Parking Invalidation

While writing Part II of Handling the Inner Heckler, I was reminded of one example of invalidation.  Shortly after 9/11, I developed a moderate fear of flying.   It didn’t stop me from going anywhere, just made me a bit anxious before flights for a few years.  I probably would have overcome the fear sooner, but I don’t fly very often.

It wasn’t really surprising given that a lot of people developed at least a temporary fear.   While I was fortunate enough to be off work that day, I worked in downtown NYC at the time.  When the office where I worked reopened after nearly a week, we could smell the smoke from the fires which smoldered well into November.  We could see the shattered remnants of the facade from many of the surrounding streets until they were dismantled.  Many of my co-workers, friends and relatives had harrowing experiences with evacuation and what they saw that day.  I was very fortunate that my family & close friends were all ok, but there were several anxious hours after watching the buildings collapse before I was able to determine they were ok.   

What I experienced was nowhere near as bad as what others went through.  But it is  frightening to see a neighborhood you’ve worked in for years with debris falling all over it and clouds of dust and smoke enveloping it,  knowing people you care about are in that neighborhood.  I think it was horrifying for anyone watching it, but having the streets and landmarks as part of your daily routine/scenery and seeing them like that certainly adds to the horror a bit.  I recall thinking about the routes my friends/family/co-workers would likely be taking and hoping the debris wasn’t falling on them.

One of the post 9/11 flights was to visit my mother for Christmas.  Of course, she and my stepdad had Fox News blaring about orange alerts in the airports during my stay.  Which is just what you want when you have to fly back! 😉    I made the mistake of mentioning my fear/anxiety to my mother.  And I was belittled for it.  I was also compared to a friend of hers who was across the street from the WTC on 9/11 and had to go through the evacuation.  Apparently, her friend did not share my fear, which was proof that my fear was unreasonable and something to be criticized. 

I didn’t question this.  It was so typical that my feelings were invalidated like this that I didn’t think anything of it.  I just thought my mother was right and that  I was stupid for having that fear/anxiety. 

It wasn’t until December 2010 that I realized I was being invalidated.    Much of my family on both sides has lived in Brooklyn at some point in their lives.  Those who were living there at the time of the 1960 plane crash remember it vividly and they’ve often talked about it. 

While reading The NY Times coverage of the anniversary, I read reader comments where readers recounted their experiences with the crash.    Even people who didn’t see the crash, but heard it or saw some of the aftermath were affected.  Some can’t fly to this day.  Others can fly, but are very nervous.    Here I was thinking my fear was stupid and made me weak/wimpy when it was a perfectly normal and understandable fear!  There was nothing wrong with me for reacting that way.

I chose the title Parking Invalidation because I have such a tendency to do that when I feel something.  I want to “park” (stop) the invalidation.  Plus I can’t resist a pun or play on words!

3 thoughts on “Parking Invalidation

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Invalidation is such a common tactic used to undermine people’s sense of self in dysfunctional families. I like this page with long lists of examples of invalidating messages. (Trigger warning! Examples of emotional abuse)

    I’m reminded of talking to a newcomer in one of my 12-step meetings recently. She gave a long and involved explanation of why it wasn’t OK for her mother-in-law to yell at her. She did everything except give me a doctor’s note. It’s great that she had this boundary — many newcomers don’t understand the concept of boundaries, let alone have them.

    But I told her that she didn’t need to explain it. It’s a given. It’s not OK to yell at anybody, full stop. People worth having in my life don’t yell at me. If they forget that, I can remind them but they don’t need an explanation beyond “I don’t like it.”

    I feel the same about your fear of flying. It’s great that you’ve been able to let go of most of that fear but it doesn’t affect your value as a friend and human being. People worth having in your life will simply accept and appreciate you the way you are. I’m interested in hearing about your feelings and experiences because I get a lot of identification out of reading your blog. But I’m not entitled to decide if your reason for feeling a certain way is valid. Your feelings are non-negotiable.

    In fact, I think that real friends will not only accept you the way you are, they’ll also point out invalidating messages that you or others are giving you about your feelings.

  2. Oh, I agree. I tend to feel the need to explain myself far too often. It’s something I’m working on in therapy. I love the expression don’t JADE (Justify Argue Defend Explain) because often, when people have PDs or other dysfunction, no amount of JADEing is going to make them see you have a valid point anyway.

    I just thought it was interesting that the fear was such a common reaction to that type of situation. Yet my mother dismissed it and invalidated it to such a great extent. My stepfather had said something sympathetic about how a lot of people in the NYC/DC/PA areas probably feel nervous about flying. We were having this conversation in a car on the way to the airport btw. I think it was the sympathy directed towards me which triggered the need for her to invalidate what I was feeling.

    I’ve posted about it before, if anyone else gets compassion, sympathy, attention, she feels it’s at her expense. She appears to think they’re finite and there’s not enough to go around for everyone. And in my case, she really resents it when I get attention, etc. Unless it’s something which directly or indirectly garners attention for her too.

    1. Exactly. I’m sure you already know this but I’ve found that the more I explain why something is important and special, the weaker my position. That applies to people who don’t have a PD too, particularly if it’s a business transaction. If I’m negotiating about a price, and I start telling people why I of all people should be getting it cheaper, the price goes up, not down. :-/

      I hear you on fear of flying. I was in London when the subway system was bombed a couple of years ago. For months afterwards everybody got jumpy when they heard sirens. Collective traumatization, it happens.

      Your mother was envious of the validating attention you got from your step father? My, that’s precious. A sane parent would have been happy to see you have a positive relationship with a step parent, and worked to encourage it. Step parent relationships are hard as it is.

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