The Silent Abuse: INVALIDATION

Wendy Stebbins
Posted October 1, 2012 from United States

I am home sick with the flu today so I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about something very important to women in particular. I have lived it for 60 of my 65 years. I call it the SILENT ABUSE = INVALIDATION.

I wrote an article some time ago in my journal about empowerment in which I talk a lot about my death of spirit due to my husband's silent abuse, the almost deadly effect on me and what I did to regain my soul spirit. So, I encourage you, if this topic interests you to read it. I am writing this because of the good response from my empowerment article. I hope it helps.

Invalidation is defined simply as rejection, ignoring, mocking, judging, diminishing someone's feelings.Today I am speaking of the silent abuse: INVALIDATION. It is NOT so easy to identify. Women who are under this colorless veil of silent abuse will often awaken in the morning depressed. They ask themselves, "What's wrong with me?" That is the wrong question. The right question is "Who is wrong FOR me?" This is quite another matter and will come to you quickly and probably with some guilt feelings. Like you shouldn't feel that way. Here's a news flash ! You should feel that way. Don't do guilt.

For years when a person came to me because they had to change because the other people at work didn't like them or their husband or in-laws didn't like them, I would tell them. "There is nothing wrong with you. Your problem is you are with people who do not value or appreciate who you are." I never dreamed that was my problem also.

I went through years of silent abuse, thinking if I tried harder, if I was nicer it would work, I would change and please my husband. But it wasn't about me. I think silent abuse is the worst of all abuses because you don't see it, but it weights you down like heavy bags of sand on your shoulders. IT comes in many forms so you don't see or realize it.

For example, if you say something and the other person doesn't answer. That is invalidation.

If you walk into a room and they walk out, that can be invalidation.

If you are very sick in the bedroom and your husband or family does not come in for 8 hours to check on you in your bedroom, that is invalidation. The message is: I don't care.

If you leave a voice message on the answer machine or text and the other person doesn't finish listening to the message or doesn't return the call if appropriate, that is invalidation.

If they ask everyone in the room what they would like to drink but they don't ask you, that is invalidation.

If you are excited about something, and they say "Yes., but" or "You're crazy" or "You are always so emotional and out of control", that may be invalidation.

Of course, nobody's perfect and on occasion people will make mistakes or be impolite. I am not talking about that. And I am not talking about the person who is overly sensitive. In this busy world today most of us don't have time to be overly sensitive and we don't TAKE the time to feel how we feel around a person, place or thing.

Another true but sad example: In our culture (America) the woman walks next to the man or in front of the man. So, I am not talking about cultures where the opposite is the custom. My husband and children always walked in front of me. There wasn't room on the sidewalk for 4 people and this is just how we all fell into place. Wrong ! One afternoon we were walking across a street. My 2 and 4 year old girls were holding their father's hand and, of course, I was behind them, VERY pregnant. Just as I came to the middle of the road the street light changed to red, a car came racing down the street and was going to crash into me. I fell to the ground. The car screeched on its brakes. My husband and two children were on the other side of the street by now. They heard the screech, looked back, saw me lying on the road, turned back around AND KEPT WALKING. That my friends is invalidation among other things. The man got out of the drivers side of the car and helped me up.

In our culture in America, the woman rides in the front seat. To show you how children learn by the behavior of the adults around their mother: My daughter, her girlfriend and I had been shopping. We went to get into the car to go home. My daughter opened the door, pulled the back seat open for me to get in and then she climbed into the front with her friend. Her girlfriend kept saying "I can't believe you put your mother in the back seat". She was shocked. The sad part is I didn't know anything was wrong with that.

I lived a life of hell for 60 of my 65 years but didn't know the problem.. The problem is, when you are born of parents who invalidate you, you will ALWAYS marry someone who invalidates you as a way, unconsciously, of working through it with this new person since you cannot work through it with a parent. You don't realize the person is this way when you marry them. This changes when you become aware and learn the lesson. I think the lesson is "I am worthy".

And if you meet a respectful person who wants to date you but he does not do invalidation you may find him boring or "not for you" because your idea of " normal" is a little abnormal.

Another problem is you will ALWAYS pick friends who are invalidators because that is what feels NORMAL to you. Not right but it is YOUR normal.

