This week I am going to touch on how a narcissist invalidates you, starting with a personal story. My son and I traveled to my childhood home in Arkansas to visit my parents this past weekend. We wanted to check on my father as he recovers from triple bypass surgery. His operation was an emergency procedure that happened two days before Thanksgiving, but he is improving significantly every day. We are so grateful for this!
Sunday morning early, I went for a jog near my old elementary school. I had a vivid flashback to sitting in the passenger seat in my father’s old yellow Ford F150 pickup, eating pineapple sherbet. I remember swinging my feet since they didn’t touch the floor. After all, I was barely nine years old.
I recall that day so clearly because I had asked the office to “call Daddy because my tummy didn’t feel good.” My father knew that I was struggling with a new teacher in my third-grade classroom. Even then, I was a creature of habit, and I liked Mrs. Lee. She let me flourish as my introverted self and read books until my heart’s content. The new teacher didn’t respect or appreciate my nerdy, bookworm predilection. She wanted me to focus on all subjects, as I should have been doing.
I remember the calm and peace I felt when Dad pulled up and I got to cry a little and tell him about my day. He didn’t argue with me. My father just listened. After he dried my tears and I finished my bowl of sherbet (I guess that’s all we had in the refrigerator, but I enjoyed it, yet haven’t eaten it since), I skipped back into school feeling much, much better. His validation by simply listening gave me the strength to go on.
When I finally stopped reliving third grade, I had an epiphany. I did not ever feel validated or heard by the narcissists in my life. My emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual needs were not met in my childhood or adulthood. My mother, the narcissist, certainly didn’t. Then I married a more malignant version of her in my early adulthood. These narcissists did not even want to attempt to meet my need for validation because it took too much energy away from me addressing their wants and needs. A narcissist invalidates you in multiple different ways, let’s talk about a few of them.
Here are the ways that a narcissist invalidates you:
A narcissist invalidates you emotionally because they cannot meet their own needs emotionally. Whether it’s an inability to address your need or their choice to be reluctant in doing so, they cannot or won’t. A narcissist won’t recognize our emotions, feelings, desires, wants, values, beliefs, and more
This lack of recognition leaves you feeling unworthy, unloved, and never enough.
Have you ever noticed that when you are sick, you do your best to keep going? Perhaps you continue to work, put food on the table, help kids with homework, or whatever is needed in your home because that’s what we do. We want to make sure we meet the needs of others.
However, when a narcissist is sick, the world usually grinds to a halt. Life as we know it is coming to an end. It may be a mild cold, but the narcissist expects everyone at home to cater to and feel sorry for that person until they are better.
I remember having gastrointestinal problems near the end of my marriage to a narcissist. Looking back, I can see that it was stress from my toxic home life. At the time, I thought I was dying and wouldn’t survive another few days.
The third time I became violently ill and needed to go to the emergency room, the narcissist looked at me and said, “Here we go again.” He dropped me a few minutes later at the ER and told me to call him when I was discharged. That’s not what I would have done or been expected to do had the roles been reversed.
The narcissist cannot meet your needs physically.
A narcissist will not agree to validate you intellectually. A narcissist may be very smart, but to have an intelligent conversation with you would be acknowledging that you’re on a level playing field with them. A narcissist isn’t capable of that.
I recall a friend of mine saying that her narcissistic ex-husband would often look at her when she asked about his work and say, “You are so stupid you wouldn’t understand. “ Ouch. She wasn’t stupid. She wanted to validate her role in his life as a confidante and essential person.
Here’s a fourth bonus reason, too. The narcissist invalidates you spiritually. One of my clients said recently that her husband, a narcissist, always critiqued the pastor and would elbow her during the sermon and tell her she needed to listen. As if the pastor’s words would improve, in his terms, his disaster of a wife. (Dana is smart, beautiful and ambitious.) Dana would agree she liked to hang onto every word, but the narcissist made his point. And he ruined the day. Narcissists enjoy destroying spiritual experiences for those who find them an important part of life.
There are some ways you can combat the invalidation of a narcissist. First, develop boundaries. Boundaries are designed to be gates you can open when people earn the right for you to open them. Dr. Henry Cloud once said, “Boundaries each other people how to love us.” Maybe you develop a limitation that when a narcissist is ugly to you, you leave the room. Then stick to it.
Secondly, be careful not to isolate so you can have validation from others. Try to get your emotional needs met by healthy relationships with friends and family members. Don’t turn to a new love interest, as this will only complicate things.
On a third note, lower your expectations. Don’t expect a narcissist to validate you or change and one day become your biggest fan. It most likely won’t happen. Have an emergency list to call when you are sick. Have another list of friends to reach out to when you need support emotionally.
Finally, understand that giving up is not losing or giving in. Giving up can be winning, and giving up can be validating yourself and what makes you who you are. You can leave the toxic relationship and be whole again.