Invalidation (Pt 2 in understanding my Shame)

Its time for me to talk about something that I feel really ashamed about as a person with a mental illness, a campaigner for mental health treatment and a hopeful future worker in the mental health field.

And this is it:

I preach regularly about the benefits of early intervention within mental health treatment, the fact that people should be free of discrimination from friends and family, society and mental health services themselves and the absolute necessity of more investment from the government into mental health services if the NHS is to do exactly what is says it does. This said, I feel incredibly invalidated by people who talk, and take very seriously mental health problems one might (and I certainly) label as ‘moderate’ or ‘mild.’ I desperately want to buy into the ‘everything is relative’ approach and I understand the importance of validating everyone’s situations, however, I still haven’t reached the point where I can get past my own feelings of invalidation to do that. And that makes me feel ashamed.

It’s a symptom of my illness that I loathe and that I try, if possible, to hide. This is because when people say to me ‘you’re doing so much better’ or ‘thank god you’re self harm won’t scar as badly as hers’ my immediate reaction is not one of the predicted relief or joy but an almost unquenchable desire to become worse so that I can retain my label as a ‘serious’ case. In fact, my invalidation is such that after 2 hospital admissions, a long term diagnosis that effects 1-2% of the population, a history of being on 8 different medications of varying doses and in multiple tertiary services even before the age of 18 I still rely on constant reassurance from others that I am not ‘faking’ my illness and that it is serious.

At times my mother has recalled to me in tears the encounters with school councillors, private services, A&E medical staff, police, paramedics, A&E psychiatric Liaison staff, inpatient admissions, assertive outreach team, community mental health team and complex needs team. She points me to the facts as she struggles to hold in the tears trying to convince me I don’t need to die, I don’t need to attempt to die- people will still take me seriously, I don’t need ‘worse scars’ or another admission. And she is right. Things are already serious- I’ve missed out on big moments of my adolescence, living in this dissociative deviously suicidal state, or a state where I’m in so much pain, it hurts to do much else than simply be. Whenever, I reach the next ‘stage’ of seriousness its still not enough and I can’t quite seem to turn my mind from these deceiving whispers in my ear that scream invalidating thoughts, that others are worse and I’m pathetic and overdramatic.

But as I’ve said, frustratingly when I hear of those with problems that I feel are petty I also have this hugely critical voice in my head that is irritated is by their complaints or ideas that they understand.

I want to make them understand how bad it can get- I want to trump them with my issues. And I hate it. In fact, in response I almost always subconsciously imagine them in their, at times, huge pain despite lack of physical harm and the serious consequences to myself that being afraid to take confidently about suffering for fear of invalidation or accusations of melodrama, caused.

If I want to work in the field of mental health for any amount of time I need to get this sorted. If I’m to move on with the management of my conditions to a point of enjoyable living I need to do more than simply ignore it as, yes, I won’t act on it towards another but I then will go home and take it out on myself. And I want to be able to have truthful and realistic conversations about mental health as I believe, deep down, I’d be able to contribute something.

I need to find a dialectic.

Oh Lord.

None of current mental health team has access to this blog but L, if you’re reading this, you should be proud. They have finally been successful in my DBT indoctrination.

When I am triggered into an emotion of shame, sadness, anxiety or anger due to my interpretation of an event as invalidating, I will recognise it, tell myself it is understandable and a symptom. I will point myself to the facts, not in a desperate attempt for satisfactory validation that actually another will never able to give me, but instead to factually recall what has happened in regards to my mental health problems, to recognise, yes, there are many with it worse and many with less severe issues. All are valid including my own and I’m not to minimise my own, I’m also not an awful person for feeling invalidated. Ad this process will eventually mean I’ll be able to take into account a person’s suffering, sympathise with and validate it, regardless of comparisons to my own.

What I’d like to know is whether anyone else struggles with this invalidation and if there is a middle ground of any sort any of you can come up with in your lives/management of symptoms/invalidation? Share it with me if you’d like.

Beth x


4 thoughts on “Invalidation (Pt 2 in understanding my Shame)

  1. The struggles I experience are quite different to yours. But I do recognise the issue of invalidation. I even do it to myself. For various reasons I have been in acute emotional turmoil over the last few days. When chatting to a friend online (one I know in the real world) .. I was sharing with him some of what I am feeling. I then went on to profess that my issue was only a mindset issue, and nothing compared to what he had experienced in the loss of his wife. Why I did this, I do not know. It is something that I find myself doing frequently. Everybody’s pain is their pain. And it is valid. It is how it affects you as a person that matters. I guess my issue is the opposite to yours, as I diminish my own pain rather than seek to measure it against others. Perhaps the invalidation might be symptomatic of what causes your troubles? Of course, you know best on that. For me it as about acceptance. Circumstances may vary – but no one person’s pain is worse or less than anyone else’s. Where we differ, is in how we process and deal with that pain. Some better than others. I wish you well.

  2. Hi Carol thanks so much for the comment. And yes I’ve been told a lot the constant comparisons I make as a result of the inability to validate myself so I have to rely on others, be it there situations or what they say for validation- which often fails because at the end of the day it is only you who can validate your own struggles and no clearly the pain or turmoil as you say. I know exactly what you mean in what you did with your friend- I do it often and it sort of sets us up for failure if you know what I mean- we open the invalidating conversation, its so tricky. I think you’re very right on acceptance and thank you for sharing that with me acceptance is something I need constantly reminding of as it doesn’t come naturally. I really hope things begin to get easier for you soon and thanks again for your thoughts x

  3. One way I have validated my illness is through disability benefits. Both the government and my employers private disability insurance have awarded me benefits. So I figure my case must be pretty valid. I know there are people worse off than I am but also know I can be pretty darn bad when I am at the bottom. It’s hard though to hear that your case isn’t “serious”. Cause it sure feels like it to you.

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