We’ve all encountered people who are just plain nasty, haven’t we? This is  a great little book for recognizing an all too common behavior that cripples self-esteem.

Leo Buscaglia says,  “Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”

In my profession, I am privileged to hear people’s stories and come alongside them with support and encouragement. Some of these stories are about relationships with people who are “nasty” and have hurt them, sometimes over a period of many years.

This post is kind of heavy, but I HAD to write it because it contains some secrets of happiness for those of us who have survived the cruel intentions of those we love or have loved.

Recently I had an encounter with someone who was particularly nasty. And now that I am studying this phenomenon, it explains the behaviors of others that I have questioned over time.

These people (and unfortunately, sometimes we are them) are what may be  called Invalidators. Hitler was the archetype of an extreme invalidator.

A true invalidator can bypass your logical mind. When you’re around one, you find yourself feeling bad without knowing why. Invalidators are underhanded, and the person being invalidated is often unsuspecting. Their methods of invalidating include:

  • Uncertainty. They “make you feel” uncertain of your environment for long periods of time with vagueness, changing the way they treat you,  and not making  commitments, until your adaptive ability fails.
  • Projection. They take their own feelings and project them onto you. For instance, they may ask a person they don’t like, “I don’t think you like me do you?”
  • Generalization. They attack your self-esteem instead of the problem. Let’s say you forgot to bring home eggs from the store. The invalidator may say, “You’re inconsiderate,” “You’re stupid,” “You’re irresponsible.” No! You simply forgot the eggs. If you had remembered them, would you magically become more intelligent, responsible and considerate? Chipping away at your self-esteem so they can control you – that’s the game.
  • Judgment. The person who says, “You are irresponsible” has cleverly implanted the implication that “Anyone who knows you would agree.”
  • Manipulation. This is bad control. Good control includes a fair exchange and is ethical. You may be pressured to do it his way because he wants control.  An invalidator is by definition a manipulator.
  • Sneak Attack. “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” “I don’t want to upset you, but…” “Don’t let this bother you, but…” Watch it! These lines are a dead giveaway to what the invalidator has planned.
  • Double Message. These can lead to schizophrenia in childhood. The real message contains daggers but is masked in sweetness and love. You’ll know this by how your “gut” is feeling.
  • Cutting Off Communication. Interrupting you or walking away when you’re talking are prime examples.
  • Building You Up, Cutting You Down. Be careful about depending on someone else’s opinion of you for your self-esteem. The invalidator’s goal is to get you to look inside yourself through introversion and introspection so you don’t notice what’s going on outside yourself. Remember my Taming Your Gremlin post?
  • The Double Bind. The invalidator puts you in a double bind: “wrong if you do, wrong if you don’t.” The beginning to the solution for escaping the double bind is awareness (simply notice) and staying present (choose and play with options). Don’t become introspective!

Still with me? Nice deep breaths, now. 🙂

In truth, the invalidator actually feels inferior to the other person, so he tries to make the other person feel small. Thus, he can exert control over the “victim.” He has to control the other person because he perceives the other as being superior.

Actually, it is important to keep in mind that the invalidator is a personality, not a person. Invalidators look big but feel small. They have low self-esteem but large egos. They invalidate when they feel inferior or out of control. The worst cases are those who invalidate to gain destructive power and control.

Invalidation is contagious. If you have been invalidated, you may begin to do it to others yourself, or you may fall prey to someone who does.

If you have been the victim of an invalidator over a long period of time, you may manifest the flip-side of the invalidator. It may have forced you into a survival mode that looks like this:

  • You never get angry, and if you do you’re not sure how to express it without hurting someone – so you hold it all inside. When you suppress anger, you simultaneously repress other feelings.
  • You never put anyone down.
  • You were “made to feel” so wrong that at one point you made a forced decision that you were completely OK – so much so that one can almost see your halo.
  • You may have developed a stubborn unwillingness to be wrong.
  • You listen to people – in fact you actually make people right – because you don’t want to hurt someone like you were hurt. In the process, you fool people to build their egos and are dishonest with your true feelings.
  • You fear change. If you find yourself changing your opinions or point of view, you may fear that you are succumbing as you almost did to the invalidator long ago.
  • You may develop funny quirks in your personality because nothing can be allowed to shake the foundation you are hanging onto.

It is especially difficult for someone who was made to feel wrong to be willing to appear wrong. Your willingness to be wrong has been abused, and you may feel completely vulnerable.

A healthy person realizes that she is OK and can accept other people’s opinions and judgments. She is willing to see that sometimes someone else can be right and she can be wrong, which keeps things in balance.

So what can you do if you find yourself in a relationship where this behavior is present?

1.  Remember that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. What is also true, as a reader suggests; “Remember that someone who makes you feel inferior is actaully trying to exert control over their own negative feelings by dumping them onto others.”  Thanks Angie!

2.  Realize that the invalidator is  a person with many qualities and that she is likely trapped in an unconscious behavior.

3.  Identify the problem for the invalidator.

4.  Set limits for the invalidator’s behavior. Let her know what is not acceptable to you.

5.  Make a time limit for change.

6.  Be respectful and diplomatic yet firm. You can use humor and words that express your feelings.

7.  Don’t judge, label, blame, generalize, or make it personal.

If reasoning doesn’t work, you might try cause and effect (there is no formula, play with options):

  • Disconnect, quit, or leave.
  • Raise your eyebrows and stare unwaveringly.
  • Do something outrageous like laughing shrilly, talking loudly, or winking – anything to “change the dance” and throw the invalidator off his game.
  • Your goal is to make the invalidator uncomfortable whenever he invalidates. And of course, if the methods of invalidation are harming you, or your children – you need to get away from it until and unless they change.

    See you at the spa!

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