TRAUMATIC INVALIDATION

TRAUMATIC INVALIDATION 

“A trauma is defined as an extremely distressing or disturbing experience. … Traumatic invalidation occurs when an individual’s environment repeatedly or intensely communicates that the individual’s experiences, characteristics, or emotional reactions are unreasonable and/or unacceptable.”

Many children grow up in a world where they never seem to be good enough.  Parents, believing they need to “push” their children, will constantly point out the negative –“your marks aren’t good enough,” “why can’t you get along with others,” “be there, but don’t open your mouth,” “why are you wearing those dirty clothes again,” “why don’t you chose better friends.” Sometimes it take the form of making mean fun of the child.

There is a story about a parent who was constantly criticizing and making fun of his child. It was very hurtful. His wife wanted him to stop but he didn’t see any harm in it. She persuaded him that he should stop and also to pound a nail into the barn door every time he stopped himself from being critical of his son. It was hard and over time he had had to pound in many nails but did get the message and stopped being critical. Then his wife said that now he had to pull out all the nails and try and get the door back into shape. He did pull the nails out but they left permanent marks in the barn door.

While hurtful behavior can sometimes be reversed, the damage remains and often cannot be reversed.

Children who are constantly “put down” by parents or even other children often grow into adults who continue to feel they are never good enough.  They believe it, whether it be at school, work, or home.  They have been told so frequently that they don’t measure up that no one needs to say anything anymore.  They apply it to themselves.  They just know that they are not capable of being up to some standard – usually an unreasonable one.  

The other downside of becoming an adult who feels inadequate is that this same person becomes comfortable in describing himself as a failure.  It is just more comfortable to stick with these dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors than to attempt to move on from them.

The best remedy is that provided by the home environment of the smallest child.  Yes, sometimes you need to discipline a child or point out some concerns you might have. But, a child has a fighting chance at being a well-functioning adult if the main focus of his home environment is one where there is support, encouragement, praise for even small achievements, coupled with love and caring of parents and older siblings.  . 

Much of life is trial and error.  This is very true for the very young. They should be encouraged for trying even if they don’t do very well or fail utterly.  How many of us as adults have tried out new businesses or activities in the community or to do a better job at getting along with others? Often they have not gone very well. 

As adults we can be poor examples to our children. We can hardly be critical of them when we have much to learn about success, getting along with others, and taking action to be a better person.

We are learning – let’s let our children also learn from their experiences.

Do you agree/disagree or have some of your own thoughts on this topic? Send them to me and I can highlight them on this page.

garth@garthtoombs.com

GARTH TOOMBS – COMMITTEE MEMBER, EDUCATING AFRICAN YOUTH