Coping With The Pain of Having Your Mental Illness Diagnosis Invalidated



I think that perhaps one of the most painful and frustrating aspects of having a mental illness is when loved ones do not validate our experience.

Many of us have heard things like:

  • It's all in your head.
  • You're imagining it all.
  • It's a made up diagnosis.
  • There's no such thing as [insert your diagnosis] - it's made up by the pharmaceuticals to make money.
  • You're always using your diagnosis as an excuse/crutch.
  • You're just looking for attention.


When I hear such things from people I love about my struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (and PTSD), I have a few different reactions. Sometimes I just freeze and feel paralyzed and in deep emotional pain. I desperately want to convince them that my pain is real, and I feel terrified that they really believe this. It's heartbreaking!

Sometimes I feel angry. Really? Do you think I choose this for myself? Do you think I enjoy suffering? That this is actually fun for me in some way? Don't you know that one of the possible causes for my developing BPD in the first place was an invalidating environment?!

Sometimes, I feel a combination of all of these.


Why Do Loved Ones Invalidate Our Mental Illness Diagnosis?

The reasons for this will vary from person to person and situation to situation, but some reasons may include:


  • They feel burned out. They see us continue to suffer, and nothing they do seems to help. They feel responsible for not being able to "fix" us or help us feel better, so convincing themselves there's nothing really wrong with us may ease some of their pain and justify any anger they may have about our suffering. They don't know what else to do.
  • They've been taught that mental illness is not real or legitimate. They think that only physical illnesses and diseases are real.
  • They are being verbally or emotionally abusive. Not sure why someone who loves someone with mental illness would engage in this behavior, but it unfortunately does happen.



What Can I Do The Next Time I'm Invalidated?

Take some really deep breaths and engage in some self care and self-soothing right away. Reach out to someone you trust who does validate your experience -- someone who will listen and support you through the hurt you're feeling right now. This can be a friend, relative, therapist, doctor, clergy member, etc.

Next, you may want to share this, An Open Letter From Those Of Us With Borderline Personality Disorder, with them. I wrote the letter a few months ago, and it was my first blog post to go viral. It struck a chord with so many people suffering from BPD and their loved ones. I continue to receive letters from around the world from sufferers and their family, friends, and care providers.

I hope that sharing the letter with your loved one the next time you feel validated will give them a glimpse into the pain you experience, allow them to understand that you are not doing for attention and need their love and support, and relieve them from feeling that they have to be responsible to fix you.

In the meantime, please know that there are people out there who do and will validate your experience, and although it may not seem so at the moment, you are not alone in this.


Thank you for reading.
More soon.

14 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post!

    When it happens to me (also with BPD) the worst part isn't just the anger towards the ignorance but it's when i start questioning and criticizing myself. It's like fighting 2 battles then, 1 with the invalidating person and the other with myself and harmful coping mechanisms.

    When i hear people complaining about others with mental illnesses i honestly think that i get even more enraged. The number 1 thing that i hear people say is, " ___(insert name)___ just won't get their sh!t together, and i just don't understand why they..." At that point i just want to shout 'Stop! Shut-up and just leave it with that you don't understand, because that's the real truth.'

    Sorry for the long comment/ rant, have a peaceful rest of the day.

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    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your perspective, Moose. :)

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  2. This is something I've been struggling with more and more lately. It's so frustrating!! You always seem to know what issues are on my mind. :) Thanks for another great post. :)

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    1. Hi Melanie -- thank you for sharing. I'm glad this post found you at the right time, and as I said, you are definitely not alone in this. ♥

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  3. I agree with Melanie, another great post Debbie! However, oddly enough I have never had anyone question any of my diagnoses. Perhaps it's very obvious there are things wrong with me? :) That said there have been times where I stop and think "...maybe I'm imagining it all" but those moments don't last long! BPD Bunny xox

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    1. Hello, dear Rabbit -- thanks for sharing your experience. Maybe you are around more validating people, which is hugely awesome! ♥

