Recovering from Chronic Invalidation

Recovering from Chronic Invalidation

Our Clinical Director, Dr. Marcus Rodriguez, was recently invited to speak on the A Little Help For Our Friends podcast on Recovering from Chronic Invalidation. In this episode, he touches on topics such as: the impact of validation and invalidation, the basis of emotion regulation, the importance of distinguishing primary and secondary emotions, tips for parenting, and most importantly, how to recover from chronic invalidation.

In past articles, we discussed the power of emotional validation, as well as the dangers of traumatic invalidation. We highlighted how invalidation can impair children’s ability to regulate intense emotions, damage their self-esteem, impair goal setting, limit emotional expression, and lead them to feel like their emotions are out of control. Luckily, there are proven methods to help children recover from invalidation.

Step 1:  Treating Emotion Dysregulation

“There’s a functional component to our symptoms. It is super easy to see in some disorders. ‘Problematic behaviors’ are often tools we try to use to regulate our emotions. It is problematic in so many ways, and yet in the short term, they work and they serve that emotion regulation function… an effective treatment doesn’t just reduce these behaviors, but also helps patients identify their emotions, the needs those emotions are signaling, and how to manage them appropriately.”

– Marcus Rodriguez, A Little Help for Our Friends Podcast

Invalidation often leads to emotion dysregulation. When we are emotionally dysregulated, we may grasp for any possible way to cope. This might manifest through substance use, anger, shame, self-harm, impulsivity, or avoidance. While these coping strategies make us feel better in the moment, they often have negative long-term consequences. The natural impulse is to target these behaviors and get rid of them. However, if we take away those coping mechanisms without addressing the underlying unmet needs that our emotions are trying to point us to, this may lead us to emotional free-falls or symptom whack-a-mole.

At the Youth and Family Institute (YFI), we teach emotion regulation skills to help individuals manage intensely painful emotions without engaging in problematic behaviors. Instead of self-harming or engaging in substance use, which may provide relief in the short term, our clients can instead regulate their emotions using mindfulness, wise-mind distracting, self-soothing, communication of their needs, and other DBT-specific skills.

Step 2:  Building Agency

“Identifying agency-building activities for our clients is the most compassionate thing we can do… an effective treatment has to increase a person’s sense of agency. You can still feel mostly out of control, but find something, however small, that reminds you that ‘I’m not fully out of control’, so that over time you can build more and more agency so that you can actually stay with your [primary] emotions and meet those needs.”

– Marcus Rodriguez, A Little Help for Our Friends Podcast

When we live in an invalidating environment, we learn that our needs won’t be met, and attempts to express our needs or emotions are often ignored, rejected, or punished. It teaches us that we won’t be able to change ourselves, or our environment, even when we try our best. As such, building a sense of agency and self-efficacy is an essential part of healing from invalidation. As our clients learn to manage their emotions, we also help them to take steps to increase a sense of agency and confidence in their ability to get their needs met, chase down their goals, and handle life’s challenges.

Once we have a greater sense of agency, they no longer rely on secondary emotions (or their related behaviors and ‘symptoms’) to rescue them from feeling helplessness and out of control.

The Role of Parents and Primary Caregivers

“Kids have so little control over their lives. If we’re going to help a kid build a life worth living, we need engage in collaborative problem solving with their parents. If a kid decides, ‘oh, my life worth living requires that I need to switch schools, or that I want to go into music,’ a 15-year-old can’t do that on their own. They need a caregiver to support those goals.”

– Marcus Rodriguez, A Little Help for Our Friends Podcast

When working with children and adolescents to build agency, it’s essential that we involve their parents in treatment. They can support their children’s agency building activities. This might look like helping them take up a new hobby, follow a passion, or develop important life skills.

Parents can also learn how to validate their children, even when it’s extremely difficult. Emotion dysregulation can be incredibly hard. And when that happens, people often express themselves in ways that are inaccurate or even scary for those around them. It can be easy to accidentally invalidate, especially when caregivers are busy and stressed. But through providing effective validation, parents can help their children recover from emotion dysregulation, and build a closer relationship with them.

Our Services

We are here to help you learn how to support your child as they recover and build their life worth living. If you are interested in working with us, you can use our Contact Us page to schedule a consultation.


Los Angeles Area Resources

Free Resources

Growing list of ideas for activities (nature, art, social, volunteering, etc.), and ideas for getting active, which is also an important part of feeling better.

Our team provides comprehensive DBT and other evidence-based treatments to help make positive changes in the lives of children, young adults, and their families.

Contact Info
Follow Us

Copyright © 2023. All Rights Reserved.