Mental Illness Validation: Tell Me 'I Believe You'
It's difficult for some loved ones to give us validation for our mental illness because they don't want to believe we're in so much pain that they cannot heal. Mental illnesses and the symptoms they cause can sometimes put us in a great deal of pain. We have a need to share our pain with others. There’s just a desire in us for people we care about to know that we’re hurting. We want them to know so they can comfort us, reassure us, and take care of us. Mental illness validation from our loved ones and doctors helps us to recover.
Mental Illness Validation May Be Hard to Get
Mental illness is often referred to as an invisible illness. That’s a good description for it because the pain caused by the symptoms of mental illness is not visible or readily noticeable. To be sure, there are other physical ailments that are also unseen, such as heart disease and certain types of cancer.
However, for some reason, with mental illness there is even more scrutiny by others. Some people, it seems, think it’s their call in life to disparage people who suffer from mental disorders (What Is Stigma?). Unfortunately, the attacks often come from the ones who are supposed to care for us the most. It’s sometimes our own family members attitudes about mental illness that can hurt us the most because they refuse to validate our mental illnesses. This can result in a constant tension with the sick person and the rest of the family (Cutting Ties with Family? Consider This Before You Do).
We Need and Want Mental Illness Validation
What we are wanting and needing from others is validation of our mental illness. It’s what we are needing from friends and loved ones. The simple root word "valid" means just that. It's another person saying to you that they hear what you are saying and that your thoughts and ideas about your life and your condition are valid. Probably the best way to express this is simply, “I believe you.”
So, why does it grate on us so much if people doubt our pain and minimize our mental illness and our suffering?
Mental Illness Validation Eases Self-Doubt And Guilt
We doubt ourselves. The most anxiety-producing thoughts are sometimes those in our own heads that deal with us being mentally ill and needing help. “What if I’m not really sick but just think I am?” we ask ourselves. “What if they’re right and I’m just lazy and using mental illness as a way to get out of work or some other unpleasant tasks?”
As mentioned previously, it’s often the people we respect and trust and who have a huge influence on us. We don’t want to disappoint them, especially if we already feel unlovable.
Her Father Could Not Understand Her Illness
I once knew a lady who suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS is not classified as a mental disorder, but it is another of those invisible illnesses. I would always see her working exceptionally hard. I knew of her illness, so one day I asked her why she worked harder than most others. “It's my dad,” she said. “He just doesn't understand that I'm sick because he doesn't comprehend how I could be sick and still look pretty healthy.”
That’s a perfect illustration of the person deeply needing and wanting validation from a loved one, and unfortunately, not receiving it. She worked harder so that somehow she could make her father accept and validate her and her illness.
By far, the most important place we need to be validated is with our therapist or psychiatrist. If they are questioning our integrity or minimizing things, it can fill us with fear and doubt (6 Tips On How To Find A Great Mental Health Counselor ). You should be treated with respect in your therapist's office. This means you should expect your healthcare professional to validate you and the concerns you have about your illness.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, October 15). Mental Illness Validation: Tell Me 'I Believe You', HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, February 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/10/validation-i-believe-you
Author: Mike Ehrmantrout
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I am retired honorably from Law Enforcement. I have been diagnosed with CPtsd primarily from extreme childhood trauma, including violent rape by stranger.
While get diagnosed I was re traumatized by very poor therapy methods. EMDR and no follow up resulting in decompression.
A domestic issue resulted in criminal charges that were dismissed.
Just getting back into volunteer work and I have become paranoid since after near 8 months, stopped receiving any more work.
I live in fear one Google article has ruined my life and I won't even be able to volunteer at even at a hospital.
My charges were dismissed but because others have used it to abuse me, I am even more depressed.
I am so sorry that this happened to you. As far as the volunteering, most people who actually know you will understand that you have your moments at times and if they are the caring type will give you the space to breathe and help guide you through whatever stress you have been feeling. It is not our job to educate others but it does seem to fall on mentally L people shoulders to do just that. Try to take it all in stride try to take a moment out of your day to just breathe and reassure yourself that you can do it and that you will succeed. Talking as a bipolar myself I understand the need to feel validated, and wanting to help and volunteer, but please know your limits. Surround yourself with those who understand or who are willing to put in the work those of the people you want around you.
I suffer from bi-polar disorder and my parents seem to think when I am having a bad moment that them saying oh snap out of it and grow up is the best way to help me. How do I explain to them that it is not that easy?
Great info. I'm new to this forum and I'm blown away by the wealth of knowledge shared among the bloggers. Thank you for sharing your expertise! Keep up the good work!
In my extended family we are not supposed to talk about mental illness which I believe creates a breeding ground for shame, and shame stops many if my relatives getting help. Another problem is that when my bipolar is in remission people think I am "cure", and get upset when I inevitably relapse. I've tried so hard to have a successful career so they will be proud of me but I never quite succeeded because of my bipolar.
I am lucky that my primary support network understand and I urge other people to make friends with other consumers (people with a lived experience if mental illness because they understand.
Recently someone posted about a psychiatrist said "you probably have bipolar but I don't want to label you", a doctor would not say that if she had broken her leg. Even some doctors are prejudice.
I would love some clarity around what mentally ill people sometimes think to themselves...
“What if I’m not really sick but just think I am?”
Just because you have that thought, it doesn't have to mean you are mentally ill. Sometimes it's temporary stress or anxiety or a symptom misinterpreted.
If the person was not mentally ill and had that thought, how would they deal with the thought compared to someone with a mental illness?
Of course it can be difficult sometimes to differentiate or categorize thoughts mentally ill people have and thoughts most everyone have once in a while. But I think the question overlooks the obvious, that healthy people and sick people often think the same thoughts, so the presence of those thoughts don't mean the person is necessarily ill. This is true, but the difference is that these thoughts can become obsessive and go far beyond the mere thought itself. And I think this would be a difference in that mentally healthy people can usually recognize a thought that is "off," where the mentally ill person sometimes has great difficulty dealing with certain thoughts that are obviously "off, " because they have a harder time recognizing that the thought is just a thought and may make no sense at all were the person not ill.
I have had PDTD for 15 years, all from being in the medical field, and I have a mental illness from childhood trauma and family deaths. I am on meds. But my biggest hurt is my family ignoring my mental illness. In fact saying to me you are just acting out to get attention. That hurt to the core.
My siblings have stayed away the past 3 and a 1/2 years since my dad died. Now that he isn't here they don't feel the need to connect with me. My mother is the same way. I have a husband and children but I have lost my family. Most people don't understand me but I just feel so disconnected and cut off now. I remember my dad always bringing everyone together and now that doesn't happen anymore.
Hi, Serena, I'm really sorry you are going through such a painful time with your family. I really don't have any advice, except to say this often happens in a family when a parent dies. I just want to encourage you to not give up on your family relationships, unless you must do so to safeguard your mental health. My thoughts are with you.
I have CPTSD. My abusers refused to validate any problems I was having. They blamed me for my suicide attempt. They tried to claim I am autistic despite the fact I tested as NT every time.
Hi Samantha. What you described is a perfect illustration of not being validated. I'm sorry that happened to you, because I know how it feels to be not validated and it's very painful. Good for you for believing and validating yourself.