“When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.”
— Brene Brown
I talk about my childhood trauma because I lived in denial for most of my life. I write about it because I didn’t understand what happened, why it happened, what it meant. I couldn’t explain all these feelings of shame, depression, and disgust. As I grow to understand it better, I hope my writing can help other victims who feel lost and scour the internet for answers — for a childhood they can relate to.
“We can’t smooth over hurt feelings in our families,” Brene Brown writes. “It’s too easy for stockpiled hurt to turn into rage, resentment, and isolation. We must talk about it. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we’re tired.”
But talking about it means being prepared to meet with invalidation. Not everyone will support our journey to heal. They could outright deny that we were abused or traumatized. Some people just don’t want to believe that they live in a world where things like sexual abuse can happen. “That’s something that only happens on a TV movie.”
Invalidation can take many forms. People may tell you: Stop living in the past. Let bygones be bygones. Everyone had a bad childhood. Things could be worse.
The message here is that something is wrong with us for not being able to move past the traumatization. They might even imply that we should let it go and reconcile with the abuser. This minimizes the illegality and the effects of what happened to us.
When we’re being invalidated in this way, it’s important to remember that this person doesn’t have our best interest at heart. They’re not taking in what we’ve said — they are actively keeping it out of mind. In fact, they are probably coming from their own place of denial, where their deeply-held feelings have been invalidated in a similar way, according to Elisabeth Corey, a survivor of family-controlled child sexual abuse and trafficking. (She has some great steps to beating invalidation on her blog).
Corey says an invalidator is much like the voice in our heads that defends the abuser and makes us question our perception of what occurred. Gaslighting and self-doubt abound. It is the language of abuse, the very same used by abusers to control their victims.
I recently told a family member about the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. They dismissed the subject, telling me they “would be overjoyed if the worst thing that ever happened” to them was the abuse I experienced. I lost a lot of sleep over this conversation and grappled with a mixture of anger and resentment for so long I was filled with depression and self-loathing.
Invalidation is triggering. It makes a white hot anger rise up inside. We want to defend ourselves the way we couldn’t when we were young. At the same time, we lean towards self-doubt because we’d all rather believe the abuse didn’t happen at all. Invalidation makes healing slow down and we feel like we don’t have a right to share our story anymore.
In the end, we can’t control other people (or the things they say). We can only control our behavior.
“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
There is a lot to be said for Taoism in trauma recovery. The Tao, or “the Way,” is the source and guiding principal of all reality. It’s the energy that ushers everything in the universe into and out of existence, over and over again. A main principal of Taoism is not to struggle against nature, instead we accept it and work with it, in harmony. We accept life — both good parts and bad. We don’t force anything — we go with the flow.
This concept is comforting because it allows us to put the focus on self and healing. That healing will take however long it takes and will include whatever it must encompass. We don’t have to fight, we don’t have to be vigilant, and we don’t have to be validated. We can just go with the natural flow and that is to heal and be self-compassionate. That flow got us this far.
Invalidation hurts and we have a right to that feeling. We shouldn’t deny our emotions. Just never forget that we are the sole authority of our own experience.
When met with invalidation remember the Tao: We can’t control others. We can only self-cultivate. No action is required. We don’t have to fight and defend ourselves. Simply let them be themselves, as we continue on our healing path unhindered.
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” — Lao Tzu