The Guide 20: The invalidating environment

Here’s a quote from Marsha Linehan (1997) …

“The environmental disorder is any set of circumstances that pervasively punish, traumatize, or neglect this emotional vulnerability specifically, or the individual’s emotional self generally, termed the invalidating environment. The model hypothesizes that BPD results from a transaction over time that can follow several different pathways, with the initial degree of disorder more on the biological side in some cases and more on the environmental side in others. The main point is that the final result, BPD, is due to a transaction where both the individual and the environment co-create each other over time with the individual becoming progressively more emotionally unregulated and the environment becoming progressively more invalidating.”

Marsha Linehan, is famous for her work on the subject of Borderline Personality disorder and the creation of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, a blend of various principles from cognitive therapy and Zen Buddhism among others. Linehan studied the various factors that contribute to the creation of Borderline Personality Disorder and looked both at the causes and the ways to overcome them. The result, DBT is one of the most evidence-based and verifiable approaches to the treatment of people diagnosed with BPD.

We’ll look at DBT in more detail in a later post. For now I’d like to spend a little time covering the very basic principles of what Linehan called the Invalidating Environment’.

“An emotionally invalidating environment is any environment in which a person’s emotional experiences are not responded to appropriately or are responded to inconsistently. For example, in an emotionally invalidating home environment, a child who becomes frustrated and cries may be told

“stop being such a baby.”

“In extreme examples, a child may be physically assaulted for expressing feelings. ”

Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD 2008

Trauma does not necessarily need to be acute (sudden/intense). It can be chronic (long-lasting) and might be relatively undramatic. This is the case with the Invalidating environment that Marsha Linehan identified.

In essence the very basis of emotional development is destabilised by the environment itself – or rather by the people who share that environment with the developing child. And it doesn’t really matter what the response is so long as it demonstrates that the child is ‘in the wrong’ or that their feelings are somehow inappropriate.

In truth all people have a perfect right to feel whatever they feel in any given situation. That is our private emotional life and it’s entirely up to us how we run our emotions. It may be reasonable to help people to control their emotions better but the fact remains that they can choose what emotion to feel for themselves. They can feel whatever they like.

The only real question then might be:

“But why would you want to?”

By helping people to understand their choices we can help them to develop self-control. By invalidating the choices they have already made and blaming them for feeling bad for example all we do is introduce doubt and confusion into their emotional world. After a while the child comes to believe that they can neither control nor even trust their emotions. This is one possible explanation for the recurrent emotional turmoil in adults diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. They don’t trust their emotions enough to know what to feel and so they end up experiencing a jumbled emotional mass that they cannot fully understand.

It is not necessary for the child to be beaten or abused sexually for this to happen. All it takes is for the child to be exposed to consistent criticism or for their beliefs to be undermined without rational explanation. If the way the child is treated by caregivers is inconsistent or if they are placed in the stereotypical ‘double-bind’ situation in which whatever they do they will be wrong then we have an Invalidating Environment as just a more recent restatement of George Brown’s earlier work on High Expressed Emotion that we discussed in an earlier chapter.

The antidote to this is to acknowledge the child’s feelings – be clear that they are perfectly entitled to feel what they do and then, whenever possible, ‘catch them doing it right’. Many households have fallen into the habit of catching the child doing things wrong and then either punishing or mistreating them as a result. This is one of the hallmarks of an Invalidating environment.

The validating environment is at least as likely (if not more so) to catch the child doing it right – especially in matters of emotional control. So the child who feels angry but then manages to control their aggression is praised for their control – not criticised for the anger. The angry emotion is acknowledged as valid even if it’s not the best or most effective emotion that the child could have chosen. It’s OK to explain that anger is not always an appropriate response in difficult situations (that’ helps the child to develop understanding) but not to say that the feeling itself isn’t valid.

  • There’s a time and a place for every emotion – even anger.
  • A validating environment catches the child ‘doing it right’.