Then, in my case, my children saw how their father treated me. and my mother and my in-laws, not always what they said but what they did or didn't do or what was left unsaid as appropriate. On top of it, I had low self-esteem so I let all their invalidation continue, not realizing they were all killing my spirit and that it was so so so wrong. So, I had have all these people who invalidated me while I was trying to become successful. Quite a weight to carry.

Some years ago, I divorced my husband, after years of courage and preparation. My kids still abused me with this silence abuse and over the last 5 years have erased me from their lives. When I was told what the problem was that I had created over the years, I got rid of ALL my so called friends because they were subtle invalidators too. Another problem was that since I did not know about invalidation, in different ways, but in some ways I continued the process with my kids but not nearly so bad. Actually, I kind of went overboard to be TOO nice and in their face which may have caused a little narcissism. This journal is in no way complaining or whining about my children or my being a victim. It is shared to perhaps give a point to another woman who needs to hear it.

This topic can go on and on, I hope I have opened a "can of worms" as we say in America and that those of you who realize this is a problem for you will communicate with each other and with me. Perhaps we can have a list we all make together over time of invalidating words, silences and actions so that some of us become more aware when it happens to us or our daughters, friends and loved ones. It is a killer of spirit. At the very least, please share this with your friends who may need to learn this lesson.

In closing may I just say that if it doesn't feel right, it isn't right. You may not be able to realisitically do anything about your relationships and situations at this time. But the first step is awareness of the problem and how it pertains to you, then comes research and then ever so slowly comes the change to self-esteem by our responses.

It does change. Yesterday I was at a small fundraiser where 4 Chinese little 7 year old girls were selling lemonade/soda/drinks to raise money for my street orphans in Zambia. When it was over and we had had our hugs and said our goodbyes, I started to walk away. Jolin, one of the little girls yelled "Wendy, what will you do now?"

I was SO moved that she cared so much about me that she wanted to have a visual of what I would be doing.And I think she was also saying in her way "I care and I will miss you". WOW ! I felt complete. I do not believe I ever had any of my children ask me that question. What a gift that moment was ! And I deserved it !

I hope this has been helpful.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),

And remember to say over and over: I AM WORTHY

Wendy Stebbins

Comments 8

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EK. Chemorion
Oct 02, 2012
Oct 02, 2012

Wow, Wendy, you are my hero today! Believe me, you just did it for yourself!! Listening to you sounded like you were there sharing this with me. The way you described and defined invalidation made things and your experience more clearer to me. I had never thought of it this way.But now i realize how serious silent abuse is, especially to women. I am sure you will agree with me that other than feeling you are the wrong facing this kind of abuse will also have her self esteem totally destroyed, the person feels helpless and hopeless, the person also ends up with self pity, and if the abuse is repeated over and over again, the abused despairs.......feels nothing is good with her, what she says or does and unfortunately the person turns the hate against herself or himself.i can imagine how it must have felt when your own children especially daughter either consciously or unconsciously invalidated must have been tough when you realized that.

Thank you for making a very bold step- for sharing and saying no, to silent abuse. I can imagine that the challenge has been long, but the joy of ending that kind of abuse is eternal. Thank you for sharing with us this, because, I can strongly Identify with you in many aspects-especially with regards to how i have suffered invalidation in my church. I have a lot I have learned from this journal. I have a lot to share with women in my group and community who share similar. experiences. the little girl in your journal just taught the world what should be, appreciate, acknowledge..and communicating. wishing you peace, courage and strength as you share with us.

Wendy Stebbins
Oct 04, 2012
Oct 04, 2012

Hello EK,

I tried to message you two days ago but my message limit was used up they said.

I was so proud to receive a message from a woman of obvious class and quality, a woman who not only understands and appreciates my torturous journey but who adds her own experiences openly. I wish I could edit my article because the words you use about self-esteem, etc. should definitely be a part of the article. Perhaps you will write an article for voice rising on invalidation. I am sorry it is from your church. My experience was that if I had invalidation in one person (which is all I thought it was) there is invalidation from MANY people. It is just that we become SO comfortable in this abnormal way that we don't realize it. An exercise that helped me identify who was invalidating me was when I was told that our body talks to us. Our unconscious mind tells us before our conscious mind knows we are being invalidated or something is wrong. I identified my chest and head as feeling different when invalidated. So, in the future everytime my check or head felt that way, I knew before my conscious mind that I had to be careful and ask "Is this person invalidating me". It was very very helpful. So, I learned to identify, to research and understand and to make changes as I could and if I couldn't then to emotional step back and understand it is the other person who feels small or they wouldn't do that to a person. I am not small.

