The Effects of Invalidating Environments

Invalidating environments can be a contributor to a child’s growing up and later being diagnosed with BPD, and is then one of the worst, if not the worst, environments for someone already diagnosed with BPD, to be in.

Growing up, I definitely lived in a very invalidating environment. My mom, especially, was extremely dismissive of just about everything. Any feeling, desire, wish, or anything at all that I expressed that meant something to me, was brushed off, ignored, denied, or just flat out degraded. My sister, who was “healthy” and understood nothing about me, at one point yelled at me and told me that she didn’t care that I was depressed and that it was my fault. She had a very “just snap out of it” mindset when I was finally diagnosed with something. My dad, was then like the villain in my life, and as a child, the only person who could have saved me, was my mom. Except she never did. She looked the other way, took his side, and denied that there was ever an issue, along with encouraging me to just do what he said (so she didn’t have to stand up to him).

To this day, she is still like this, and so I’ve learned to never express things to her, and to basically only be a shell of happiness when I’m around her. I give her a little bit of credit that she has very very slightly come around, but she would never acknowledge the things she failed to do, and she’d still rather avoid issues than deal with them. If brushing things under the rug were literal, we’d have mountains of rugs not large enough to cover all of the dirt.

When I first told her about my diagnosis with BPD, she again brushed it off and chose not to believe it. I was “overreacting”…and so we never talked about it again. Getting this diagnosis was huge for me. On one hand it felt like the end of my life, but somehow at the same time it felt like a new beginning. When I read up on BPD I felt like I had finally found what described my experiences TO A ‘T’. I couldn’t believe it. And now that I knew what was “wrong”, I could work on fixing it. To have her once again shut that down, was like the ultimate rejection of all rejections growing up.

In the present time, any senses of rejection or invalidation, really set me off. It will make me louder, angrier, sadder, and act out to extremes, until I feel validated. It’s not a cry for attention, it’s a cry for help. If someone invalidates me, I feel the need to up the ante until they “hear” me and realize that I am serious. I am an extreme introvert. To tell someone that I feel sad, is a huge step for me. I will often times do this in a very quiet or indirect way. Just because I’m not sobbing when I tell you, doesn’t mean I’m not really sad. If you knew anything about me, you’d know that the fact I said the words “I am sad” means I have already reached my rock bottom and need help, because it is simply out of character for me to express emotions. Why? Because they were never validated or acknowledged, and that has instilled in me a very big fear to express myself for fear of further invalidation.

When my mom found out I first self-harmed, I got in trouble and then it was never again discussed. When child services came to visit because of my dad’s “inappropriate touching”, they talked their way out of it, the worker left, I got in trouble and was told that I needed to “compromise” my comfort zone because that’s what he liked and wanted, and it was never spoken of again. Nothing changed. When I sprained my ankle in cheerleading, my mom told me it didn’t really hurt and that I was fine, then proceeded to shove me, literally, in the kitchen, to make me walk, and it was never spoken of again.

What has that left me with? The same it’s left many people with BPD. The inability to tell you how they feel, because they honestly don’t know. When a child is sad or hurting and is told that he is not really sad or hurting, it creates a lot of confusion. The child only learns that he isn’t sure of what he feels, needs cues from others, and learns that he can’t trust himself. Because he still feels and knows that something isn’t right, he doesn’t trust others either because they never seem to help him, let alone validate that what he says he feels is real. This creates quite the altered sense of reality, and an adult who is at times stuck in a stage of feeling like a child that just needs and wants taken care of.

When I was first diagnosed, my therapist at that time gave me an emotions wheel. I used to look at this worksheet anytime I had an emotion, so I could try to figure out which one I was feeling. I’ve progressed a little with identifying my emotions, but I still struggle a lot. Hence my constant response of, “I don’t know.” It’s an honest answer. I often will observe others so I can figure out how I should feel about something, or what I should be doing, or how I should be acting, etc.

My biggest gripe about all of this? The very people who contributed to my having BPD, have essentially ruined my entire life. They’ve left lasting impressions that will take years to heal from, and even then I will forever have to work harder at life than others. As if it’s not bad enough that they didn’t take care of me when I was little, they continue to deny what I’ve become, because of them.

My last thought on this post, is that I put “inappropriate touching” in parenthesis. My entire life I’ve come to question if what he did was really wrong or not, because I was scolded for thinking it was, and forced to continue accepting it. When I was 18 and my boyfriend was beating me, of which my father was present for and continued watching TV, my father later lectured me about how if I just behaved right, those things wouldn’t happen.

