One of the most difficult parts of dealing with a narcissist for me was the constant invalidation of my feelings, my thoughts, and my emotions. Since my first narcissist was a parent, I would develop some serious personal issues as a result of it. I remember feeling like anything I said or thought or felt was somehow less relevant or less real than what other people said, thought or felt. I literally felt like I was not even a “real person” – or at least not as real as everyone around me.
In fact, if I’m being honest, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I really, fully recognized myself as a whole person rather than a watered-down extension of someone else. Yes, it sounds silly, but it’s true. I really think that the hardest, most painful part of growing up that way (and later, marrying another narcissist) was that constant invalidation.
Just to be clear, when I say invalidation, I mean emotional invalidation, which is when someone rejects, ignores or judges everything you say, think or feel. For example, when I was in second grade, I noticed that I could draw better than some people. I told my mother that I wanted to grow up and become an artist, and she told me in no uncertain terms that I could not do that because artists don’t make any money. Of course, this is just one of many examples I could share, and it probably sounds pretty harmless.
But here’s the thing – when we’re talking about narcissistic parents, this is an ongoing issue that starts pretty much the minute you can talk. And even when you’re involved in a romantic relationship with a narcissist for years, it can deeply affect you. See, despite what a lot of people think, invalidation is actually one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse, and this is especially true when it is happens repeatedly over the course of time. Not only can it make you feel like you’re not a real person or like you’re a little crazy, but it’ll leave you feeling constantly confused and full of self-doubt.
On the other end of the spectrum here is validation, or accepting and recognizing that someone’s thoughts and ideas are worth hearing, understandable, and legitimate. It doesn’t mean unconditional acceptance of ideas or thoughts – it means that you don’t automatically assume that someone has nothing of value to say. It means accepting someone as a real person who is not less worthy or valuable than yourself.
And, even though someone who isn’t a narcissist (a “normal” person) may disagree or have a difference in opinion, they can still recognize the value in the thoughts and opinions of other people. Plus, a “normal” person is likely to make an attempt to understand people. They will try to look at even “abnormal” behaviors from a place of empathy – it’s basic human nature to try to see the other person’s side of things.
However, when there’s a narcissist involved, we’re not exactly dealing with “normal,” are we? Instead, we’re stuck with a walking, talking human-like being who seems to have a giant hole in their soul. A narcissist isn’t capable of true empathy, so it only makes sense that you can’t expect them to validate you.
Invalidation is a Hallmark of Narcissistic Abuse in Toxic Relationships
In fact, as it turns out, invalidation is one of the hallmarks of this kind of emotional abuse.
Sadly, there’s a simple reason, in my opinion: the narcissist sees you as a possession, an object – a thing. You are simply an extension of the narcissist, according to them. If they saw you as equal to themselves, it would shatter their grand illusion (the way they deceive themselves into thinking they’re better or more important than everyone else in the world).
Well – that, and because it’s yet another way the narcissist gaslights you and keeps you tightly in place in the narcissistic supply chain. Between the gaslighting, the narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury, and the flying monkeys of it all, you can become overwhelmed to the point that you completely lose yourself. And the truth is that all of the name-calling, verbal cut-downs, and narcissistic control that you deal with could all be placed under the umbrella of invalidation.
How do you recognize invalidation from a narcissist?
If you haven’t ever taken the time to watch for it, you might not even recognize that you’re being invalidated by a narcissist. If you’re anything like I was, you’re likely to assume that YOU are the problem, rather than your abuser. But it’s so important to recognize when it’s happening because it is essentially the #1 way that narcissists actively tear down your core self in order to keep you feeling off-balance, confused, and plain old not good enough – all of which, sadly, makes you easier to control. It is my goal to help you to take back your life, though, so I want you to see it when it’s happening, or at least to be able to recognize it in hindsight because essentially, it is one more way the narcissist lies to you and gives you the wrong idea about who you are – one of the most difficult parts about going through narcissistic abuse. If you want to recover, you first have to recognize it, right?
Signs a Narcissist is Invalidating You
So, in order to help you recognize it in your own life, here are some examples of what invalidation looks like.
