Why We Invalidate Others When We're Not Meeting Our Own Needs
Updated: Jan 27, 2020
When I was in graduate school, we had a lot of group projects, and it was often hard to find a time when everyone could meet. While most of my classmates lived close to the school, I had an hour-long commute. I always asked if we could schedule group meetings for evenings that I would already be on campus for class, but I had accepted that at some point, I may have to drive all the way to campus on a night that I didn’t have class just for a 20-minute meeting.
One time, when I was meeting with a new group of project partners after class, we started to discuss when we could meet. The only time that worked for most of the group members was on a night that I didn’t have class. I agreed to the meeting time, even though it meant an extra 2-hour round trip for me. After most of us had agreed, one group member said that she couldn’t come because she lived an hour away, and it was too much to drive all the way to the campus just for a meeting. She said she would only be able to meet on the night that we were already on campus for class. It wasn’t negotiable for her.
At first, I felt angry at her. Internally I was thinking, Why should she get to say that when I’m willing to meet? I had an instinct to tell her that I also lived an hour away, as a way of invalidating her reason for not being able to come.
But then I took a step back and asked myself why I was angry at my classmate. I talk so much about everyone’s feelings being valid, about it being okay if you’re not willing to do things that other people are willing to do. Yet at that moment, I had a strong urge to tell her that her reason for not coming to a meeting was not legitimate.
And the more I thought about it, I realized that I wasn’t angry at my classmate – I was angry at myself for not being assertive and not setting the same boundary that she had set. Deep down, I wasn’t okay with having to drive an hour to campus for just a 20-minute meeting, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t think everyone would accept it if I said that it wasn’t an option for me. When my classmate said that she lived too far away to come just for a meeting and the rest of the group accepted it, it made me angry that I hadn’t had the courage to say the same thing. If I had spoken up as well, we might have come up with another solution, such as some of us joining the meeting via video chat, or finding another meeting place that was more of a central location for everyone. My urge to invalidate my classmate and her needs came from the fact that I wished I had validated myself and my own needs.
Sometimes when we’re tempted to invalidate someone, it helps to take a step back and ask ourselves why we feel that urge. When we have thoughts like, That’s not a valid reason, I still pushed through when I was going through a lot more than you, we need to step back and ask ourselves if our anger stems from the fact that we didn’t validate our own needs, or that someone else didn’t validate our needs. Maybe deep down, we’re really not okay with the fact that we didn’t take the time off that we needed when we were going through a difficult time. Maybe we were never okay with pushing through, but we felt like we didn’t have another choice.
When I stepped back and realized why I wanted to invalidate my classmate for setting limits on when she could meet, I recognized that I wanted to become more assertive and be willing to set the same limits. If we can all take a moment to acknowledge the areas of our lives where we didn’t stick to our real limits, where other people pushed us or where we pushed ourselves past what we were okay with, then instead of invalidating others, we can learn more about our own needs and how to meet those needs going forward.