Please let's keep in touch . My email address is if you ever want to reach me that way. I am here for you, EK. We can help each other.

Oct 03, 2012
Oct 03, 2012

Though stories may differ, I'd say many people out there (myself inclusive) have experienced at the least, a form of silent abuse. Your story is a revelation of how time and time again we get caught up in that trap called 'silent abuse' because more often than not, we work hard at getting people to validate us. I have come to realize that it usually turns out to be unproductive, energy sapping and self destructive.Indeed, no one needs the weight called 'invalidation' or 'struggle for validation'.

There comes a time when one must look inward and realize that one does not have to wait for people's validation. Why? It just may never suffice! I have no doubt that the moment a victim comes to terms that no one can validate one better than one's self, healing sets in.

What you shared regarding how you put up with so many years of silent abuse is daunting. However, the way and manner you pulled through the very subjective experience is encouraging. You are a shining example!

I am so, so glad, that you've rediscovered your self. My earnest hope is that just as those little Chinese girls' also discovered your worth, everyone you hold dear to your heart would follow suit, come around too and celebrate you.

How so much I want to give hug you a very warm and long hug; and say to you, over and over again that "YOU ARE WORTH FAR MORE THAN RUBIES ". Your heart is made of refined Gold!

God bless you mama Wendy,


Oct 05, 2012
Oct 05, 2012

Such a powerful article again. You have hit the nail in the head. So proud of you for writing this and sharing with us.

This silent abuse has been faced by all. It is like slow poison. It kills you every day, every moment, very slowly.

But to realize that it should stop and that you are not to be blamed for this, is truly empowering.

Keep writing more.

Much love,

Wendy Stebbins
Oct 05, 2012
Oct 05, 2012

Hello Mukut,

I was just thinking of you last night so I am happy to hear from you. Yes, Silent abuse is all you say. I learned that if one person is invalidating so are others, but it is so subtle and you are so used to it, that you don't realize that most of your relationships are wrong to some extent. We are only allowed at WP to send so many messages a day I think so if you ever need to reach me I am at also.

One way I found to identify invalidation is: To pay attention to my body. Think of someone who has invalidated you. Where do you feel it in your body. Now when you are somewhere or with someone and you get that feeling in your body, watch out. It is your body (your unconscious mind) telling you before your conscious mind knows this is happening. It is a very useful tool.

In my case I thought it was my husband only. But I soon came to see it was my 4 children and all my friends. I had unconsciously picked girlfriends I felt "comfortable" with. Comfortable but dysfunctional and invalidating. Because that was my norm. None of these people are in my life now. I do not feel good about my children erasing me from their lives, I will never get over that inner torture BUT the people who are attracted to me and are in my life now, all are validators.

Spread the word., Mukut.

Love and Ubuntu,


Oct 05, 2012
Oct 05, 2012

I am glad you shared this with us. It is moving and at the same time I am infuriated of how subtle this abuse can be and how we keep tolerating without knowing what is happening.

I keep saying people do not listen to me. I always felt I was not heard and I was invisible. Growing up at home, in school, at work, during my married life - now single and I am not withstanding abuse.

As I mentioned in my message to you. I was interpreting in two ways - 1- self silent abuse 2- tolerating silence abuse. When I take this stand I am in control of the situation, my thoughts, my emotions and my action. It is the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that lead to abusive situations.

I have been through similar situations and now I am learning fast to not put me in a situation like before. I am not alone fighting abuse and reaching happiness.

We can do it. Love, Amei

Oct 07, 2012
Oct 07, 2012

Wendy more love and power to you.


Wendy Stebbins
Oct 09, 2012
Oct 09, 2012

I am leaving for Livingstone Zambia tonight. So, what a nice way to wind up my packing, finding a message from you.

Thanks, Mukut