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.