Invalidating Environments & Borderline Personality Disorder

During DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) group today, one of my peers mentioned that out of all of the hell she experienced growing up as a child who was abused and in a very invalidating environment, the one thing she learned from her parents was that she can do ANYTHING on her own.  Our therapist said that this is an example of thriving. Even though this woman did not get what she needed from her parents, she found a way to survive.  I thought that was pretty neat, and it got me thinking.

The one thing I learned from my parents amidst all of the abuse and neglect that I experienced is that what we say to children MATTERS.  What we allow them to see and hear - it ALL MATTERS.  Some parents will think or say "Oh, she's so young/little - she'll never remember any of this."

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I have news for you - I still vividly remember specific words and situations from decades ago. We do remember. And, when we wake up one day and realize that not all families live this way and that we, indeed, were part of a dysfunctional or abusive household, the memories will come back from the times you thought what you said and did didn't matter.  Same with the times that you didn't say or do what would have been the healthy choice for a child. Those times mattered, too.

I am very sensitive to situations where I see a child exposed to certain language, fighting, and worse. I took a social worker job for a year and a half. While the job was very rewarding, this was before my DBT days, and I literally had a nervous breakdown from the work. The reasons? Essentially boundaries and the fact that I had so much inner work to do.

I was triggered by so many of my cases, and I wanted to save and rescue every child out there, which I obviously could not do. But, one thing is for sure. With all of the parents I worked with, I let them know the importance of their words and actions, especially those done in the presence of their children.  I also did my best to speak encouraging, validating words to the children for as long I could possibly work with each of them.

PsychCentral has this to say about Dr. Marsha Linehan's DBT and invalidating environments:

"Dialectical Behavior Therapy is based on a bio-social theory of borderline personality disorder. Linehan hypothesizes that the disorder is a consequence of an emotionally vulnerable individual growing up within a particular set of environmental circumstances which she refers to as the Invalidating Environment."

Here is an excellent example (blog post) of a time when a child felt invalidated and the effect it left, some 31 years later.

It ends with a very powerful thought: "When you have the enormous responsibility and honor of spending time with a child, behave as if everything you say and do matters...because it does." - Sulilo

Thank you for reading.
More soon.


  1. I read this blog and identified with it life is soo screwed up from my childhood up to leaving my parents house at 30 years old very traumatically..I'm now 46 years old and maried o a wondeful suppotiv, loving man....but I struggle vey sinle day with now the time to get my inner demons out?...xx

    1. It sounds like you are starting to create your OWN validating environment for yourself, and to me, that's the a big part of casting out our inner demons. xx

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  2. excellent blog but i must state that not all bpd sufferers had an abusive childhood and with bpd although almost certainly there is some trauma in childhood that is apportioned to bpd it need not in anyway be abuse

    1. Very good and valid point. Thanks for reading and taking the time to make your comment.



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