How They Abuse — Invalidation


2016-05-17 by Object of Contempt

In various articles and blogs I’ve read about abuse by invalidation. This has been a huge part of my experience, and is ongoing in a big way because I’m unable to leave my abuser at this time. Invalidation is a tactic that hurts the victim by way of frequently rejecting the victim, disallowing even the basic acceptance that people rely on for normal functioning. It involves questioning or denying the truth of their pain, experience, perception, memory, et cetera.

To be clear, I am not talking about having a difference of opinion, or even a heated disagreement. I’m talking about abuse, which entails a pattern of behavior that is injurious.

Invalidation is one of the most insidious ways to abuse a person. It causes a tremendous amount of strain and damage in the victim. I suspect this is largely because it can go on for so long without being detected. Outsiders rarely see it, or believe it has happened. It usually looks like people wrangling over specific petty issues, rather than a strategic tool to control the victim’s options, diminish dignity, and dismantle confidence. Plus, especially in marital relationships, there is a lot of cognitive dissonance — an unwillingness to believe that this person would (or even could) ever be so cold and cruel. (The person they appear to be, may be quite different from what is underneath. My wife appears very understated, meek, and mild, and no one doubts how genuine she is, except me. And, I didn’t for quite a long time.) Because the victim’s response to cruelty is likely to be greater than what the issue under discussion is worth on its own, outsiders will frequently blame the victim as being unreasonable. It is not hard to imagine abusers taking advantage of that dynamic.

Examples I commonly find in articles on the web tend to look similar to these:

  • Don’t be so sensitive!
  • Do you have to be such a drama queen?
  • You’re the only one who cares.
  • Do you think everyone else is wrong??

They must be useful examples because people respond and say how familiar it all sounds. That surprised me, though, because my experience with invalidation is different. Actually, there are numerous types and methods of validation. A web search will certainly dig some up for you. The ones I have listed below describe some of my experiences. Hopefully these examples will help those who are chronically invalidated, but don’t recognize it from the more common examples.

With my parents, invalidation followed about three different patterns, mostly.

  1. One was just a flat refusal of what I had said, accompanied frequently with an insult such as, “don’t be ridiculous!” or “now you’re just being assenine!”
  2. Another was just with facial expressions, especially if I were to tell about a difference I’d had with someone else. So, this usually meant they were only hearing my side, but determined to believe the person on the other side who wasn’t even there. They would roll their eyes at key moments, or do this contemptuous thing where they would sort of bow their heads while glaring “up” at me past their eyebrows.
  3. On occasion, my mom in particular would go the extra mile. She would just assume I was wrong, and then tear my spirit with “advice” like, “if you would just shut up and not talk so much, the kids at school might start to like you.” (I still remember the sting of that remark from when I was 6 years old.) In one moment, I was made to feel unacceptable to everyone at school.

With my wife, well, her methods were perfected by my in-laws. Their skill is unmatched. She has many methods, none of them are like the examples, though.

  1. She plays the stoic victim, and just does a sort of straight-faced pout with as few words as she can manage. She wants me to know that I’m wrong and mean for daring to tell her that (for example) her emotional withholding hurts me.
  2. She appears to listen to and understand what I’m saying, but is blowing off every word I say. This worked for a while because I was projecting good-will onto her (she wouldn’t ignore me, would she!?). She might say things to obstruct a clear conversation and add work to my burden, but overall she allows me to believe that she is tracking with me. Then next time the topic comes up, she will pretend as if she has no clue why I would think such a thing, or believe that she knows about it (let alone agrees). Subsequent go-rounds may entail different obstructions in order force me to do the work of building a new case. This method frequently shows up when the in-laws have trampled my boundaries yet again. The denial combined with running me in circles is powerful because it wears you down. It is hard to believe that the whole thing is just a covert-aggressive attack on your mind and spirit, and it can do a lot of damage.
  3. Stonewalling with no explanation. No pout, just the lifeless glare of utter contempt. It is basically a variation on the silent treatment. This is something that I thought was unique to my situation, but I’ve heard others tell about the glare too. This invalidates the whole person. It hurts.
  4. (Recent, and less common) Asking if I am okay with something, when she knows from recent events that it is offensive to me. Then, whether I defend the boundary calmly (usual response), express anger (safely with no danger, name-calling, insults), or refuse to engage in the game, my response is labeled as “unreasonable”. At that point she feels justified in doing the offensive, contemptuous thing because she has “tried so hard” to have a “reasonable discussion” with me, but “I refused”. This combines invalidation of my boundaries, pain, word, and self, along with the common passive-aggressive tactic of making the victim feel anger in retaliation. That is, I defended myself over a recent event, so she will retaliate by offending me, and likely repeat the original offense.
  5. Far and away the most common is D.A.R.V.O. This is a term that deserves its own post. It is a combination of tactics that is mostly used when the victim attempts to resolve problems with the abuser. It invalidates the victim by showing that they don’t even merit honest, direct communication. The letters stand for:
    D — Deflect “I can’t believe you would even think that I would do that!”
    A — Attack “Especially after you did this (probably unrelated) thing! You’re so mean to me!”
    R.V.O. — Reverse Victim and Offender (Unless you are very skilled and extremely attentive, you are probably defending yourself against the attack by this point, rather than discussing the actual original problem.)