I need to be absolutely clear here – the invalidating environment is not the ‘norm’. Almost all families have moments of invalidation during which people’s emotions and opinions are not considered. As a father and stepfather I am well aware of the limitations of ‘good enough’ parents and none of us are perfect. This is not a problem.

Invalidating environments are those in which criticism and invalidation are constant. It takes more than the occasional row with your mother to constitute an Invalidating environment. It takes more than the odd inattentive moment from your father. These are the normal experiences of the average childhood.

In the Invalidating environment the child is seen as a problem ‘in themselves’. They are criticised for having problems and the ease with which those problems might be solved is also exaggerated. The child is then criticised for failing to solve the problem on their own and then, to add insult to injury, further blamed and criticised for feeling bad about their inability to overcome their difficulties.

The net result of all this is that the child grows up believing themselves to be useless and possible even ‘evil’ or ‘unworthy’. They experience guilt about every little mishap – even if it’s not their fault because they failed to prevent it (as usual) and they also come to believe that they cannot rely upon themselves to keep safe. So, no matter how toxic the environment they are in might be they are frightened of being rejected by those they are close to. They are frightened of abandonment because they do not trust themselves to survive alone.

They can’t even decide what to feel unless someone else tells them. This, of course, means that adults with a history of Invalidating Environments as children often lurch from one abusive relationship after another because the control they experience lets them off the emotional hook. They can rely upon others to tell them what to feel. It also explains why it can be so hard for them to remain in more normal relationships where they are expected to run their own emotional life. After all – a caring partner will want to understand what the other person feels. This is a source of real confusion and often fear for the individual who has never learned to make sense of their emotions in the first place.

The Care Guy giveaway

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The Battle of Cable Street – 79 years ago today

The East End of London has long been a melting pot. My own experience of working within several East London boroughs has been both fascinating and positive. The chance to meet, work with, talk to and train colleagues from so many different cultural, religious, national and racial backgrounds has been a boon and an education. I’ve met and learned from so many people whose experiences and approach to life has only ever enhanced my own.

Cable Street Moseley inspects the marchersJust as it is today, the East End was home to a diverse, multicultural community and then, just as now, outsiders with a political axe to grind saw the area as a target to stir up trouble.

On Sunday October 4th 1936 the British Union of Fascists, a group of Nazi sympathisers led by Oswald Moseley planned a march into the East End in opposition to the area’s Jewish residents. The BUF drew its members from all over the UK, expecting to overwhelm the locals with their numbers. Moseley had pulled out all the stops to get up to 5,000 fascists to descend upon London on that fateful afternoon. You can watch a newsreel from the day here.

Then, as now the locals were having none of it. Fascists have never been welcome in Britain and no matter how hard they try they never manage to outnumber the opposition when they descend upon a town, city or Borough.

The Battle of Cable Street was a major turning point in the fortunes of the paramilitarised, uniformed British Union of Fascists. This was the day that ordinary British people showed them exactly what they thought of racism, Nazism and Fascism and it wasn’t pretty.

Today’s uniformed fascists might do well to take notice.

The impact that Cable Street had on the British Anti-Fascist (#Antifa) movement is perhaps best illustrated in this song ‘The ghosts of Cable Street’, written by ‘The men they couldn’t hang’ in 1986 to celebrate the battle’s 50th anniversary. Like Cable Street’s legacy itself, the song has stood the test of time. Click here to play the video.

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“I’m not being racist but….”

If you need to say it…. watch this video.
If you don’t need to say it…  watch anyway. It’s an hilarious way to make the point.

If you’re really not being racist you don’t need to say “I’m not being racist, but….”

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Civilisation book 4 PDF

Civilisation book 4 coverThis weekend I completed the fourth part of my ongoing series on the development of human civilisation. It’s a bit of a milestone. We just crossed the 1000 AD barrier with Eric the Red who died early in the 2nd millennium. Not bad for less than 10 months of blogging, eh?

