How To Tell If You Have A 'Self-Invalidation' Problem—And How To Fix It

Do you punish yourself for feeling things too much—or too little? If so, you might be struggling with 'emotional self-invalidation.'

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 28, 2024

Emotions are more than just fleeting reactions—they shape our thoughts, behaviors and relationships. As such, how we perceive, process and express these emotions within ourselves can significantly impact our mental health and well-being. Understanding the concept of self-invalidation due to emotions becomes crucial in this context.

Self-invalidation involves dismissing or criticizing our own emotional experiences. It's a pattern of belittling one's own feelings, viewing emotional sensitivity as a weakness or believing they should be able to control their emotions better.

This can create emotional chaos as individuals suppress their emotions instead of safely acknowledging or processing them—obstructing their natural flow. This tendency not only affects how we relate to ourselves but also how we interact with others, potentially leading to strained relationships and emotional distress.

For instance, not accepting or reflecting on your feelings of disappointment and rejection after being ghosted by a potential partner might lead you to develop an aversion from dating and romantic exploration altogether. This could lead to a host of emotional blockages ranging from trust issues to extreme social withdrawal.

Self-invalidation due to emotions can take various forms such as:

  • Ignoring or dismissing emotions
  • Self-criticism for feeling a certain way
  • Viewing emotions as weak or irrational
  • Minimizing one's emotional experiences compared to others
  • Suppression or denial of the intensity of emotions, which may trigger feelings of guilt or shame
  • Attributing emotional reactions to personal flaws, such as being overly sensitive or incapable of managing emotions effectively

The patterns of self-invalidation can significantly impact emotional well-being and self-perception. Recognizing and addressing self-invalidation is vital for developing emotional resilience and a positive self-image.

How Can Self-Invalidation Due To Emotion Be Measured?

The Self-Invalidation Due to Emotion Scale (SIDES), developed by Regina Schreiber and Jennifer Veilleux in 2022, offers a valuable tool to explore and understand these tendencies. Comprising ten statements, this scale prompts individuals to reflect on their attitudes towards their emotional responses.

By rating statements on the following statements on a scale from 1 to 5, test takers can gain insight into their appetite for emotional transparency and authenticity. This empowers them to identify areas for personal growth and emotional self-acceptance. You can read the following statements and rate them to the degree you agree or disagree with them.

  1. My emotions make me a weak person.
  2. I ruin relationships with others because of how little emotion I experience.
  3. My emotions make me a burden to others.
  4. I feel like less of a person because I experience too little emotion.
  5. I should be able to "get over" my emotions faster than I do.
  6. I am a cold-hearted person because I do not feel a lot of emotion.
  7. I do not have a good enough reason to be as emotional as I am.
  8. I feel like less of a person because not many things influence me emotionally.
  9. I should be more capable of handling my emotions.
  10. I am unworthy of love because I am not very emotional

Once you've become aware of your emotional responses, you can take proactive steps to manage them effectively. Here are two practical strategies to overcome self-invalidation.

1. Embrace "Emotional Alchemy"

Rather than viewing emotions as obstacles, this approach encourages us to see them as opportunities for personal growth and understanding. Each emotion, even the most challenging ones like fear or sadness, holds valuable insights into our inner world—our desires, values and unresolved conflicts.

To begin your journey of embracing emotional alchemy;

  • Start by shifting your perspective on emotions. Instead of suppressing or judging them, allow yourself to fully experience and explore what they reveal about your experiences and relationships. Reflect on the origins and triggers of your emotions and consider what they might be trying to communicate. Journaling can be a powerful tool for this exercise, providing a space to process and reflect on your emotions.
  • Approach your emotional experiences with curiosity and openness. According to a study published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology, curiosity is the best predictor of emotional intelligence. Practice mindfulness techniques to observe your emotions with gentle curiosity and without judgment—allowing them to unfold naturally. Seek support from a therapist or trusted loved ones to discuss and validate your emotions in a safe environment.

Remember, this is a gradual process that requires patience and self-compassion. Celebrate your progress and be gentle with yourself during moments of emotional difficulty.

2. Practice Emotional Fluency Exercises

Research indicates that describing one's feelings helps reduce distress in all situations, demonstrating its effectiveness in calming negative emotions. When individuals attempt to recognize and sift through their emotions during intense experiences, it significantly lowers their distress levels. Developing emotional fluency, therefore, becomes crucial.

To enhance emotional fluency, integrate these strategies into your routine to deepen your understanding and acceptance of your emotions:

  • Set aside regular time to identify, label and describe your emotions with nuance and precision. This practice allows you to build a vocabulary that accurately reflects the complexity of your inner experiences.
  • Engage in writing exercises where you detail your emotional responses to specific situations. Journaling prompts can include describing not only what you feel but also the physical sensations and thoughts associated with each emotion. This exercise encourages introspection and strengthens your ability to articulate and process your feelings effectively.
  • Explore emotional vocabulary across different languages or cultures. Discover terms that capture nuances of emotions that may resonate with your experiences but are not easily expressed in your native language. This cross-cultural exploration broadens your emotional repertoire and deepens your understanding of how emotions are perceived and expressed globally.

In essence, self-invalidation of emotions involves self-criticism and rejection of one's own emotional experiences. Once you learn the language of your emotions and take time to check-in with them, you will realize that, no matter how negative or positive, your emotions are always trying to help you.

Curious about your own invalidation tendencies? Take the Self-Invalidation Due To Emotion Scale to learn more.

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