When children are upset, they instinctively seek reassurance from their parents. It’s normal for a child who has been physically or emotionally hurt to turn to their parents for comfort. When parents do not provide this comfort, it can be profoundly shocking for the child, who may feel they have no one else to turn to for support.

What if a child’s parents repeatedly dismiss their feelings or say they’re “overreacting” every time they’re upset? The child will learn to distrust their own emotions. This is not the same as trying to soothe a child when they are sad or frustrated. Rather, it’s acting as though the child’s emotions are simply not valid, even when they have a clear reason to feel the way they do.

Here’s how emotional invalidation from parents can affect children well into adulthood and impair child development.

Suppressing Emotions

Children who are repeatedly invalidated by their parents might learn to suppress their emotions. They may come to the conclusion that trying to share how they feel is useless. But this does not make negative emotions simply disappear.

Instead, children may internalize their problems and try to cope on their own. They might have angry outbursts or tantrums, pick fights with their siblings or classmates, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms as they get older. This pattern can continue into adulthood, and overall, they may feel like they’re unable to open up to anyone about their feelings.

Unstable Sense of Identity

When someone’s emotions are consistently invalidated, they may struggle to develop a clear sense of their identity. Adults who dealt with parental invalidation as children might feel like they don’t know who they really are, because being invalidated so often made them question their perception of different situations. This can also affect their own self-perception.

Insecurity and Low Self-Worth

If a person is told over and over again that their experiences carry no weight, their emotions are unimportant, and their needs don’t matter, they will likely have trouble advocating for themselves in the future.

They might push their own needs and desires to the back burner, accept poor treatment at work and in relationships, or engage in harmful habits because they don’t believe that they deserve better. People in this position may feel uncomfortable or even rude when they speak up or ask for something they need.

Avoiding Intimacy in Adulthood

Those who experienced parental invalidation might avoid intimate relationships in adulthood. They might have trouble forming close friendships or distance themselves from their family members. If they do get into romantic relationships, their inability to open up about their own feelings might become a frequent source of conflict.

They can come across as closed off and guarded when their partner is trying to be vulnerable and create a closer bond. It can be hard for two people to build trust if one is still struggling with the consequences of parental invalidation.

Mental Health Disorders

People who dealt with parental invalidation as children are more likely to develop mental health disorders in adulthood. They may be particularly susceptible to depression and anxiety. Some might still be grappling with past trauma that their parents did not take seriously.

In really serious cases, those who experienced emotional invalidation in their childhood may have post-traumatic stress disorder because they had to grapple with the effects of traumatic experiences entirely on their own. Generally speaking, bottling up emotions long-term can raise the risk of numerous mental health disorders.

Did you suffer from parental invalidation while you were growing up? Therapy can help. Reach out to us to learn more about our counseling services.

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