In my own defense…..

It is September 21st, 2017, my birthday, and I’m officially 48-years-old: an old fart…

Its 11:25 in the morning and I just had an appointment with my psychiatrist and took time to review where I’m at now. Honestly, I’ve been too busy. While I’m grateful to be on track, everything is happening at fast pace and at the rate I’m on going I won’t get a day off until I can move to a different schedule for my weekend job. I’m trying my best to carve out time out for myself whenever I have a spare minute. However, I realize this schedule can continue for very long.

I’m in the car right now trying to make the most of this drive time, and I’m dictating this post on a handy-dandy app I downloaded onto my phone….


I have this theory that life comes with its bitter pill we must swallow. I know this sounds a bit “Debbie Downer” of me, but bear with me. As I see it, this bitter pill represents an undeniable yet ugly truth of our lives. If we face it directly it causes us more pain then we’re prepared or willing to feel. So what we do is we engage in a willful denial of facts and create a reality that deletes these ugly truth out of the equation. The problem with this, is we end up perpetuating what we deny
We seek answers in the wrong places and end up chasing our tails like a hamster on a wheel. As a reformed-fuck-up, I’ve come to understand that the only way out is through. The truth will set you free.

(I realize I’ve said this elsewhere on this blog before. However, it bears repeating here.)

I feel like that kid in the emperor has no clothes fable who points out that the king is naked and gets in trouble for simply stating facts.

It’s truly a crazy making experience to be told that I’m supposed to treat truth as bullshit and bullshit is truth. Its as if those in my past expected me to help them deny what they hated to see. I was expected to collude with others in the maintenance of the pretty, self-deceptive realities we shared.  Unseen facts were my crosses to bear and theirs to benefit from since I was too young to know better.

If you’re a first-time visitor I’m sure this makes absolutely no sense. In this case, I suggest you read through my blog. I’m frankly not in the mood now to provide a detailed accounting of this experience.

My point is, I have this life to look back upon that is very lonely in the truest sense of the word. This loneliness – (in part at least) – meant my daily life was lacking in meaningful companionship, interaction, and belonging.  I’m at a point in my life now where I am not  willing to pay a price for the ignorance of others – even if this does mean I must watch them hurting. I must speak my truth and can’t afford to save others at my expense. I do not expect others to change or if knowledge my truth.

In this blog post I want to tell my side of the story: (or at least the Cliff Notes version of it)

As I write these words my mind is filled with memories of a childhood where I felt like a defendant in the court of public opinion. I was deemed guilty before I had a chance to speak on my behalf.  Nobody took time to understand what I was going through.  It’s not that they didn’t give a fuck or pretending not to notice….

…they just had more “pressing matters” to deal with and I wasn’t exactly high on their list of priorities.

Today when I speak with people who knew me as a kid – (whether family, friends or acquaintances) – it’s like a bad acid trip.  Through the eyes of all those who know me, I am able to see a version of myself that is always distorted and never flattering.  Instead, it is stereotypical and glossed over.  When viewing these preconceived versions of me side-by-side, I feel I’m walking through a hall of mirrors
No one took time to understand where I was coming from, when they drew their conclusions. Instead they acted as judge and jury.  I was screwed from the outset. You see, acknowledging me has meant facing ugly truths previously swept under the rug.  My only regret is I did not stand up for myself sooner in life.
 As that man in a monkey suit, I struggle to break free, but the zipper is stuck. I ask someone to help me but they don’t notice my inner struggle.  You see I’m just a stupid monkey. I urge them from within to look inside but they can’t see behind this frickin mask.  All I say and do is contextualized within this preconceived notion.  These preconceptions render the truth of who I am essentially invisible to all – including myself.  All that can be seen is this thick layer of bullshit ideas thrown my way.

There’s a standard and legal profession that I’m sure you’ve heard before: beyond a reasonable doubt. So they’ll does this mean?

So in my defense, what facts can be brought forth the produce doubts about the conclusions mad about me in the court of public opinion?  What follows is listing of unacknowledged facts – in no particular order that provide a solid argument against these judgments rendered upon me in the court of public opinion:

To continue click the links below


one day after the usual taunting and ridicule, we went to the locker room to shower and change. For the most part, the girls in my class ignore me, which was preferable to the verbal ridicule the boys always dished out

Around me several other girls started undressing talking about normal high school stuff like this party on this weekend or so and do’s boyfriend.  I remained quiet and simply went about my business thinking to myself, “they have no idea how lucky they are getting to be normal”.  However, at some point, I start noticing everybody giving me these funny looks.  Perturbed by the stares I gave the girl next to me the “evil eye” as she asks: “who bought you that underwear and why don’t you shave your legs?”  I looked down at my underwear, having not given it a single thought until that moment.  It was the underwear that my mother bought for me. It had pretty little pink flowers on it and was the modest granny style that my mother approved of. They of course have this fancy underwear that you get from the Victoria’ s Secret. The kind my mother would always comment that only “slutty girls” wear. Then, as I began examining my hairy legs I thought to myself in frustration at my mothers steadfast ignorance.
Point #1: “In my own defense”, I wasn’t only ignorant of the rules of law regarding fitting in. Doing so was legitimately complicated due to the isolation (both at home & school)…

He gazed upon me with that evil Cheshire Cat grin knowing full well all eyes are on us as he said, ”What the fuck is wrong with you moron, I’m talking to you!?!?”

