Avoiding Invalidation Part 1

Who wouldn’t want a happy family? The good news is there are small, concrete changes we can all make to improve our relationships. For one thing, we can replace invalidation with empathy.

What is “invalidation”? This series helps you to recognize invalidation so that you can protect yourself from it, and make sure you aren’t accidentally invalidating others.

When people invalidate you, it doesn’t feel good. The minor examples are so common in our society that you might not fully realize the problem. At other times, you’re likely to feel let down, frustrated, or even angry because of the other person’s comment. The more severe kinds of invalidation can eventually cause emotional and psychological damage.

While invalidation takes many forms, all the examples convey some kind of non-acceptance or criticism. When someone invalidates you, you hear a subtle—or not-so-subtle—message that you don’t have a right to your feelings, or that somehow your perceptions are wrong, or that you shouldn’t have expressed your feelings.

One of the mildest categories of invalidating remarks is called “minimizing feelings.” Examples include:

  • “You must be kidding!”
  • “It can’t be that bad.”
  • “You’re just tired.”
  • “Well, yeah, nothing’s perfect.”

Do you see how these are invalidating remarks? The first three suggest you can’t possibly be right. The third one suggests that your upset feelings are merely due to fatigue, which means you don’t really have a legitimate concern.

The fourth one suggests the only reason you’re complaining is because you were expecting perfection—which of course is not a good idea. So do you see how this comment makes YOU the problem? It implies your expectations are the only problem. Most likely, you were trying to say you felt troubled by some particular negative event or behavior. Perfection was not the issue.

I still remember using the “You’re just tired” comment when my pre-school-aged daughters were fussy and I knew nap time was approaching. I didn’t realize I was invalidating their upset feelings. I don’t recall now why they were upset, but I’m sure there was a logical reason. Their need for a nap made them more prone to tears at those times—we all can tend to react more strongly when we’re tired—but their feelings were still legitimate.

Whenever we learn about things we could have done better in the past, it does us no good to stay stuck in feeling bad. What’s important is to improve our present and future, and apologize and make amends when that’s appropriate.

Instead of invalidating others, we can choose to show understanding and simply paraphrase back to the other person what he/she said with a sympathetic voice. One useful beginning is to say “It sounds like you . . . .”

Here are examples: “It sounds like you’re saying that hurt your feelings.” Or: “It sounds like you’re feeling pretty upset about that.”

The goal of empathy is to show you listened, show you understand the meaning and the emotion, and invite the other person to open up and say more. Empathy is not the same as agreement.

There’s more to say about how to be empathetic, and I need 3-4 hours to teach people how to do it, but that gives you a brief glimpse of what empathy looks like.

Next time we’ll move on to a different category of invalidation.

© 2017 Caryl Schlicher A Bridge To Excellence

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts totaling no more than 10 sentences and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Caryl Schlicher and A Bridge To Excellence, and provided that the appropriate URL is given to direct readers to the original content.


2 Essential Principles for Great Relationships

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As a lifelong student of communication, I thought I knew a lot about interpersonal communication. But recently, I have come to better understand two extremely important principles for great relationships.

The principles, stated succinctly, may seem obvious and trite. But my new understanding comes not from hearing the principles, but from more fully realizing how beneficial they are — and how difficult they are!

  1. Know yourself.
  2. Speak only for yourself.

Knowing ourselves is not as easy as we might think. Countless volumes have been written on the subject. If you are familiar with the field of psychology, you already know some of the obstacles. We humans can deceive ourselves, overlook our own faults, or overlook our strengths. We can project our faults onto others. We can be oblivious to our real motives. We can think we’re dealing with fact, when really we are working with our interpretation.