For the longest time, sexual and physical abuse directed toward me, were “ok”. I never felt I had a right to not accept it. It was just a part of life, right? I knew it didn’t feel right, but my feelings were never right. Being treated well, always felt wrong. It’s taken me a long time to fix this. It’s still not completely fixed, but it’s a work in progress, and I at least recognize it now.



2 thoughts on “The Effects of Invalidating Environments

  1. Very well written. It’s bad enough that we have the biology for BPD. With BPD if a person is has the biology of it and grow up in a validating environment then there is a great change of not developing it. On the other hand if we grow up in an invalidating environment the likely hood of developing it is a definite yes. Most of the time the families who cause us this pain don’t want to look into there issues.

  2. Sounds so much like someone I know.
    Liz’s Mom was so concerned with how family skeletons reflected on HER that they would be relegated to burial in concrete under the floorboards of a locked, nailed shut and shuttered closet in the farthest, darkest corner of the basement behind stacks of boxes containing clothes that hadn’t fit any of the kids for decades..
    The only person who counted in her Mom’s life was her Mom, and others just served their purpose in her life and the world revolving around it.
    If someone thought Liz M___ was “troubled” because her brother Joe M___ molested her, the world would presumably read that as being “Pauline M___’s daughter is troubled because Pauline M___’s son molested her”.
    Liz’s mom had that down to an art form. Given half the chance, she likely could have blamed me for her long battle with Tuberculosis almost thirty years before I met her.
    Her dad, saint that he was, knew better than Liz did the widespread destruction that would result from confronting certain issues and matters, knowing full well they would be blamed on him anyway.

    BPD can be like starting off with Depression, Anxiety, PTSD and having those who should be protecting you instead protecting themselves – if only out of shame, not guilt – and in the process stashing off your problems where they were at least out of sight, and feeding them steroids until they were strong enough to break out into the open on their own.

    Her mom? Dead for twenty years or so, still part of the picture.
    Her brother? God only knows what he did to his daughter Kimi or dozens / hundreds of his Elementary/Middle School students on an American military base in Okinawa.
    He’s still very, very much in the mental picture.
    He comes into the physical picture (and the last time he was set off the BPD)… he even tries to come back into the physical picture…
    this peace-loving, tree-hugging, Lennon-quoting hippie is going to break every bone in his body below his neck with a baseball bat and then kick the shit out of him.

    And I can promise you I’ll be laughing my ass off, basking in the satisfaction that all the pain he caused my wife through the almost forty years we’ve known each other… he’ll know and feel all that pain in the thirty seconds it would take me to destroy him.
    After all, if he had just behaved right, something like that would never need to happen to him.

    And Liz’s sister?
    One time she gave Liz’s cell phone number to that brother, knowing how badly Liz had reacted to seeing him at their sister’s funeral in Denver back in 2005. How much pain it brought to the surface. How much terror Liz relived.
    I called the sister on it, and when she played dumb and tried to skirt the issue, I told her, over the phone, at the top of my lungs in an over-the-top performance worthy of Nicholson –
    “… this sick cocksucker FINGER FUCKED your BABY SISTER when she was SIX YEARS OLD and you expect Liz to be ‘over it’ by now? Why’s that? So you can hide from the guilt of knowing YOU DIDN’T DO A DAMNED THING TO HELP? If he did that to your daughter – and who’s to day he didn’t? – you’d still be sleeping outside her bedroom door every night with a shotgun on your lap protecting her from whatever shadows you saw lurking in the corner!”
    I got seriously called on the line for what I said to that sister. Heard an awful lot about it from two of the brothers. And I let them know “molested” was too antiseptic, that it needed to get out in the open in terms of exactly what happened. Call a spade a spade… it’s still a damned shovel.
    I assured them that while I had wished I would have remained more civil in tone, I would never change one single word I said. Not one.
    Not a single, finger-fuckin’ word of it, and yes…
    … it was meant to be taken very, very personally.

    You ask me, if you’re not part of the solution you are one of the causes of the problem, NOT just an innocent part of it.

    This post took so much strength on your part, to open up your pain and your vulnerability to everyone within earshot.
    To call out those who “piled on”, who tried to trivialize your torture, that served as putting them on call that it is not your choice to respond to them the way you do, to let them know you don’t need them even through the hardest of times because, after all is said and done, you made it through this far on your own.
    And you’ll make it even farther.
    But don’t ever, EVER feel guilty or hateful or unforgiving for associating them with some of that pain, for even just inwardly assigning their share of it all to them.

    There are a bunch of us around who carry some of the pain with you seeing as how we can’t really carry it for you.

    Thanks for sharing, my treasured li’l sister.
    It’s something you needed to do and it inspires us all to hear it.


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