I tried my best to ignore him and looked straight ahead. My face was burning hot and at this point very red as I realized everyone in the classroom stopped what they were doing to watch our exchange.  I honestly can’t remember at this point what our group project was that day, but our geography teacher had divided us up into groups.  I had the misfortune of being paired with three “gems”.
Point #2: “In my own defense”, I was truly alone & the chips were stacked against me.  School was a terrifying place.  My only defense was to retreat “within myself”.  By High School I was really known as “the girl who refused to talk”.

My sister & cousin don’t have a genotype / phenotype mismatch problem, they are “meat-suit matching”. 

“I don’t count” due to the random qualities that define my meat-suit.  My identity feels a farce, and I had to “act as if” I was what others deemed even though this was a lie.

 My sister & cousin were allowed the opportunity to live as a normal American Teenagers.

I was cloistered way like a nun.  I had no friends & was ostracized.  My different-ness stood out like a sore thumb in my small homogeneous town.

Point #3: “In my own defense” the issue of racial identity added to my insecurities.  I felt as if I “didn’t count” for an assortment of reasons.  Additionally, I was dealing with things, nobody could understand when you “live between two worlds.”

emotional parentification requires the child to fulfill specific emotional and/or psychological needs of a parent and is more often destructive for child development than instrumental parentification (Hooper, 2007a)”…”Scapegoat theory refers to the tendency to blame someone else for one’s own problems, a process that often results in feelings of prejudice toward the person or group that one is blaming. Scapegoating serves as an opportunity to explain failure or misdeeds, while maintaining one’s positive self-image” (Scapegoat Theory Definition, n.d.)

Point #4: “I had to provide support at the expense of my own well-being.  To this day, my father has received the fruit of my own emotional parentification by believing honestly that “I had a happy childhood”.  My mother has received the fruit of my role as the scapegoat by saying “my conscience has been resolved” 

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been an optimal target for bullies. In fact, as the “girl with the cooties”, bullying has always been a constant issue: from kindergarten at St. Agnes up through high school graduation.

Admittedly, the bullies changed from year to year, but they all saw me the same way. I was the perfect target: I am highly sensitive and don’t fight back….For those who have never been bullied, you’d be surprised to learn that the actual bullying isn’t the worst of it. The collateral damage it sustains upon your social life is devastating. You see, when you get picked on often enough at school people start to notice and a reputation develops. Now a “loser”, you’re essentially walking around with a scarlet letter tattooed to your forehead. Hapless bystanders, silently observe the altercations but do nothing. Instead they pretend not to notice. Fearing for their own well-being and hoping to retain their status within the social hierarchy, you’re now a social leper. A “dork-by-association” rule starts to govern all social interactions with you. Should someone dare say “hi” or strike up a conversation, they’ll hear about it later: “what the hell are you doing hanging out with that wierdo?!?!”
Point #5: “In my own defense”, I was really a deer in headlights.
A consistent diet of ostracism & bullying left me with a skewed perception of myself. I left home with this emotional hot potato…

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Validation What is it Exactly?

PART #1:  Validation vs Invalidation:

“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show and they had one thing in common: they all wanted validation” – Oprah

What is Invalidation???

While I haven’t been a therapist for very long, I have noticed that Oprah definitely has a point.  Every individual I’ve seen thus far simply seeks validation.  In fact, it appears to be a critical factor in the development of a therapeutic relationship.  From the outset, it seems my clients are asking themselves: “does this lady get it at all?” So with this in mind, I find myself asking the question, how can I learn to effectively communicate validation with my clients?  However, before I can answer this question, it may be essential to first start with defining the concept. Here a few useful quotes that tell us what validation “is not”:

Pervasive invalidation occurs when, more often than not, caregivers treat our valid primary responses as incorrect, inaccurate, inappropriate, pathological, or not to be taken seriously. Primary responses of interest are persistently squelched or mocked; normal needs for soothing are regularly neglected or shamed; honest motives consistently doubted and misinterpreted. The person therefore learns to avoid, interrupt, and control his or her own natural inclinations and primary emotional responses. Like a creature in a chamber with an electrified grid for the floor, he or she learns to avoid any step that results in pain and invalidation. (Koerner, 2012, p28-29)
How others understand your feelings when reacting with invalidation

