Learning To Trust Yourself: Overcoming An Emotionally Invalidating Childhood

You as a kid: “I did my best.”

Your parents to you as a kid: “Well, but you missed _______.”

Maybe they were supportive in many ways. However, at some point you realized you’d never really be “good enough” to one (or more) of your caregivers.

Invalidation in childhood is when a kid’s feelings are either criticized or not supported. Their ideas are replaced by a lot of rules and their feelings are often ignored. What research has shown us is that self-esteem needs to be supported. In other words, kids are born superheroes, but how they grow up determines whether or not they keep their powers.

Some Signs You Grew Up With Emotional Invalidation

Overthinking Everything

If your feelings were overlooked as a kid, you may not trust the ones you have as an adult. This leads to overthinking: “Should I move or stay?” “Should I apply to this job or that job?” “Oh, forget all of it.”

While your instincts might be right on target, you were taught they were not valid.

Shutting Down

Let’s face it, some parent in your life growing up made feelings…er…uncomfortable at times. Maybe it wasn’t even mean-spirited. Maybe it was more about how they dealt with their feelings than it was about you. Maybe it was about what they didn’t say. Whatever the case, they were a little…unapproachable.

As an adult, you may find yourself struggling to trust emotional sharing in relationships. If something upsets you, you might start thinking “what’s the point” and end up just waiting until you feel better instead of addressing the issue. Time goes on and your partner never really knows how you feel.

Strong Emotions About Emotions: “I’m Bad For Feeling Sad.”

If someone invalidated your feelings during your childhood, you might grow up associating feelings something bad. Meaning, when you feel upset, you judge those emotions and think: “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” Which basically just adds guilt, anger, and stress around the primary emotions, making them much harder to deal with.

How To Start Trusting Your Feelings Again

1. Identify How You Feel

First things first: gotta name it to tame it. This seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked. You may not spend a lot of time thinking about your feelings, but it’s important to be able to identify them in the moment. If you need help, here are the big ones: Happy, Sad, Angry, Ashamed, Guilty, Worried.

2. Accept How You Feel

Repeat after me: “My feelings are not bad.”

Feelings are not something to extinguish, judge, or exile. They help us interact with our world and create a map to our needs. Now how we go about getting those needs met is another story altogether.

For example, early in our evolution, when we saw bears in the woods, our brains developed a warning system: fear. When other people stole our food, our brains developed a feeling to activate us: anger. If our primitive parents had said we were overreacting, those feelings––and our warning system––probably would have gotten pretty confusing. In other words, when your feelings are invalidated, it may seem like you can no longer trust them.

Ultimately, learning how to acknowledge and validate your feelings gives you strength.

Struggling with Emotional Awareness? Therapy Can Help.

As a therapist, I’ll admit I’m biased. But I also know that developing awareness around your feelings is tough. It can be helpful to practice with a therapist. Emotional awareness is a good starting place for a lot of personal growth, and a therapist that understands the impact of childhood will notice when an adult has been invalidated as a kid.