughts, feelings, and experiences are negated (read The narcissist’s word salad: Stop biting now for an example of this in action).
Devaluation takes place by invalidating you, which to the disordered mind of the narcissist, validates their elevated status.
Unfounded contrariness reaches new heights in the world of the narcissist!
And this is the foundation of narcissistic invalidation.
In their minds, by denying you, in relation to whatever, means you cannot catch them out on their own denial about who they really are.
So, we’ve established the narcissist’s obsession for validation of the false-self, in order to deny the real-self, as the driver of their compulsive behaviours (I know it’s a mouthful!).
Thing is, that whilst they madly try to protect themselves from reality, simultaneously, a level of awareness of their truth shadows their existence.
This makes them hyper-sensitive to anything that has the potential to bring this to light. In addition to denying the truth, invalidation is used to exert and maintain control over you.
Anytime they feel suspicion you may be sniffing out who they really are, by invalidating you, your attention is diverted to refocus on what’s wrong with you.
It works every time until you wise up to their game.
It is so effective because through the abuse, the narcissist has been training you to react emotionally to any triggering that targets your vulnerabilities. The programming is undertaken for the very purpose of derailing you, of diverting you when required (read Reacting vs. responding: Overcoming legacy of abuse and narcissism for more on this and how to stop being their puppet).
See, in this way they are controlling you by avoiding accountability and silencing any potential threat to their fragile belief system. By voiding you, your experiences, thoughts, and emotions, they make the issue go away.
The ultimate red herring!
In doing this, they are also erasing all that makes you, you.
Spotting narcissistic invalidation
So, now we’re clear why invalidation and the narcissist go hand in hand, let’s check out examples so you can pause, assess when it’s happening, and learn to detach from their abuse thereby neutralising its impact (for more on how to do this read Emotionally unhook yourself & starve the narcissist of supply: Here’s how).
The starkest example is the cycle of narcissistic abuse where the narcissist displays great awareness of how to intentionally apply validation, and it’s opposite, to manipulate you (for more on the intentionality of narcissists read Proof the narcissist abuses you intentionally and will never change).
During idealisation when you were love bombed to hook you into being a reliable source of supply, it was ALL about validating you. To successfully reel you into the relationship the narc was hyper focused on making you feel acknowledged, valued, listened to, cared for, accepted, and understood.
Enter devaluation and discard, and the flip has taken place (more on this is within From ‘soul mate’ to worthless). Validation, no longer needed once you are hooked, is ditched. Invalidation becomes the norm to break down your strength and identity so that you remain dependent and compliant as a source of supply. Now you face relentless:
- Arguments about seemingly everything you express citing that you are illogical, your view is groundless and invalid, perhaps even crazy irrespective of facts
- Rejection, dismissiveness, and/or your needs, thoughts, and emotions are ignored
- Judgements that you are being defective in some way
In each of these scenarios you can see how denial and diversion are at work.
The inference in all of these are that you are wrong, and they are right. That you are flawed and of no worth to them.
Drilling down further, you know these tactics are being used when you hear things like:
- You shouldn’t feel that way
- You’re over-reacting/too sensitive
- You take things too seriously
- You’re wrong, that isn’t how you feel, this is how you feel…
- You have no right to feel that way
- I never said that/that never happened/it’s all in your head
- It wasn’t that bad/it could be worse
- You have things so much better than others
- You should be grateful for everything I do for you
- Nobody else agrees with you/has a problem with it
- There’s something wrong with you/you’ve got big problems/you’re crazy
- Get over it already
- I’m not going to talk to you about this
Conversely…you could hear nothing at all. Crickets.
Body language, and silence however, are just as potent in negating your worth, arguably more so than carefully selected poisoned words (learn up on this in No Contact vs. the narcissist’s silent treatment & ghosting: The differences).
When we internalise it
Ultimately, narcissistic invalidation serves to convey that your value exists only within the context of the narc’s own needs. Any incompatibility with this is not permitted.
Devastatingly, the invalidation you are punished with conditions you to comply by suppressing all that makes you, you.
When your own needs, thoughts, experiences, and emotions are voided to be replaced by those of the narc, you have effectively been erased.
Know that even if you feel somewhat transparent already, you can reclaim all that is you.
You do this by first practising building awareness of their abuse and detaching from it using tools provided in links.
Gorgeous ones, do not let yourself go. Keep up the fight for yourself.
The world needs you in it. You need you in it.
Read Narcissistic Invalidation: How to stop them erasing you next, where the spotlight shifts onto you. In this article, we check out how narcissistic invalidation affects you, and how to conquer its power for good by developing your capacity to self-validate.
For more tools on disentangling from the narc read:
- Blueprint for recovery from narcissistic abuse
- 5 ways to counteract the narcissist’s gaslighting
- How No Contact supports narcissistic abuse recovery
- How journaling combats gaslighting & frees you from narcissistic abuse
- Stop feeling sorry for the narcissist now
As always, please share your thoughts, experiences, and insights on the issues in this article in the comments below. The more we share, the more we teach one another and help those in need to take their step towards freedom.
- Greville-Harris, M., Roelie, H., Anke, K., Dieppe, P., & Lynch, T.R. (2016). The power of invalidating communication: Receiving invalidating feedback predicts threat-related emotional, physiological, and social responses. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 35(6), 471-493.
- Meredith, E. (2013). Emotional invalidation: An investigation into its definition, measurement, and effects (Doctoral Dissertation). University of South Florida, College of Arts and Sciences. (3589666)
- Rowan, J. (1999). Ascent and descent in Maslow’s theory. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 39(3), 125-133.
- Witkowsky, G. (2017). The effect of emotionally validating and invalidating responses on emotional self-efficacy (Doctoral Dissertation). Walden University, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (10279871)