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We live in a culture steeped in toxic positivity. Everyone has to perform upbeat, socially acceptable attitudes 24/7. We treat negative emotions as contagious. We don’t let anyone express sadness or vulnerability, because we’re afraid we’ll catch it. We force everyone to find a silver lining. We expect them to tack a happy ending onto every story, even if they have to lie. If they can’t, we invalidate them. We dictate how they should feel, and how they should express themselves.
Abusers rely on invalidation to ensure everyone in their lives continues putting up with their bullshit. It’s become widespread lately, as the supreme leaders of late capitalism look for ways to keep us in our lousy jobs, telling us to smile as they buy up ludicrous amounts of farmland and real estate. Their media machines are hard at work assuring us there’s nothing to worry about. We should celebrate owning nothing. We should stop panicking about new variants of deadly diseases, and just get back to work.
It doesn’t just respond. It says you’re wrong to feel the way you do. It tells you how you should feel. It tells you how you should express your thoughts and feelings. It also tells you when, and where. It trivializes your experience by comparing it to people who “have it worse.” Sometimes there’s a cursory preface that says, “I know you’re angry, but …”
The point of invalidation isn’t to have a dialogue, or to get you to see things from their perspective. It’s to make you feel guilty. It’s to make the conversation about your mistakes.
Invalidation rests on its own logical fallacy, that people who don’t speak out against unfairness or injustice they’re facing because they’re all full of grit and resilience. The truth is, many people don’t speak out against injustice and abuse because they’re just like I used to be. They’re scared. They’ve been conditioned to accept it. Anytime they do speak up, nobody listens to them. They experience shame and embarrassment.
This society lets people with power and influence get away with pretending they’re mature and self-aware when they’re not. It cedes space to them, over and over. It lets corrupt politicians and billionaires set the world’s moral agenda. It lets them shame us into silence, because nobody wants to be labeled as “negative.” Nobody wants to be told they’re “just complaining.” Abusive societies want the weak to either get stronger on their own, or suffer in silence. They consider that virtuous. Abusive societies tell you to smile, regardless of how you’re actually feeling.
It’s easy to silence someone by telling them someone else has it worse. It’s even easier to make them feel guilty for expressing criticism or pointing out hypocrisy. You can play whatabout with their emotions until they wish they’d never said anything in the first place.
You don’t respond to abuse with empathy. You don’t sit down with abusers over coffee and listen to “their side.”
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