What is it?  Besides the most likely cause of most of our mental health problems.

According to Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, (paraphrased) there are many things, including temperament, that influence development of BPD, but one of the strongest predictors is “poorness of fit” with the environment.  Linehan proposes that invalidating environments are the most likely to facilitate development of BPD.

What does an invalidating environment consist of?

“An invalidating environment is one in which communication of private experiences is met by erratic, inappropriate, and extreme responses.” (Linehan, 1993, p. 49).

Characteristics:

  • expression of private experiences is not validated
  • it is often punished and/or trivialized
  • experience of painful emotions is disregarded
  • interpretations of one’s own behavior, including intents and motivations, are dismissed

The individual is told that she is wrong about her own experiences, including the causes of her emotions, beliefs, and actions.

Her experiences are attributed to socially unacceptable characteristics or personality traits.

Displays of negative affect are generally not tolerated.

“Invalidating members of such environments are often vigorous in promulgating their point of view and actively communicate frustration with an individual’s inability to adhere to a similar point of view.”

What are the consequences of invalidating environments?

  • the child is not taught to label emotions
  • the child doesn’t learn to modulate emotional arousal
  • the problems of the emotionally vulnerable child are not recognized
  • little effort goes into solving those problems
  • the child is told to control her emotions, without being taught how to do that
  • the child does not learn to tolerate distress or to form realistic goals and expectations
  • extreme emotional displays become necessary to provoke a helpful response (and these become reinforced)
  • the child oscillates between emotional inhibition and extreme emotional states (no wonder we lose it and blow up!)
  • the child is taught not to trust her own emotional and cognitive responses as valid interpretations
  • the child learns to invalidate herself and search the environment for cues on how to think, feel, and act.

Does any of this sound a little bit familiar?  I see it all the time in daily life.  I’m always trying to teach my clients’ staff to recognize the client’s feelings as real and valid, and to let them know that they are understood, rather than brushing them off with “I like it better when you’re happy.”  If you’re not happy, you’re not happy.  Sometimes all it takes is for the person you are talking to to understand what you are trying to say and recognize that it is important to you, rather than brushing you off.  When we feel unheard, we tend to keep saying it louder and louder to try to be heard.  It may not be possible to let it go without a clear response that is sensitive to the validity of our feelings and message.

I guess that’s all that I dare to say right here and right now.  I don’t think that I can handle the risk of being shut down again.