1. During a Conversation
If you’re having a conversation with a narcissist, you might notice that when it’s your turn to talk, you get only grunts or a couple of words in response. Nothing that actually indicates the narcissist has heard you or understood you. Maybe even just a pause and a breath. You might even notice that they are just waiting until it’s their turn to talk again. They could care less what’s happening inside your head – they only want you to hear what they have to say. It doesn’t matter what you think or feel, as far as they’re concerned, because they see you only as an extension of themselves with nothing of value to share.
2. How the Narcissist Feels About You
Have you ever asked a narcissist how they felt about you? More specifically, have you ever asked what they like or love about you? Or did they ever volunteer that information to you? If you think back, you might remember that they always said things like:
- I love the way you make me feel.
- I love how you always listen.
- I love that you’re always there when I need you.
- I love how you take care of me.
See how there wasn’t really anything about YOU PERSONALLY there? Rather, the focus is all about what you DO for them, not who you are. That is because the narcissist only cares about what they can get from you – what you do for them – not who you are as a person. As always, it’s all about the narcissistic supply.
Here’s the hard part – and it seems counterintuitive – but you have to figure out a way to not take it personally. Don’t get me wrong – I know it hurts, and it certainly IS a personal attack. But it’s not ever really about you. It’s really about the narcissist’s own shortcomings.
I want to tell you that you shouldn’t really care or even feel offended – I mean, it’s just the narcissist’s “way.” That is how they treat everyone, right?
Well, that would be the case if you didn’t seem to catch the narcissist appearing to genuinely connect with other people when they’re more of a brick wall when it comes to understanding YOU. That brings me to my next point, number 3.
3. Connections to Other People
I can’t tell you how many times, in tears, I literally asked my ex-husband, “Can you please just be nice to me?” Being with a narcissist can feel very lonely at times. And it is so frustrating to watch your abuser be nice to other people when they can’t even be polite to you, much less kind. Worse, they will seem to have empathy for them, while being completely heartless to you. And if you dare to even bat an eyelash the wrong way in regard to those people? He will tell you HOW THEY FEEL! And still, when it comes to you, the narcissist seems to hold tightly to this apparent blind spot, as far as you can tell.
But then you start to wonder. What’s so bad about me? Am I really as (insert insulting lie here – crazy/lazy/ugly/bitchy/stupid, etc.) the narcissist says I am? Do I really deserve to be treated this way? No one else in my life seems to think I’m that bad. Why this person? If you’re there, you’re on the right track.
Why the Narcissist Invalidates You
See, by devaluing and disregarding you with those subtle little behaviors, the narcissist gets something out of it: you, emotionally devastated and behaving like the good little narcissistic supply they need.
But if you think this is going to improve how you’re treated, you are sadly mistaken. See, once you’ve been properly molded into the ideal person the narcissist wants, you’ll hope that they will finally be happy with you. And while you might not notice that you’re more concerned about their happiness than your own (which is a problem in itself), you figure if you don’t make any “mistakes” and you do what they want, it’ll all be okay. But sadly, the happiness you hope for will never quite arrive – and if it does, it’ll be fleeting. That’s because the more you try to become perfect for a narcissist, the more they lose respect for you.
Narcissists Want to Devalue and Destroy You
Over time, they will have you believing that you’re not even an actual human who even deserves to be treated with even the most basic dignity. And you will find yourself acting in kind as you desperately seek to justify it to yourself with thoughts of personal change and self-sacrifice.
You rack your brain on ways YOU can change in order to elicit change from them. But here’s the thing – none of that will matter unless both people are willing to give.
You can only change so much without any reciprocation at all. Compromise means two parties come to a mutually agreeable resolution in which both parties get what they want. Otherwise, it’s just you giving and giving and them taking and taking until they completely drain you.
And my friend, you deserve better. You are just as important as anyone else in the world. Your thoughts, your ideas, your experiences – they are valid, they matter and they are worth hearing. Please, don’t forget.
Question of the Day: Is validation one of the biggest things you’re missing when it comes to your relationship with a narcissist? Are you forgetting who you are? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below this video, and let’s discuss it.
Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy.
She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.