The first four PDFs take us from the 27th century BC to the threshold of the High Middle Ages almost 4,000 years later. That’s been a lot of words to write and an awful lot of research to do.

The research is the point though. This is all about learning and I have to say the journey thus far has been fascinating and extremely enlightening. Already I’ve gained some surprising insights into how the things we take for granted came to be, how they might have been different, how they might be improved and crucially, why we shouldn’t rely upon them indefinitely.

As we move nearer and nearer to the modern era the picture will become more complicated and the pace at which we move through history will become slower. We know much more about more recent times and we will have more developments to cover in each successive period.

Part 5 will begin with The Battle of Lechfeld. Yes, I know you’ve probably never heard of it – neither had I until recently. Would it surprise you to know that without this little known battle we might never have had a Feudal system? Without Otto I’s victory at Lechfeld The great stirrup controversy (I kid you not) wouldn’t even be a thing, the mounted warrior class (knights) arguably would never have developed and the entire medieval landscape would have looked very different. As a result, modern Europe would have developed into something far removed from what it is today. It may well have been something a great deal better had our ancestors not been beaten into submission by the ‘might is right’ philosophy of the Feudal aristocratic, warrior class.

You can download each part of the series so far here.

I hope you’ll stick around for the rest of the series. It’s going to get even more fascinating from a modern, social perspective from here on in.

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Eric the Red (950 – 1003/4)

Welcome to the ‘Civilisation’ blog series. This is my attempt to categorise some of history’s most famous (and infamous) names. Sometimes it’s serious and sometimes it’s silly. I hope you like it.

Eric the Red had a bit of a chequered history, not that there was anything unusual about that so far as Viking voyagers went. As a boy he left his native Norway when his father was banished for killing a neighbour. The family moved to Iceland where he lived until he too was banished in 982. Eric outdid his father by being banished for not one but actually quite a lot of killings in their new home.

It seems that Eric brought it all upon himself by starting a feud with a neighbour called Valthjoff. Basically he had his servants cause a landslide which covered part of Valthjoff’s land. Valthjoff’s friend, Eyjolth the Foul (I kid you not) killed the servants and Erik killed Eyjolth and another man of his company in return.

A little later, in an entirely unrelated incident, Erik had a dispute with Thorgest over some timber which apparently had some special sentimental or religious significance for Eric. When it became clear that he couldn’t obtain the beams in question Eric killed Thorgest’s two sons and their followers. The result of all this disruption was a full scale feud involving several Icelandic families of the kind that could easily have torn the community apart.

In true Icelandic tradition the feud was resolved by the community council. All sides were given the chance to speak and to be heard before the council made a decision about how to restore the peace. The judgement was straightforward and probably just given that Eric had been the cause of so much disruption. He was to be banished from Iceland for a period of three years.

Greenland on world map

Eric set off to find a recently discovered group of Islands to the West called Gunnbjorn’s Islands after their Viking discoverer, Gunnbjorn Olfsson. From here he struck further West until he reached Greenland where he and his crew established the island’s first Viking settlement in the South. This is a significant event. At least two earlier Vikings, Gunnbjorn Ulffson and Sanebjorn Galti had already encountered Greenland but only Eric had managed to establish a permanent community there.

Eric the Red (so called because of his flaming red hair and beard) returned to Iceland in 985 once his banishment ended and set out to encourage others to join him on his new discovery. It was a harsh place to live and so, to encourage more people to join him he named the island Greenland – an early example of spin-doctoring if ever there was one. I can’t help but wonder what the new colonists thought in 986 when they arrived in their new home to find that it was even colder and less inviting than the Iceland they had left behind.

Over the ensuing years Erik’s original settlement grew and expanded to form three different communities, each located in the more hospitable Southern side of the island. More and more colonists arrived from Iceland, escaping overcrowding and disease until in 1002 disaster struck. At least one of that year’s immigrant vessels carried disease which took hold on Greenland just as it had in Iceland and devastated the little community of around 5,000 people. Eric himself died of the illness soon after, during the Winter of 1003-4 while his son, Leif was off exploring the Western ocean.