In their book, Alive and Aware: Improving Communication in Relationships, Sherod Miller, Elam W. Nunnally, and Daniel B. Wackman identify 5 categories for knowing ourselves:

  1. Our feelings: calm, bored, glad, confused, eager, angry, proud, sad, etc.
  2. Our actions: Behaviors that may escape our awareness include interrupting others, interrupting ourselves and not finishing our own sentences, saying “like” or “you know” or “um” habitually, chewing our fingernails, reaching for a cigarette, dropping eye contact, changing posture, changing the subject, adopting a certain tone of voice, etc.
  3. Our intentions: Do we intend to encourage? Persuade? Be funny? Avoid? Criticize? Threaten? Disregard? Explore? Share? Help? Clarify?
  4. Our sensations: Are we aware of what we actually see, hear, smell, taste and feel?
  5. Our interpretations: Do we realize how much we interpret what we sense? Here’s an example: Joe’s spouse intends to show love and concern in a comment. But Joe’s past experience with controlling parents leads him to interpret the comment as an attempt to control. Here’s a different example: we see someone walk into a room, stop, and look around. We interpret the behavior as a sign that the person is lost. But that is just our interpretation. We do not really know.

The authors say that we cannot be fully aware of everything at all times. (You’ve no doubt experienced this when you are concentrating on work and you “tune out” background noise.) But they say that healthy individuals are able to be objectively aware of themselves within all five categories on a regular basis, rotating from one area to another as the situation demands.

Healthy individuals are able to self-reflect – access their feelings and understand their own motives, even the “negative ones,” the ones that society frowns upon. Wounded individuals can lose awareness in one or more areas (and we are all wounded to some degree). And so awareness can be a continual challenge for all of us. And, as the saying goes, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” That is one reason why input from others is so valuable.

The second principle, speaking only for ourselves, is also more difficult than we imagine. I just violated the principle in this last sentence. If I were following the principle, I might write, “I believe that speaking only for ourselves is also more difficult that we imagine.” Or, “I don’t know about you, but speaking only for myself is more difficult than I had imagined.” The fact is, I don’t know what your experience is. I am, of course, just trying to make a general statement about a whole population. When we have a lengthy communication that is designed to teach, we tend to drop “I think” or “I believe,” because it becomes repetitive and everyone understands that the whole message is offering generalized truth based upon (we hope) research.

But interpersonal communication within relationships, both at work and at home, benefits from careful adherence to the principle.

One red flag occurs when we start a sentence with “you” rather than “I.” “You should finish this job” is more effective if we say, “I would like you to finish this job.”

The question, “Would you like to go to a movie with me?” might really mean, “I would like you to go to a movie with me.” If that’s what we mean, we should say that, because there could be a significant difference between the two. Say a wife asks the question above. Her husband may feel legitimately confused. Is he merely being asked about his preferences? Or is he being asked to lovingly accommodate his wife’s preferences? Let’s say her meaning is that she would like him to accommodate her desire. So she should say some version of, “I’d like you to go to a movie with me.” Good communication will provide the clarification and help the husband, in this case, meet his wife’s needs for companionship.

Here’s another example: “You’re not listening to me!” is more likely to cause defensiveness and arguments because it is a blaming statement. “I don’t feel listened to right now” is an indisputable fact that you own. If that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel. No one can tell you how you feel (though some boundary-crossers will try!). So the question becomes, what can the other person do to help you feel more listened to?

Speaking for ourselves with “I statements” helps to bypass arguments and move to solutions.

I hope you can now see that the biggest challenge for many of us is that we were never trained to speak in “I statements.” We’re more likely, in the example above, to say, “You’re not listening to me.”

For many of us, using “I statements” is like learning a foreign language. And so we must train ourselves in this new two-step process:

  1. becoming aware of what we are really thinking, feeling, and wanting, and then
  2. expressing that clearly.

It’s a matter of working hard to change daily habits. The benefits include more harmonious relationships at work and at home, less confusion and conflict, greater productivity, and much more. Perhaps you’d like to run a test, and see how long you can stick with “I-statements” in a given day!

Got a question? Message me through this website.

© 2013 Caryl D. Schlicher A Bridge To Excellence

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts totaling no more than 10 sentences and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Caryl Schlicher and A Bridge To Excellence, and provided that the appropriate URL is given to direct readers to the original content.









The Questions We Need To Ask Every Day

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One of my favorite questions is “What works?” In other words, what methods will give me the results I desire?

“What works?” is a question we should ask in every area of life – succeeding at work, helping others succeed at work, building a strong marriage, parenting children, staying organized, improving our health, building strong communities, managing the national economy, you-name-it.

We can even apply that question to the other questions in life. Then, the question becomes, “What questions work well for us?” These are the questions we need to ask every day. And we should also be aware of harmful questions that lead us away from our desired goals. Some good and harmful questions come from Dr. Marilee G. Adams, author of the book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, and I’ve written many others.

