Spiritual Invalidation

Atopic that has popped up in discussion from time to time over the last couple of years is the concept of “spiritual invalidation.” Most people define this as another person telling them that their spiritual experience is wrong.

Spiritual invalidation really is just an extension of emotional invalidation, which is defined as:

The creation or promotion of an environment which encourages an individual to believe that their thoughts, beliefs, values or physical presence are inferior, flawed, problematic or worthless.

The first thing you have to understand about invalidation is that it’s an environment. What constitutes an environment? Repetitive singular instances of invalidation that are consistently and systematically directed toward a specific individual or individuals over time so as to change the thoughts and behaviors of the target.

Invalidation is often employed by abusers toward an abusee in an effort to keep them under control. In the case of “spiritual invalidation,” an example would be when a person consistently belittles a person’s spiritual beliefs, positions them as inferior, etc.

Let’s discuss emotional invalidation, specifically:

Emotional invalidation is when a person’s thoughts and feelings are rejected, ignored, or judged.

It is important to distinguish here that emotional invalidation is internal. It’s telling someone that they shouldn’t feel an emotion, or trivializing that emotion. It’s also important to differentiate that judging something as “bad” is not the same as discerning something as “incorrect.” Bad is an opinion. Incorrect is based on observable factual evidence. The same goes for right and wrong. Wrong, from a moral standpoint, would be a judgement and equivalent to “bad.” Wrong, from a factual standpoint, would be equivalent to “incorrect” which would be a provable statement of reality.

If you click the link in the above definition, you’ll see a long list of examples of how people emotionally invalidate others. One of which is this:

Misunderstanding What it Means to Validate: Sometimes people invalidate because they believe if they validate they are agreeing. A person can state, “You think it’s wrong that you’re angry with your friend,” and not agree with you. Validation is not agreeing. But because they want to reassure you they invalidate by saying, “You shouldn’t think that way.”

This is important in understanding what invalidation is not. Just as “validation is not agreeing,” disagreeing with them is not invalidating them. Pointing out when someone is factually incorrect is not invalidating them as a person.

In fact, when someone is factually incorrect, and is presented with evidence of that, and still clings to their belief, it is considered a delusion:

Delusion: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument.

Emotional invalidation doesn’t even have to be negative in nature. When someone is feeling negative and expresses it, and you tell them that they shouldn’t feel bad, they should feel happy because ______, you’re still invalidating their emotion.

This is the most common scenario I see when/where someone throws out the spiritual invalidation term:

Person A posts a story or a photo in a group about an experience they had.

“I was walking down the beach and found a white feather. It was a sign from my guardian angels.”

Person B comments, “Seagulls are pretty common on the beach. They have white feathers. The odds of finding a white feather on the beach are probably relatively reasonable.”

Person A accuses Person B of invalidation.

Another example:

Person A posts a photo in a group and says, “Look at this orb! It’s my (insert dead relative here).”

Person B comments on the photo and says, “This is a lens flare.” and proceeds to provide a mountain of examples of lens flares and a detailed scientific explanation of how lens flares occur.

Person A accuses Person B of invalidating their experience.

Both of these instances are examples of delusion if Person A refuses to acknowledge the logical and factual evidence provided by Person B.

In all of these instances, Person A is stating an external experience which he or she has already attached a belief to. Person B is disagreeing with assessment of the external experience and offering an alternative possibility. Person A becomes defensive because the belief that they have attached to the external experience feels challenged and then they accuse Person B of spiritual invalidation.

What is really occurring here is that Person A is actually invalidating themselves. Person B is disagreeing with their assessment of an external experience. Person A is interpreting that disagreement as a judgement of their internal belief (probably because he or she is insecure in their beliefs and themselves at this point). They are then projecting that invalidation onto Person B, because Person B is the catalyst for triggering their insecurity.

I’ve discovered, through various interactions and experiments, that people often have a very difficult time separating their emotions/ beliefs/ opinions and thoughts.  They tend to cluster together and so when an emotion or belief is attached to an opinion and someone disagrees with the opinion, the person feels their emotions are being challenged and they become defensive.

Here is a true example of spiritual invalidation posted to my Facebook discussion group earlier today:

My argument was, ‘be objective’ and I was told if I’m not for what they’re for then I’m against them. Wtf? Then I said I believe in reincarnation and we choose our lives and it all got turned into ‘I’m a stupid person.’

This person’s personal character was called into question because of their spiritual belief. Herein lies the difference between these two examples.

You may feel like that person is questioning your intelligence when they disagree with your assessment of your experience – but that feeling is coming from inside you, not them. That’s when you are subconsciously invalidating yourself.

Let’s take it a step further:

Person A posts a dream to a group about a natural disaster and says, “I feel that this means something bad is coming.” They proceed to tell everyone that they should go out and buy supplies.

Person B comments that dream symbolism most often is relevant to the dreamer and emotional situations the dreamer is experiencing, rather than being a literal prediction. Person B encourages Person A to reflect further upon their dream experience and perhaps consider other possibilities.

Person A accuses Person B of invalidation.

At no point did Person B tell Person A that they should not feel that something bad is coming. At no point did Person B even question Person A’s feeling. What Person B called into question was Person A’s assessment and the subsequent belief that Person A attached to that emotion.

Encouraging a person to look at a subjective experience from another perspective does not constitute spiritual invalidation. Telling a person that they are crazy or a bad person for believing what they believe is spiritual invalidation. Separating the emotion from the belief can be difficult, particularly for those in the midst of the emotion itself.

It may be the case that Person A has been chronically invalidated by a person or persons in their life and as such, have become highly sensitive to criticism (constructive or not). If this is the case, it can be incredibly difficult for Person A to participate and function in an environment where discussion and sharing of opinions occurs, as they can be easily triggered when people disagree with them, because many times, their purpose for participating is to find validation externally. But validation will be difficult to find in this type of environment. The best option for Person A is to find a support group or therapist who can work with their emotional needs and help them find validation within themselves.

A big part of spirituality is about learning to detach ourselves from the beliefs that we have about the world around us and even, in some cases, detaching our emotions from our beliefs. It’s the only way we will ever be able to grow and change our perspective.

I hope this post was helpful for you, and I do hope you’ll share it any time you see the subject arise.



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