Fortunately for history, Leif Ericsson survived. We’ll meet him later. He was the original European discoverer of America (way before Columbus).

You can find links for each post in the Civilisation series here.


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A video from youtube: ‘Muslims aren’t dangerous’

Watch this video. It’s less than 5 minutes long. It’s so well put.

Muslims aren’t dangerous…

Muslims arent dangerous video youtube

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Battle of Britain ends

Herman Goering

Herman Goering

“Never, in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

(Winston Churchill)

75 years ago on this day, September 17th, 1940 the Battle of Britain finally came to an end. The Battle (more accurately the ‘campaign’) was a fight to the death between Hermaan Goering’s Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force’s ‘Fighter command’ led by Sir Hugh Dowding. Goering, a World War I flying ace with an attributed (but somewhat disputed) 22 combat kills to his credit had convinced Hitler that the Luftwaffe was up to the task. He was adamant that a campaign of airborne assaults from junkers bombers supported by Messerschmitt fighters could weaken Britain sufficiently for an easy German invasion across the channel (Operation Sealion). The plan was to destroy airfields, munitions factories and naval bases (along with shipping) to allow the planned Operation Sealion to proceed unhampered by British defences.

Fortunately for the Brits, the Luftwaffe had no experience of this sort of combat. Their previous successes had been as part of Blitzkreig (lightning war) where they were deployed mainly as support for infantry and armoured divisions on the ground. They lacked the experience of mounting long-range sorties and even their fighters’ ‘dog-fight’ tactics were hamstrung by the need to maintain close protection for the more vulnerable bombers.

Another difference between Blitzkreig and the Battle of Britain was the lack of surprise. Short-range sorties by Stuka dive bombers were one thing. Crossing the channel in formation with slower bombers delaying their progress was quite another. Added to this, the British development of Radar technology made it impossible for the Luftwaffe to use stealth and they rarely had the opportunity to bomb British planes on the ground as they intended. By the time they made landfall the skies were usually filled with Spitfires and Hurricane fighters ready to give battle.


To add insult to injury, German fighters had more limited range than the bombers they protected which meant that they were unreliable protectors. Not only that – they had nowhere to refuel or to resupply themselves with ammunition as they fought over the English South coast. British pilots had more fighting time in the air and could resupply and return to the battle quickly whereas their German counterparts could not. Even when shot down a British pilot could bale out, get another ‘kite’ and rejoin the fray. Germans who parachuted to earth were out of the war for the duration.

Despite Goerring’s bravado it became clear that the odds were stacked too highly against the Luftwaffe. Not only was the attempt to establish air superiority over Britain futile – it was drawing men and machines away from the Eastern theatre of war where they would soon be needed in the war against Russia. So he changed tactics and diverted bombing raids from airfields and navy bases to cities like London and Coventry.

On September 17th Hitler postponed the Battle of Britain indefinitely (and by extension, Operation Sealion which had depended upon the Luftwaffe’s success).

What Hitler didn’t know was how close Goerring’s Luftwaffe came to victory. The 12 weeks attrition of the Battle of Britain had seriously depleted the RAF’s supplies of fuel, men and machines. It has been estimated that the Royal Air Force was no more than 24 hours away from capitulation when the Germans gave up.

It’s true that Goerring really was the short-sighted fool that history paints him as. But, if for no reason beyond the prolonged onslaught and the toll it took on Britain’s meagre resources, his precious Luftwaffe almost won the day. Were it not for Hitler’s impatience with his enormous Luftwaffe head’s blustering, Operation Sealion might well have gone ahead unopposed, the Normandy Landings might have had nowhere to launch from and the Germans might well have won World War II.

“Never, in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

17th September 1940

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