Some people refer to the beneficial questions as “learner questions,” because they demonstrate a desire to learn and grow. And they refer to the harmful or less productive questions as “judger questions,” because they produce very harsh, critical judgments, which in turn produce negative feelings and diminished success.

So, let’s look at a few options for question asking, as we navigate our daily lives at work and at home. I think the benefits will be obvious to you.

Judger asks, “Who’s to blame here?” Learner asks, “What can I and others do to improve things?”

Judger asks, “How should I tell him he screwed up?” Learner asks, “Can I clearly explain how I would like things done the next time?”

Judger asks, “What’s wrong in this environment?” Learner asks, “What’s right in this environment, and how can we do more of that?”

Judger asks, “How can I look superior?” Learner asks, “What can I learn? And how can I help others?”

Judger asks, “How can I prove I’m right?” Learner asks, “What are the facts? What is the full truth? What is wise? What is the best thing for us to do right now?”

Judger asks, “How can I attack him or make him feel bad?” Learner asks, “How can I build him up, encourage him, guide him, and also enforce some boundaries when needed?”

Judger asks, “How can I control others?” Learner asks, “How can I control myself and maintain a healthy boundary?”

Judger asks, “How will I be hurt?” Learner asks, “How can I help others?”

Judger asks, “How can I defend myself in the face of criticism?” Learner asks, “What truth is there in this criticism, if any? Am I being honest with myself? And how can I help Judger to feel understood?” Only after this preliminary, open-minded analysis and good communication does Learner move forward to defending himself/herself as needed.

Judger asks, “How can I get an immediate answer for everything?” Learner asks, “Can I temporarily endure the discomfort of not having everything figured out?”

Judger desperately asks, “How can I eliminate imperfection in others?” Learner patiently asks, “Can I simultaneously accept what is, while still working towards needed improvement?”

Judger asks, “What should be rejected?” Learner asks, “What can be accepted or negotiated?”

Judger asks either-or questions and suggests false dilemmas. Learner considers both-and questions. For example, Judger asks, “Which of us is right?” Learner asks, “In what ways are we both right?”

Judger asks, “How can I win out over this other person?” Learner asks, “How can we both win? And what are the best options for each of us?”

Judger asks a lot of questions about things outside of his control. Learner asks a lot of questions about the things under his control.

Judger asks, “How can I avoid change?” Learner asks, “How can I manage change well?”

Judger asks, “How can I protect my turf?” Learner asks, “What are the highest goals for this organization or family? Am I working toward those goals?”

Judger asks, “How could I lose in this situation?” Learner asks, “What could I gain?”

Judger asks, “Why is that other person so dense?” Learner asks, “What does this person need from me and others in order to do better?”

Judger asks, “Why bother to try?” Learner asks, “What is possible?”

Judger often clings to the question, “What do we usually do?” Learner asks, “What options haven’t I considered? What limitations have I placed on my thinking? How else can I think about this?”

Judger asks, “How has this hurt me?” Learner asks, “What’s useful about this? How is it helping me to grow, even though it might be painful?”

Judger secretly and continuously asks himself, “What’s wrong with me?” Learner isn’t afraid of that question but also asks, “What’s right about me, and how am I working on improving?”

Judgers tend to react emotionally and out of ingrained habit; learners strive to respond with self-control and prethought. Judgers tend to feel powerless; learners are growing in their sense of personal power. Judgers often feel fear; learners are growing in faith, trust, and personal responsibility. Judgers often have a scarcity mentality; learners see abundance.

It’s useful to ask ourselves on a daily basis whether we’ve fallen into judger mode, which tends to be our natural state, or whether we’ve climbed into learner mode. Every day we can decide which we prefer. And we can ask ourselves, “What can help me get back into learner mode, or stay in learner mode?”

I could present a list of benefits for operating in learner mode more often. But why not conduct your own experiment and see what happens?

Got a question? Message me through this website.

© 2012 Caryl D. Schlicher A Bridge To Excellence

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts totaling no more than 10 sentences and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Caryl Schlicher and A Bridge To Excellence, and provided that the appropriate URL is given to direct readers to the original content.