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  • Invalidation of Positive Emotion


    I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to answer it honestly.  Do you ever remember a time when someone came to you with something they were really excited about and something about their enthusiasm caused you to feel uncomfortable and compelled to “bring their feet back to the ground”?  So instead of adding to fire of their enthusiasm, you put water on the fire instead?  

    Now, do you ever remember a time when you were super enthusiastic about something and you came to someone with it and they decided to “bring your feet back to the ground” by dousing the fire of the enthusiasm you had with water?  If we are honest, almost all of us have been on both sides of this equation.  This is an example of the invalidation of positive emotion. 

    In the past, I have spoken a lot about the invalidation of negative emotions and about how to deal with emotions in general.  If you want to see the episode I did on this subject, watch my video titled: Emotional Wake Up Call.  People tend to struggle the most with negative emotions.  And societally speaking, most societies deem positive emotion acceptable and negative emotion unacceptable.  However, our resistance to emotion as a species is not limited to negative emotions.  Often, we  disapprove of, dismiss, disregard, invalidate, trivialize and suppress positive emotions in ourselves and in other people as well.
      
    There is hardly anything worse than feeling negative emotion and having some bright eyed, bushy tailed, happy person come along and tell you how wonderful their life is.  The first thing you want to do is kill them.  Essentially, it makes us more aware of how bad we feel.  So, it is understandable that we would see this person as a threat to us.  After all, we experience their happiness causing us pain and often by completely invalidating our pain.  Did you catch that?  Their happiness in fact invalidates our own negative emotion.  Which feels terrible.
     
    We come to this earth with no concept that certain aspects of us are acceptable and others are unacceptable. So, we come in with no concept that it’s wrong to feel any emotion that we feel.  It is our earliest interactions with our parents and authority figures that implant us with the idea that it is unacceptable to feel a certain way (negative or positive).  

    When a parent or authority figure disapproves of their child’s emotion or dismisses it, the child begins to accept the parent’s estimation of the event and learns to doubt his or her own judgment.  As a result, the child loses confidence in themself.  The child learns that they have no right to feel how they feel.  In short, they learn that it is wrong to feel the way that they feel.  Now here’s the crux, the child believes that if it is wrong to feel the way they feel, but they feel that way, something must be wrong with them.  This is true regardless of whether the child is feeling a positive emotion or a negative emotion. 
     
    So many times over the years I have talked about the difference between love and identification/attachment.   Many people have children because on a subconscious level, doing so bolsters their own self-esteem.  As long as their child is doing and saying things that validate the parent (continues to bolster their self esteem), the parent will experience love for their child.  But the minute the child begins to do or say things that invalidate the parent or how the parent feels (withdraw from their self esteem), the parent will immediately perceive the child as a threat to them.  The parent will feel as if the child is betraying and abandoning the connection they had.  The parent will feel separate from the child (abandoned) and turn against their own child as a result.  

    Essentially, instead of the parent mirroring the way the child feels, the parent demands that the child mirror the way that they feel.  This means, it’s not ok to feel good if mommy doesn’t feel good.  It’s not ok to feel positive emotion towards the idea of performing in theatre if Daddy doesn’t feel positive emotion towards the idea of you performing in theatre.  It’s not ok to feel differently than they feel and if you feel that way, they are right and you are wrong.     

    All of this is compounded of course if a person experiences bad things happening on the heels of positive emotion.  To understand more about this, watch my video on YouTube titled: When Happiness Is A Bad Thing. 

    Criticism is often a form of invalidation of positive emotion.  To understand this, watch my video on YouTube titled: Criticism (how to give and take feedback).       

    But for the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on the most dominant form of positive emotion invalidation.  The positive emotional state that most parents are the guiltiest of disapproving of, dismissing, disregarding, invalidating and trivializing is enthusiasm.  This is the moment that a child runs into the room excited about something and instead of mirroring the enthusiasm and enabling the child to act on the enthusiasm, the parent tells them why they shouldn’t get ahead of themselves or why it isn’t going to work or acts as if the enthusiasm takes away from them and what they want in some way.  

    Essentially, they pull the wind out of the child’s sails.  This is a sure fire way to diminish the child’s self esteem, diminish their energy levels, diminish their self trust, cause them to go to war with their own positive emotion and to destroy this child’s capacity to convert inspiration into action and results as an adult.  Ridiculous as it may seem, parents often diminish their child in this way all in the name of love.

    We are not totally unaware of this.  The list of Hollywood movies that revolve around the theme of a child succeeding in spite of a parent that disapproves of, dismisses, disregards, invalidates and trivializes their enthusiasm is endless.  We watch these movies, we root for the child to succeed in spite of the discouragement of the parent and then we turn around and do the same thing to our own child.      