Many other mental and emotional abuse tactics are invalidating in addition to their main injury. Withholding affection, empathy, and sex, are all invalidating. By the time a person tries to address these problems, there may be nearly no energy or confidence left. And that is the point! Now in an emotionally destroyed state, the victim can’t cause many problems, and won’t be taken seriously by anyone he or she might approach for help.


11 thoughts on “How They Abuse — Invalidation

  1. luckyotter says:

    Reblogged this on Lucky Otter's Haven and commented:
    Here’s a man’s perspective on emotional abuse which elaborates even further on the sneaky tactics abusers often use to get others to see THEM–not the actual abused–as the victim. There’s even an acronym for this I was not aware of: DARVO (Deflect–Attack–Reverse Victim and Offender)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa T says:

    So sorry to hear of your painful experiences but I can certainly validate what you have expressed 😉 Wonderful post!. Very accurate and comprehensive. I notice that the population in general tends to be very invalidating. I think it’s primarily because ignoring others is one of the easiest and most undetectable ways to steal energy from another soul . Ignoring people for no reason is a a very base method of secretly reducing someone . And, in many cases, it’s easy to pretend it was an innocent oversight. I want to make it clear that I am not speaking of circumstances which may necessitate a legitimate response of silence or withdrawal. I’m talking about a deliberate mean spirited ignoring and invalidating . However I also believe there is a spiritual consequence to this invalidating behavior. I believe it’s very similar to the consequences associated with stealing and envy. When people attempt to usurp someones self esteem by ungodly methods they are essentially stealing. And often the motivation for such cruelty is covetousness. And those types of sins open doorways to a unseen consequences. So they may think they are getting away with something. but God is quite a few steps ahead and has woven it in to the fabric of his universe that such behavior does have consequence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are emotional abusers who are not afraid of their victim knowing what is going on, but I suspect that most of them choose to stop at emotional abuse because they don’t want to be caught by anyone. Sometimes it is a better way to control, and a more complete crushing of the victim’s spirit if the abuse (at least the intentionality of it) remains unknown even to the victim. Abusers already play Jekyll and Hyde, and they go through the cycle returning from discarding to love bombing… but making the abuse look like an accident or misunderstanding is done even when the abuse is very frequent. It is part of the gaslighting that keeps the victim spinning and more easily controllable.

      Covetousness isn’t a motivator that I’ve really thought about in this context. That really could be a big one. I suppose, though, that there is really no shortage of motivations. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life are all around us. For my own part, I thought about the motivation and the “whys” of it all much more in the days when I believed I was doing something wrong, and again when I thought I could bring a change to the situation. I couldn’t get straight, honest answers, and I obviously can’t read minds, so I’ve stopped thinking about it so much.

      What I’ve been praying for comes from the description of God’s final plan for his rebellious brides, Israel and Judah. Ezek. 11:19 & 36:26 says that God wants to replace their stony hearts with a heart of flesh. Seems like an appropriate thing to pray for.


  3. eightyape says:

    This rings very true, very similar tactics , it might be helpful to paint them as the stage characters they are, the narc/psychopath is acting and each of these tactics represents an emotional role they adopt, switiching fromone emotional ” state to another..
    the invalidation isnt always intentional. as manipulators it represents a slipping of the mask these tactics are the desperate thoes of trying to keep your attention
    the attentive” listener character who listens to you pur your heart out then invalidatesit in a sentence.
    the “head in the sand” defelction style etc

    Liked by 1 person

    • Invalidation isn’t always intentional, but in an abuse situation I think it usually is. If an abuser isn’t thinking, “I’m going to invalidate him/her right now,” it is still likely that there was an intention of degrading the victim. That was a hard thing for me to admit. I wanted to believe it was a misunderstanding and/or an accident.

      I’m not sure why invalidation would represent a slipping of the mask.

      As far as the “head in the sand” is concerned, I think this is the common way that people respond to victims because they have no understanding of emotional abuse. They don’t want to get involved. It feels to the victim like invalidation or abandonment, but they really are concentrating mostly on escaping.

      I’ve been in the situation you describe where person listens intently, giving cues of understanding and agreement, will then invalidate with a single sentence at the end of a conversation. I don’t think of that as “head in the sand” deflection, though. That sounds more like classic passive-aggressive (more llikely covert-aggressive) behavior. The intention is more than just to invalidate. The idea is to force the victim to feel and express the anger that the abuser can’t express. It’s vindictive and controlling… and invalidating, too.


