A Therapist Recommends 3 Ways To Deal With An Emotionally Dismissive Person

Emotional invalidation can be painful but learning what it actually is can curb its effects.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | April 30, 2023

Many people come to therapy feeling hurt when their emotions are dismissed by people. They say things like:

  • "Sometimes when I spiral, my partner responds by saying, 'I am sure it wasn't that bad. You are just making a mountain out of a molehill.'"
  • "My friends say, 'Everything happens for a reason. At least your situation is not as bad as others.'"
  • "My family keeps telling me that I take things too personally when I am actually going through a lot. I feel so alone in my struggle."

If you've also felt this way at certain points in your life, you may have suffered emotional invalidation.

Verbal invalidation is the most obvious form of emotional invalidation, but it can also be conveyed nonverbally, through behaviors like rolling one's eyes or glancing continuously at one's watch or phone while someone is trying to be vulnerable.

Having one's thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors dismissed and rejected can be extremely hurtful and isolating. Studies also suggest that emotional invalidation in childhood may contribute to eating disorders and self-harm in adolescents.

Here are three recommendations to help you handle and heal from emotional invalidation.

#1. Think before you respond

Being at the receiving end of emotional invalidation might set off your body's fight-flight-or-freeze response, which can cause you to respond violently or defensively. Often, the offenders of deliberate invalidation want to distract you from the real issue rather than addressing the elephant in the room.

Instead of giving in to their parries and reacting to their invalidating statements, stop and think about how you want to respond. You can do this by reflecting on questions like:

  • Are you close enough to this person for their opinion to matter?
  • Has this person understood your feelings in the past?
  • Is it even worth investing your time and energy to help them understand your feelings?

Nothing good ever comes from knee-jerk reactions or clap backs. Let yourself settle down before you try to figure out the best way to respond to their insensitivity.

Psychologist Jennifer Veilleux recommends that you apply an emotional regulation technique called the "thinking threshold."

"The thinking threshold is the notion that there is a level of emotional intensity above which thinking is impaired, where thinking is driven more by emotion than by logic," explains Veilleux.

When you are above that level, you should not use coping or emotion regulation strategies that require thinking, because your thinking is impaired. Using sensory strategies is a better idea, like splashing your face with ice water, getting a hug, or taking a walk. Once you've got a grip on your emotional state, you can think through the best ways to respond to the invalidation.

#2. Use 'I' statements

Sometimes, when the invalidation is unintentional, the perpetrator isn't fully aware of what they are doing.

In such cases, practice being direct and assertive. You can say something like: "I feel like my feelings are being invalidated. I am not looking for a solution, I just want to be heard and understood right now."

You can even follow the standard template of 'I statements' to express yourself:

"I feel [state your feeling] when you [state their action]. I would like you to [state your expectation]."

#3. Validate yourself

While it's normal to want to be understood, you can't always depend on others to validate who you are, what you believe in, and how you feel. Doing this will only dent your self-worth.

Learn to master the art of self-validation. It may seem overwhelming at first, especially if you are not used to it.

Start by noticing your feelings and what 'need' is causing you to feel that way. Try to be gentle and non-judgmental while you are at it. Keep reminding yourself that feelings are fleeting and, hence, don't define who you really are.

You can help yourself change negative feelings to positive ones by keeping yourself grounded with statements like, "My feelings are valid," "It's okay to cry," and "I'm making progress." Don't hesitate to pat yourself on the back when you do a good job on something.

Here are two tips for when you find it hard to practice self-validation:

  • Treat yourself like your own best friend. Role-play in your mind a scenario where your close friend is going through the same situation.
  • Love yourself the way you always wanted to be loved. Think of the kind of things that make you feel validated. Stand in front of a mirror, give yourself a tight hug, and say those exact things out loud.