    It would be bad enough if it was limited to childhood.  But it isn’t.  Childhood never is limited to childhood because it is the foundation of who we become.  So we grow into adults who do this to each other.  And it is a travesty.  The amount of expansion we are preventing by doing this is astonishing.
     
    Rather than make this episode entirely about the potential damage caused by invalidating positive emotion, I am going to simply ask you to look back at what you can remember of your childhood.  Try to remember times where you expressed positive emotion (such as enthusiasm or excitement) and people met that excitement with disapproval, discouragement, criticism, dismissal, invalidation, or trivialization.  Try to remember the way it felt to have your fire doused with water.  And try to see if you can identify how that affected you over the course of your life and even today.  Do you distrust your own enthusiasm?  Do you feel inspired at all?  Do you feel like you will succeed at what you feel inspired to do?  Do you counsel other people to doubt their own enthusiasm?  Are you living your passion right now or did you choose to do what you learned was logical and safe to do?
      
    Just like negative emotions, when we are dealing with positive emotions, there are concrete steps we can take to address those emotions, develop emotional connection with the other person and enhance our intimacy.  This goes for our children as well as the adults in our lives.  This is solid gold in a relationship.  And here they are:  

    #1. To become aware of the other person’s emotion
    #2. To care about the other person’s emotion by seeing it as valid and important
    #3. To listen empathetically to the other person’s emotion in an attempt to understand the way they feel.  This allows them to feel safe to be vulnerable without fear of judgment.  Seek to understand, instead of to agree. 
    #4 To acknowledge and validate their feelings.  This may include helping them to find words to label their emotion.  For people who deny and suppress positive emotion, it may be really hard to name the positive emotion they feel.  To acknowledge and validate a person’s feelings, we do not need to validate that the thoughts they have about their emotions are correct, instead we need to let them know that it is a valid thing to feel the way that they feel.  For example, if our friend says, “I feel amazing and I know I’m meant to be with this man for the rest of my life”, we do have to validate them by saying “you’re right you are going to be with this person for the rest of your life”.  We could validate them by saying “I totally get how amazing that feels.”.    
    #5. To allow the person to feel how they feel and to experience their positive emotion fully for as long as it lasts without making yourself an impediment to it.  
    #6. To enable them (in any way that feels good to you) to use the way they feel to call them towards positive action.  Lend your energy to the forward momentum that their positive emotion creates in them instead of turning against it, or diminishing it.  If you ever issue any warnings, they should be offered as assistance for their upcoming journey in the direction of their desire instead of in discouragement of it.  For example, if a kid says, “I want to be a professional horseback rider”.  We do not ever say, “No, it’s too expensive”.  We say, “ok, it’s really expensive, so let’s brainstorm ways that you or we can make some money so we can afford it”.  We have to be willing to allow people to experience the consequences of their own choices, whether those choices were the result of positive inspiration or negative urges.  But I will give you a little hint… people who chase their enthusiasm never say they wish they hadn’t, even if they fail miserably by external standards.  And there is no substitute for learning by experience. 
        If god forbid, we ever get into a situation where we have conflicting needs with the person who is in a state of enthusiasm, where we feel we cannot lend our energy to the forward momentum that their positive emotion creates in them instead of turning against it, or diminishing it (because for example, we are convinced it is a huge mistake); we never make it about them being wrong to feel the enthusiasm or wrong to even act on it.  Instead, we follow the first four steps completely and then either enable them to act on the enthusiasm without us or we make our resistance about our own emotion (such as fear) which is equally valid.  This may be the time to turn your attention towards yourself and to practice (either alone or together) the steps for dealing with a negative emotion presented in my YouTube video titled: Emotional Wake Up Call.  

    Whatever you do, steer completely clear of saying or doing anything to suggest that they (or you) should distrust their (or your) own emotion.  Your emotion is always the perfect reflection of your perspective.  It’s simply that your perspectives (thoughts) currently differ.     

    Never forget that we are in a relationship with ourselves.  This means, our own emotions must matter to us.  This means we must acknowledge and validate our own emotions.  This means we must not dismiss or disapprove of our own emotions.  Therefore, the six steps I have outlined previously, we must apply to ourselves.  

    Never be ashamed of how you feel.  Your feelings are valid.  If you feel an emotion, there is a good reason that you are feeling that emotion.  Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel.  You deserve a relationship where your feelings matter.  And the fastest way to get to that relationship is to decide that your emotions, including your positive emotions, matter to you.  And your positive emotions should matter to you enough that you are willing to follow them in whatever direction they wish to take you.