Real Talk

When We Advice a Triggered Child or Parent, It Can Sound Like an Unintentional Invalidation

We sometimes unintentionally invalidate another person’s feelings when we give advice.

One of our love languages is giving advice. When we see a troubled person, we’re more than happy to give the solution or even fix the problem ourselves. However, doing so might hurt them more. We don’t mean to but it happens and this is called Unintentional Invalidation. Because when people are hurt, they don’t always want someone to fix the problem or tell them how. Sometimes, they want to be comforted.

Unintentional Invalidation: What is that?

Originally coined by Dr. Marsha Linehan (1993) for her research on Borderline Personality Disorder, it was also known back then as “emotional invalidation” wherein they reject or dismiss thoughts. But these don’t happen explicitly. Like, people don’t say, “Your feelings don’t matter.” It usually sounds like, “Oh, we had it harder back then!” or “It could be worse.”

But our preference to do so comes from our idea of what “cheering up” is. We cheer someone up by trying to minimize the bad that happened, citing that there are worse things to worry about. However, doing so shows we’re incorrectly assuming how important that event was to a person.

Things that matter to our kids that we sometimes unintentionally invalidate:

Every stage in a person’s lifespan has something important. As an adult, we sometimes forget because we’re thinking about the 50 million other things to do. We can say the world has enough problems but hey, our kids are technically our problem since we made them. Therefore, their problems are our problems too. Here are some of the problems they freak out about that we may feel aren’t important to us:

  • Toddlers – Missing toys, missing favorite food, not the same shampoo, change in plans, not getting their favorite toy
  • Preteens – Missing gadget, favorite shirt in the wash, lost shoe
  • Teens – No internet, forgot internet password, forgot social media credentials, forgot homework, their date-ability (or just how willing someone is to date them)
  • Young Adults – Money, date-ability, a job, being left behind by their peers

A lot of these things may seem small but that’s only because we’ve gone through it already and survived. In a way, it makes us an authority and qualified to tell them that they’ll survive. But being a survivor also means we’re qualified to know how to comfort them.

It doesn’t cost much. Sometimes, it’s just silence, a hug, and, maybe a venti or grande iced drink after.

It can happen in our relationship too and sometimes, all we want is affirmation!

We already know that praises and words of affirmation are pretty scarce in some family cultures. But in times when our kids or even our spouse is down, it’s important to be fluent in several love languages. We can’t just give a bowl of fruit and assume they’ll understand that it’s an apology. Sometimes, they want to hear or feel that someone is there — that, they’re not alone in these trying times.

More tricky parenting situations?

When Screen Time Turns Into Scream Time: What Parents Can Do Screen Addiction Makes Their Kids Aggressive
Understanding The HALT Method: Discipline With No Drama
Wary or Nary: Navigating Estranged Family Ties

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