By Meredith Elzy, Ph.D.
Doctoral Dissertation defended in 2013
Emotional invalidation is a construct closely related to childhood maltreatment, which has been linked theoretically and empirically to the development of psychopathology. This study sought to advance the empirical investigation into emotional invalidation through three primary objectives: 1) to critically review the way emotional invalidation is currently defined and measured in the existing literature, 2) to offer a novel approach at conceptualizing and measuring emotional invalidation as a two part construct comprised of emotionally invalidating behaviors and perceived emotional invalidation, and 3) to experimentally test the effects of invalidating behaviors on a person's perception of emotional invalidation and their level of emotional distress. Results suggest that the invalidation paradigm created for this study did lead participants in this condition to report higher levels of perceived emotional invalidation compared to participants in the neutral condition; however, they did not report higher levels of emotional distress. Potential moderation was examined for participants' levels of borderline personality features and childhood maltreatment based on the theoretical relationships among emotional invalidation and these constructs. Unexpectedly, participants' borderline personality features and childhood maltreatment histories did not individually contribute unique variance in the prediction of emotional distress, but together did predict higher levels of emotional distress. In regards to the perception of emotional invalidation, neither borderline personality features or childhood maltreatment were found to be significant predictors. The need exists for continued research in this area as many questions remain unanswered, and the implications for determining what makes some types of emotional invalidation harmful are significant.