  4. eightyape says:

    i have always pesonally called DARVO (and the other acronyms, idealise , devalue , dismiss is similar) but theres a thread to these tactics, all slightly different but the thread is the COUNTERACCUSE,,, the consistent projection ,
    often successful due to its persistent and relentless nature of presumed “innocence” on the part of the bully/abuser.
    the tactics differ and have a signature unique to the relationship that the abuser has developed with a victim , or potential victim , do not forget there is an “assessment” stage with all abusers ,
    The shark mouths at its prey looking for soft spots so to speak, the teeth of each shark quite different in what sort of meal they are either accustomed to or more usually whatever they might catch.
    in the case of parents sadly they have access from birth and a good read on your every emotional state, until you grow up, at which point if you outgrow their simplistic emotional demands they turn nasty.
    #The wounds they wish to reopen are hardened with scar tissue, they simply cant get in anymore, thats why its so hard to walk away, by default/ you helped train them, the very people they con and decieve are just like you.
    naive and susceptible in all the same ways, they simply repeat the pattern they used on you to access more narcissistic supply.

    , persoanlly it was like looking back and things that seemed odd or unfortunate at the time and caused me much anguish could often be seen to be the products directly of simply listening to the influence of someone who would smile in your face and then sabotage your very inner being, just so you still in their mind hold the idea of what yu once thought they were still aloft, they would have us place their lies on a pedastal AS LIES and worship them, or in their mind ?
    to hell with you and your words , they will really attack, abuse , try to excuse themselves any way they can, but they are on the hook so to speak.
    All of a sudden youve gone from unwitting mug to the greatest threat to them ever,, and they often see it in the moment but as though they had a reset button they dont realise that yu baited yur scar tissue with a line of truth,,, even just for yourself, no big exposure to the world, no big takedown , but when yu realise yu have given yourself the evidence they are what they are…
    thats the moment you wish everyone had been through but maybe one day noone should ever have to.
    thank you otter, you have validated the concept of invalidation in a wonderful way ….again.
    hats off and top o the milk to you.


  5. Sherrie Heim says:

    Thank you, I have finally found other people going through the samething as me. The situation’s you describe are very familiar to me. D.A.R.V.O is the most common from my husband/abuser. Some times he out right insoles me, mostly around people who don’t care about me, and they think it’s a joke. It’s embarrassing and hurts. I would get mad and mouth off.
    Not so much anymore, now I know what he’s doing. He backs off when I describe exactly what he is doing.
    He’s a high functioning meth and porn addict. His only family member who knows the truth and nothing but the truth, is his mom. She enables him. And protects him from his adult children knowing the truth about their father.


    • Sherrie,

      Your mother in law probably thinks she is showing him extreme love and patience. In truth, she isn’t doing anything good for him. Perhaps there is some emotional entanglement or abuse issues between the two of them that makes it even more difficult for him to get free of his addictions. Of course, that isn’t an excuse for abusing you at all. An abused person has a will and the ability to *not* abuse others.

      I’m very glad you found these descriptions useful. It is a difficult issue to sort out when there is so much effort put into preventing a clear view. Keep pressing forward towards the truth, and towards life!


  6. […] so craved truth and validation that I frequently risk(ed) getting crushed further, just to explain the truth to the next person. I […]


  7. […] ones.  Even the victim doesn’t usually catch that.     Smear campaigns, gaslighting, invalidation, DARVO,  selective competence, selective effectiveness, selective memory… this list of abusive […]


  8. This post was suggested as being related to your latest post, so I just now read it for the first time. I was particularly struck by the third thing on your list of contemptuous things that your wife does. You wrote:

    “Stonewalling with no explanation. No pout, just the lifeless glare of utter contempt. It is basically a variation on the silent treatment. This is something that I thought was unique to my situation, but I’ve heard others tell about the glare too. This invalidates the whole person. It hurts.”

    Oh, yes, the GLARE. It is HORRIBLE. It is literally soul killing!!! My ex husband used to do that All The Time. Not say a word, not do anything overtly abusive,, but GLARE at me like I was the most ridiculous, crazy, stupid, ugly, unlikable, unlovable, THING that he had ever seen.

    “An Object of Contempt” is exactly what his GLARE made me feel like. His hateful glare hurt my spirit just as bad as my first husband’s physical beatings!!! But… how do you argue with a glare? How do you fight it? How do you beat it? How do you RESOLVE it? Whenever I tried to talk to him about the way he LOOKED at me, he had NO IDEA what I was even talking about. Implying that I was too sensitive, I was crazy, I was IMAGINING THINGS, the problem was ALL ME, inside my own head.

    It’s a horrible way to live. Oh how I HATE that HATEFUL GLARE!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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