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  4. I have been having trouble with this recently when dealing with the medical community, no less. So, I had a problem with my eye - recurring corneal abrasion. It's not common (seems nothing regarding my body is easy-I know that) Anyway, I had trouble with a nurse who has known me for years. I got so upset that I was doing the "sups" where you are crying so hard you can't catch your breath. So, I called my Psyche and talked to the head of the CSW (caseworkers) she helped me through it and then I went back and spoke with the staff, again. I believe the head caseworker must have called and spoke with them. Plus, the student Psychologist at the clinic I go to spoke to me about being frustrated etc., etc. It's hard to talk logically to someone about your illness when your in pain inside and out. You kinda gotta take a step back and re-evaluate and figure out how to explain things to some people-if you feel it necessary to explain. They say: There are the diagnosed and undiagnosed and I have found the undiagnosed people are really the ones that need the most help!!! Thought I'd share. Thanks for this...your great Deb. Keep it up! Love and Peace to you all. Holidays are tough enough for EVERYONE, especially us...

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Lori. As always, I appreciate you! Thanks for your perspective and for sharing your experience.

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  5. In general I am with you here! Especially people who have no connection to mental illnesses question it all the time and also go by the approach "I can make, it is not easy, but I can make it, so can you, you just have to want to" - like I just have to snap and there you go, I can be different.

    However, don't know how it is in the US, but I experienced over here in Germany that therapists ask: "What is the benefit of your illness?": also like why do you tend to fall back to it? Is it possible that you also get something from it that is beneficial for you? (to determine the wrong/unhealthy strategies to get us on the road to see that we actually have to go another path)

    Usually everybody (who has never been asked) will be like "What can be beneficial on that? It is a nightmare!" - I know this question already and especially in group therapy, I only smile to those reactions, especially when in hospital and the way I am, I like to tease with: "Isn't it nice here, people care about you all day, you don't have to cook, don't have to watch your children, don't have to work... I find that pretty beneficial" (which usually makes the therapists smile, which they really have to hide and the other group members are like "But I am sick, I have to be here")
    It is a hard road to go to admit that you might benefit from it and that you might be able to use it (and for me personally, I find it a lot easier to use, now that I understand that it is an illness) - because it is the easier way out at that time. And at the same time admitting that this has to change to get out of misery.

    As I said I also hate it to deal with people who have no idea of how mental illnesses work, but on the other hand I am of the opinion that going in yourself and realising that the illness in some cases became a tool to get through life and that it is an inappropriate tool in most cases now, is one of the first steps to see that change is really necessary! Why attempting to change if you don't really understand the reason why, if you keep on insisting it is the world around you causing your misery? Asking yourself if you are really just a victim to the illness or if it is actually controllable (consiously or subconciously)/beneficial might be a good exercise for Wise Mind maybe and a necessary step to Willingness.

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    1. Very interesting perspective that your German therapist asks, "What is the benefit of your illness" ! I would guess that the question is what are the benefits of identifying with your diagnosis and/or for engaging in maladaptive behaviors related to it...?

      I have to agree as I read on about what the hospital staff said. When I used to check in frequently to psychiatric wards, one of the definite benefits was feeling like others were taking care of me and keeping me safe. Thank you for bringing this perspective here!

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    2. "I would guess that the question is what are the benefits of identifying with your diagnosis and/or for engaging in maladaptive behaviors related to it...?"

      yeah that pretty much covers it. I think with asking directly for the benefit they might just play the devils advocate. it is pretty contentious, as pissed of as I was the first time a therapist asked me that (it was during an intensive outpatient program and I refused working with that particular therapist for quite a while, pretty much ignored her) - I think I understand now where it comes from and that it is worth a thought and brought me a huge step forward once I actually let myself into it. I don't think they want to play down the illness, but raise awareness that you are not a helpless victim but might be able to do something.

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    3. Very good point. In the US, this counseling approach is called "Motivational Interviewing." I was trained to use it a bit in case management.

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  6. This is a great post. I have Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder, and its especially hard if people don't take me seriously because I'm pretty normal in fall and winter and desperately depressed spring and summer without any apparent reason. Its just a lopsided disorder, and I've had people accuse me of making it up because the symptoms shift so much. My family teases me for being tired from medication for it, but I don't notice the tiredness as much as I notice how beautiful the world is with the SSAD stuff under control.
    Best of luck to you handling the invalidating people in your life :3

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    1. Hello Adrian. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Huge hugs, as it is not easy to receive these types of responses to our experiences. ♥ Debbie

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