Parenthood and the Invalidating Environment

I am now 4.5 months into parenthood and every day I am learning more and more about myself.

I would like to share an experience with you that happened last week, and has stuck in my mind as poignant.

When I received by diagnosis of BPD, what feels like all those years ago, I threw myself into researching the condition and trying to find an answer to the question, “Why me?”. One term stood out to me, but at the time I didn’t truly understand it: The Invalidating Environment.

According to many sources, and most notably Marsha Linehan, the invalidating environment is a large precursor to the condition of BPD.

“An environment perceived as invalidating generally means that the child grows up feeling that his emotional responses are not correct or considered in the regular course of things. Over time, this can result in confusion and a general distrust of a person’s own emotions.

An invalidating environment is not the same thing as an abusive environment, although abusive relationships are certainly invalidating. Invalidation can be quite subtle and may reflect a general way of interacting.” (taken from http://bpd.about.com/od/environmentalcausesorbpd/a/Invalidate.htm if you need more info).

I spent a lot of time thinking, “yeah – I grew up like that” but had never really noticed it obviously, until last week.

Myself and James had a row, about what is pretty irrelevant, but it resulted in me leaving the house with my daughter in the middle of the night, and driving to my parents house. The next morning, when I got up and explained to my parents what had happened, their responses were as follows:

“What did YOU do to cause it?”

“How did you start it?”

“You don’t feel like that, you feel like this…”

The longer the conversation went on, the more I realised that this was a beautiful example of an invalidating environment. They were disregarding my thoughts and feelings about my argument, and instead telling me how or what I was feeling.

Since this incident, I have made a concious effort to notice this invalidating environment that they maintain, and sure enough, several times since, the same thing has happened again. Now I can see how they treat me, I am beginning to understand some of the origins of my condition. Of course, I don’t blame them, they did the best they could. And in some ways I am grateful, because it has opened my eyes to matters that I am glad I am aware of whilst raising my own daughter.

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5 comments

  1. I grew up in an invalidating environment as well. It was very subtle, much like with your parents, telling you how you should feel. They meant well and did the best they could too. I’ve tried to do better with my kids since getting my diagnosis. I only wish I had gotten it sooner.

    1. Yes, in some ways I am glad for it as I has made me aware it can happen, so I can make every effort to avoid it with my daughter.

  2. Great of you to make the realization! Be proud of yourself for that.

  3. There is hope I am going to be 44 this year and it was only last summer I actually heard the words from my dad that he was proud of me, I have always made sure I take what I felt to be the failings of my parents and do the complete opposite with my own kids so they always know how much they are loved and how proud I am of them. Your parents failings will make you a better parent and the fact you can observe this behaviour in them without it effecting you shows just how far you have come since I first found your blog. You are amazing!

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