General Question

Yellowdog's avatar

Is it still considered "invalidation" of a person's feelings if you tell or assure them not to be afraid, to not worry, or not be embarrassed?

Asked by Yellowdog (10535points) April 14th, 2019

There is a line of thought out there (sorry, I have no sources) that points out that some of the things we say to try to be helpful, may in fact be ‘invalidating’ or denying a person’s right to feel what they need to feel, or feel naturally.

For instance, if you are attempting to give support to someone expresses their worries or fears, and you say, “That’s silly!” and suggest a more realistic point of view…

Or if someone’s pet dies, and you tell them to “cheer up” or “Don’t be sad because…”

Or, for that matter, saying “Don’t be sad… ‘cause two out of three ain’t bad.” is “invalidating” a person’s natural feelings, when in fact we should be validating and sympathizing a person’s right to feel how they feel.

I agree strongly with that line of thinking.

But what about trying to assure someone by saying, “Don’t be afraid.” or “Don’t worry,” or “Don’t be embarrassed?

If you are completely in control and can take care of what is worrying someone, why not say, “Don’t worry, I can help with that. I can fix that problem…” or “Don’t worry, you can fix this…” a form of invalidation?

What about telling someone not to be embarrassed because what they may be ashamed of doesn’t matter to you, to whom they assumed would show them lacking or inferior…

What about assuring a child not to be afraid—because you won’t let anything happen to them… or giving them a more realistic perspective of what they may be afraid of is not going to happen?

I always thought telling someone not to be afraid is a way to assure or comfort someone. Telling someone their fear is “silly” of course, would be invalidation.

Or maybe we could say, “I know you’re afraid, but…”

But isn’t it okay to simply say, “Don’t be afraid… because…” (if it’s something really NOT to be feared) or “Don’t be embarrassed… here’s what happened to me…” or “Don’t worry… we can fix this…”

Is THAT invalidation? To tell someone not to be afraid?

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28 Answers

Patty_Melt's avatar

Well, stated as such, at the very least is unhelpful.
Instead of a statement, a question would be more compassionate, and possibly helpful.
“Is there some way we can make this less frightening/embarrassing/upsetting?
I’m on your side, does that help?”

zenvelo's avatar

Yes, it is invalidating. It is also called “being an insensitive dickwad.”

seawulf575's avatar

Not sure it is invalidating someone’s feelings anyway. Ridiculing them by saying something like “It’s stupid to be afraid of that” is invalidating their fears. Saying “Don’t Be Afraid” is more like trying to comfort someone. Even asking “What are you afraid of?” isn’t invalidating, providing it is said in an effort to better understand the fear. And to be honest, I rarely hear anyone say just “Don’t be afraid” and leave it at that. They usually go on to explain why there’s nothing to be afraid of. Again, not invalidating, just trying to ease someone’s fears.

KNOWITALL's avatar

It seems insensitive at least.

Inspired_2write's avatar

…..“if you “TELL” or assure them not to be afraid, to not worry, or not be embarrassed”

Since the person just told another that they in fact” FELT” worries,embarrassed,or afraid then its too late to tell them NOT to feel.
Understanding why they feel that way is far better then talking them out of their feelings.
A simple hug helps a person. ( especially tactile people)
A simple ” sorry that you feel that way” is another.
Sometimes just talking about why helps another understand from where this feeling originated.
Depends on the person one is assisting. Knowing them personally helps and the fact that they reached out to you is telling you that they trust you enough to talk about personal matters.

JLeslie's avatar

Often it is invalidating, or will feel invalidating. I certainly don’t think words like silly are going to help, and are likely very counterproductive, but not to worry so much also sometimes is advice that might be worth heeding. The question is, can the person getting the advice hear it, and seek to learn another way of framing situations. Learning how to handle life is part of the secret of life.

I think it certainly depends on the situation, and everyone is different in their brain wiring, but if the person wants to feel better, then maybe listen to how people who don’t worry as much organize their own thoughts.

Some events are understandably traumatic, but when a person worries about something that the average person handles in stride, then it might be worth having an open mind to learning better coping mechanisms.

Now, if I could only follow my own advice on this. Lol.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I think it depends largely on the person on the receiving end. Some people don’t want advice, or comfort involving problems, concerns, or fears. They just want someone to listen to them. Others are indeed searching for answers, or comfort, from another.

Many people may react differently, to the same advice on the same issue. Saying that a concern is foolish, for example, may be invalidating, but that will help ease the issue for some, but frustrate others.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It depends on the situation and who you’re talking to and the context. Saying, “Don’t worry! I know just what to do!” is not invalidating their feelings. It’s helping.
Just saying “Don’t worry,” by itself, when they obviously are worried is invalidating their feelings.

If you’re not sure, it’s better to not say anything at all.

YARNLADY's avatar

It’s not invalidating in most cases, but rather acknowledging. A better way is to say “I’m sorry you’re feeling like that I can do to help?

What I often see is people who turn your feelings into a story about how that happened to them, and what they did about it. Sometimes it sounds like “enough about you, it’s all about me”

JLeslie's avatar

@YARNLADY I learned that the hard way. When I was in my early 20’s I went through a very difficult time, and a few people who I would never expect told me about similar experiences that happened to them, and it helped me immensely. I felt like I really learned from them how to help others.

Then, years later, I found out that some people take it as competing, or that they are tired of listening to you, and want to talk about themselves. Hard to know how people will hear things.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Girls empathize with the friend. Guys try to solve the problem.

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LuckyGuy's avatar

It depends upon the situation but you can say things like: “That sounds like a serious issue.” or “That must be _______ scary, sad, depressing.”
Then follow it up with “I’ll be right here. How can I help?”

Just saying “Don’t worry” doesn’t work.

Dutchess_III's avatar

You also have to be careful about telling people how they “should” feel about a certain event.

My middle daughter went through something when she was 6 that was pretty awful. It made her really, really confused and uncomfortable but she wasn’t traumatized. She wasn’t physically hurt. We took her to counseling. The counselor was a friend of their dad’s….we had recently split up.
Well, without even asking any questions, the counselor jumps right in with , “That was so horrible! You must have been so terrified!!”
I finally stopped her and told my daughter to go sit out in the hall for a moment while I spoke to the counselor alone.
Counselor jumps in with, “Oh it will terrify her to be left out in the hall alone!”
Well, no. It wouldn’t. So I sent her out there and really gave the idiot a piece of my mind.
Later she tells my husband, “Well, I normally work with teenagers, not small children. I hope i didn’t mess up.”
Yes. You messed up lady. Psychology 101 tells you to find out how a person feels, not to tell them how YOU would feel.

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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This was a good General Section thread that got badly derailed.

To address the OP, I think it’s often invalidating to declare that one individual’s experience of pain is somehow less-than another expression of pain. In the work I do, we train individuals to listen with intention to really hear. I also listen to complaints in another aspect of my work, and it’s surprising that simply listening will often placate the complainer.

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snowberry's avatar

I never tell someone, “Don’t be afraid.” I normally say, “You don’t have to be afraid.” If I get a positive response then I explain how.

LuckyGuy's avatar

We have a new grandchild in the family. (Yay!)
When he cries, his extremely well educated parents joking speak to him softly: “We hear you and acknowledge your feelings and concerns.” as they are getting ready to feed him or change his diaper.
It is hilarious.

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