How others treat your feelings when reacting with invalidation

Linehan, (1993), adds that invalidating responses cause us to feel others are ignoring, minimizing and/or punishing our inner emotional experiences. What are the consequences of emotional invalidation? A pervasive distrust of one’s own emotions, thoughts, and perceptions are inherently flawed. From within this preconceived vantage point it is nearly impossible to develop any sense of personal agency or sense of worth.  The predefined lens through which one enters life is defined by shame and self-invalidation. “self-invalidation refers to the adoption by an individual the characteristics of the invalidating environment” (71-72, linehan, 1993)

“in Invalidating Environments a person learns to avoid, interrupt, and control his or her own natural inclinations and primary emotional responses.  Like a creature in a chamber with an electrified grid for the floor, he or she learns to avoid any step that results in pain and invalidation…we avoid personal thoughts, sensations, or emotions that put you at risk of experiencing an invalidating event with someone else….”(Koerner, 2012, p. 6).

“Pervasive invalidation creates exquisite sensitivity. The slightest cue can set off emotional pain, the equivalent of touching third-degree burns…Because the individual cannot control the onset and offset of events that trigger emotional responses, the person can become desperate for anything that will make the pain end” (Koerner, 2012, p. 7)

Click here to read my post titled, “Shame, Invalidation & a Little Baggage”

So what is validation then?

validating responses teach us to use emotion to understand what is happening within and outside our skin as a moment-to-moment readout of our own state and our needs with respect to the environment. In an optimal environment, caregivers provide contingent, appropriate soothing for strong emotions. They strengthen and help the individual refine the naturally adaptive, organizing, and communicative functions of emotions. None of us get the perfectly optimal environment, of course. (Koerner, 2012, p. 28-29)

The essence of validation is this. The therapist communicates to the client that her responses make sense and are understandable within her current life context or situation. The therapist actively accepts the client and communicates this acceptance to the client. The therapist takes the client’s responses seriously and does not discount or trivialize them. Validation strategies require the therapist to search for, recognize and reflect to the client the validity inherent in her response to events. With unruly children parents have to catch them while they’re good in order to reinforce their behavior, similarly, the therapist has to uncover the validity within the client’s response, sometimes amplify it, and then reinforce it (Linehan, 1993, pp 222-223)
How others understand your feelings when reacting with validation

“A validating response occurs when a person expresses his or her private experience to another person and this expression is met with understanding, legitimacy, and acceptance of this experience (Linehan, 1997). A validating response does not directly seek to change or alter a person’s emotional experience. Instead, it seeks to highlight the emotional experience in order to facilitate an individual’s acceptance and experiencing of the emotion. This validation can influence individual emotion regulation in several ways. First, validating responses are believed to minimize the frequency, intensity, and duration of an emotional reaction, especially those involving negative affect, making regulation more likely. Second, validating responses promote the learning of skills for regulating emotions because they promote more disclosures of emotional states which facilitate the experiencing of an emotion and consequently its expression and regulation” (Fruzzetti & Shenk, 2008).
Validation promotes learning of emotional regulation skills.

Empathy vs. Validation.

“Whereas empathy is the accurate understanding of the world from the client’s perspective, validation is the active communication that the client’s perspective makes sense (i.e., is correct). To validate means to confirm, authenticate, corroborate, substantiate, ratify, or verify. To validate, the therapist actively seeks out and communicates to the client how a response makes sense by being relevant, meaningful, justifiable, correct, or effective. Validating an emotion, thought, or action requires empathy, an understanding of the particular or unique significance of the context from the other person’s perspective. However, validation adds to this the communication that the emotion, thought, or action is a valid response. Were the client to ask, “Can this be true?” empathy would be understanding the “this” whereas validation would be communicating “yes” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p. 456).

Empathy, What is it?

What is DBT?

Part #2: How to Validate…

In part one , I provide a “Cliff’s Notes Overview” to know about validation and information from various sources that can help us discern what validation is not.  In this section, I would like to review information from another resource that describes how we do validate others…

QUESTION ONE:  “What do we validate???”

Based on information reviewed thus far, its certainly clear that validation is a critical component in the therapeutic process.  However, the question which naturally arrises is “what should I validate?”  As a therapist, it would be a disservice to my clients to validate everything they say without question.  So what does it mean to validate?

With this in mind it is important to consider what we should validate as therapists.  Koerner & Linehan provide the following clarification:

“Validation means the acknowledgement of that which is valid.  It does not mean the “making” of something valid.  Nor does it mean making validating that which is invalid.  The therapist observes, experiences and affirms but does not create validity.  That which is valid pre-exists the therapeutic action” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p. 477).  
In other words, therapists affirm those aspects of a client’s experience that hold validity.

