This week, I spotted ads for the upcoming After Earth at the local movie theater. Between the tensed faces of Will and Jaden Smith, the poster blurbs, “Danger is Real. Fear is a Choice.”
Oh, Hollywood. So much sex. So much violence. So little psychological accuracy. Any $275-per-hour L.A. psychologist could have told you: emotions aren’t a rational choice, any more than logic is an emotional impulse. To tell people otherwise is invalidating.
Invalidation happens any time clients get the message their emotions or beliefs are flawed, wrong or unimportant. It is more than just negativity: “You failed the test,” states a fact. “Don’t tell me you studied when you bring home an F,” invalidates all of the student’s effort.
Everyone can handle a little. What kid has never heard, “You can’t be hungry, you just ate”? Repeated invalidation leaves people in doubt about their emotions and themselves. It’s associated with poor social skills in children, self-harm in teen-agers, psychological distress in adulthood and worsened rheumatoid arthritis in sufferers of all ages. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, it takes a delicate touch to challenge clients’ beliefs without invalidating them as people. When people hear enough repetitions of, “You put the pressure on yourself,” “Let’s hold a pity party,” or “Stop being so dramatic,” they’ll start invalidating themselves.
New, hesitant clients often say, “Maybe I should just get over it.” They’ve absorbed the idea they can fix their emotional issues by choosing not to have them. The trouble is, emotions are like pets and children. We’re each responsible for our own, but we control them indirectly at best. If you start by believing anxiety means you are weak and self-indulgent, you can wind up certain you are a failure when it doesn’t go away.
C’mon, Tinseltown! How about a tag line like,
“Danger is real.
Fear is a normal, healthy emotion everyone experiences.
You can manage it effectively with mindful acceptance and self-validation.”
That would be much more accurate, and only cut ticket sales by half.
n.b.: . Steve Hein, of EQI.org has a .pdf on invalidation for parents of teen-agers here. Worth a read.
@ 2013 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved