What happens when confronted by an invalidating environment?
An invalidating environment can be the environment in which you grew up in but, can also be the environment in which you work, your marital relationship, your extended family, an organization that you want to belong, a group of friends, an environment you have been sent to, like camp, church, school, extracurricular activities, jail, or a foster home, etc.
There are different types of invalidating environments.
Sometimes the environment is just a poor fit. Let’s just say that you are a creative person and you are an emotionally sensitive person, yet the others within your environment are pragmatic, rational and feel discouraging to your pursuits. This poor fit can result in your creative spirit feeling like it is wrong or bad, that you are misunderstood, and ‘different’. A way to self-soothe through this poor fit might be to continually snack, over eat in order to make yourself feel like you fit, only exacerbating the feeling that you actually are the poor fit when weight is gained and you look and respond differently within your environment.
Sometimes the environment is chaotic. The others within the environment just do not validate themselves or anyone else. This environment can feel unstable, not able to provide the necessities, the environment can feel overstressed, resulting in the inability to be helpful to you or it feels like everyone else in the environment is always angry and frustrated at you, they don’t know how to be helpful and you as a result don’t know how to help yourself. This environment can’t provide the information you need in order to know how to live life in a positive and effective manner so eating in a healthy manner might be confusing. You might feel the need to control your food intake in order to compensate for the chaos, and yet binge when you lose control. A chaotic environment may provide too much food, or too little.
Sometimes the environment is abusive. The abusive environment can take many forms, from being physically abusive, sexually abusive, psychologically abusive, or emotionally abusive. Neglect is also an abusive environment as a passive form of abuse. In a neglectful environment you learn that what you want, need, do, and feel will be disregarded. This abusive environment can be expanded to other relationships in which invalidation can occur if others are told of the abuse and you are not believed or feel blamed. The abusive environment can also lead to the need to continually eat in order to self-sooth. Generally speaking, people eat in relationship with others and we learn how and when and what to eat in these relationships. Eating a fast-food restaurant, may be a ‘way out’ also a way to feel better and feel like you are able to get away to a sense of normalcy.
These invalidating environments can lead to emotion dysregulation because these unhealthy relationships can lead to the need to have unhealthy relationships with food, the need to self-harm, act out, feel bad about yourself, that something is wrong with you, that you are not important or have worth, all of which can lead to adopting habits of unhealthy food behaviors that interfere with the quality of life.
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