Treating invalid perceptions as correct and accurate is a disservice to our clients.  So how can we uncover and discern the grain of truth in a client’s viewpoint?  In the next section I will review a few suggestions from Koerner & Linehan (2004).

QUESTION TWO: How do we find  valid elements in a client’s exeriences?

Something can be valid based on an assessment of the empirical facts.

For example, I’ve had always had conflicting feelings about being biracial.  I don’t feel I’m accurately perceived am, due to the random characteristics that define my meat suit.  I also have quite a bit of baggage from my childhood due to racist and ethnocentric attitudes in my extended family. I try to validate my own personal sense of identity as a biracial person by reminding me of the empirical facts.  I have a Filipino mother and a white father.  Therefore, I am biracial.  Nobody’s opinions can render these facts invalid.

Sometimes a client’s perspective can be valid in terms of the pre-existing causal factors they describe.

One day, my sister and I were talking about various childhood memories and she made the observation that I could have handled the bullying differently.  I was too sensitive and isolated myself.  At the time she said this I was quite hurt, (this was several years ago). Based on an objective empirical assessment of facts – my sister certainly had a point.  However the problem with empirical assessments is that they are based on logic and external observation.  Left out of the equation were unique pre-existing causal factors that she overlooked.  Failing to understand my own subjective experience is failing to understand me.

Sometimes a client’s perspective can be valid in terms of their long term goals and the observed consequences of their actions.

“The client’s response may be valid in terms of past learning history…or current circumstances.. But her response may be simultaneously invalid in that it may be ineffective to her long-term goals” (Koerner & Linehan, 3004, p. 458).

QUESTION THREE:  When is validation contraindicated?

“The only true contraindication is that therapists should not validate invalid behavior. That is, the therapist does not want to validate responses that are dysfunctional and incompatible with progress toward the agreed-upon therapeutic goals” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p. 459),  Keep in mind, validation is a form of reinforcement.  It is a form of communicated acceptance that can act as a counterbalance to any chance strategies that are utilized.

QUESTION FOUR- How does one validate?

Step #1:   Know your client.

Know your client’s biopsychosocial history and the nature of their psychopathology.  Be aware of what is valid and invalid for the specific client with this information in mind.  “Does the response move the client toward his or her immediate or ultimate goals?” (Koerner & Linehan, 2094, p. 479)

Step #2:  Telling it like it is.

If something is valid affirm this fact to be client.  If something is not valid address this issue at the appropriate point in time, (depending on the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

“Step 3: Validate at the Highest Possible Level” (Koerner & Linehan, 2004, p 461).

What does this mean? Koerner & Linehan, (2004) are alluding to the idea that it isn’t just what you say but how you say it.  In other words, actions speak louder than words.

  1. The first step in validation is the listening to and observing what the client is saying, feeling, and doing as well as a corresponding active effort to understand what is being said and observed” (Linehan, 1997, p. 360)
  2. The second level of validation is the accurate reflection back to the client of the client’s own feelings, thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors” (Linehan, 1997, p. 360)
  3. ”In level three of validation, the therapist communicates to the client his or her understanding of aspects of the client’s experience and response to events that have not been communicated directly by the client.” (Linehan, 1997, p. 364)
  4. “At level four, behavior is validated in terms of its causes. Validation here is based on the notion that all behavior is caused by events occurring in time and, thus, in principle, is understandable…feelings, thoughts, and actions make perfect sense in the context of the person’s current experience” (Linehan, 1997, p. 367)
  5. ”At level five, the therapist communicates that behavior is justifiable, reasonable, well-grounded, meaningful, or efficacious in terms of current events, normative biological functioning, and the client’s ultimate life goals.” (Linehan, 1997, p. 370).
  6. “In level six, the task is to recognize the person as he or she is, seeing and responding to the strengths and capacities of the individual while keeping a firm empathic understanding of the client’s actual difficulties and incapacities” (Linehan, 1997, p. 377).

References

Gilbert, P. (Ed.). (2005). Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy. Routledge.

Koerner, K (2012). Doing dialectical behavior therapy: A practical guide. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Koerner, K., & Linehan, M. M. (2004). 68 VALIDATION PRINCIPLES AND STRATEGIES. Cognitive behavior therapy: Applying empirically supported techniques in your practice, 456-462.

Leahy, R. L. (2005). A social–cognitive model of validation. Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy, 195-217.

Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy. Empathy reconsidered: New directions in psychotherapy, 353-392.

McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2010). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, Emotion regulation & distress tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications

Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.

Newell, J. M., & MacNeil, G. A. (2010). Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue. Best Practices in Mental Health, 6(2), 57-68.

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