Sunday, November 13, 2016

Using Invalidation to Shut People Down

I talk a lot about how to validate other people's feelings, but I want to take a moment to talk about how to actually use invalidation in a positive way, to shut someone down if they are saying something racist, sexist, heterosexist, etc. This is basically the reverse of a technique I describe in the validation book, so I am trusting my blog readers to ONLY use this method when someone is saying something bad against a group of people, not to invalidate anyone's personal problems.

This is a much, much smaller issue, but when I was in college, I hung around with this group of girls who used to complain a lot about how other people dressed. They specifically had an issue with girls wearing spandex as pants, without anything over them. Whenever they complained about this, I told them that there was nothing wrong with wearing spandex as pants and that people could wear whatever they wanted, but they ignored me. They just kept talking right over me and it didn't matter what I said. So I switched tactics. Instead of telling people that they were wrong, I acted clueless. Our conversations went like this:

Person: "There was a girl in my class wearing super tight spandex today."
Me: "Uh-huh?"
Person: "They were skin-tight, you could see right through them!"
Me: "Uh-huh?"
Person: ....

Basically, I said "Uh-huh?" in the tone that says, "yeah, and?" as if I waiting for them to tell me that a dragon flew in through the window and ate the girl wearing the spandex. My tone indicated that there had to be more to the story than that, because someone wearing spandex to class is not any kind of a story on its own. And the thing is, it actually worked. When I used this method, people did just drop the subject because they did not know what to say.

Now, this is a dangerous thing to do when someone is talking to you about an actual problem that is effecting them directly - I actually talk in the validation book about how not to do this to anyone. But I've found that it was effective for shutting people down about the spandex issue. Saying "Uh-huh?" will not always be the best response, but you can pretend to be confused and not understand what the problem is. You can ask the person questions. For example:

If someone tells you that they were nervous when an African American person came into their store, that they were worried that the person might steal something, ask them, "What do you mean by that? Did he actually do anything threatening? It sounds like he was just looking around the store like everyone else." If the store owner claims that the person was loitering too long, say, "I do that all the time! I go into stores and spend forever looking through stuff and don't end up buying anything. I think pretty much everyone does that." Just keep defending the person with a tone of, "I'm totally clueless as to why you would think this person was stealing," thereby invalidating the idea that there is any reason to assume an African American person was going to steal anything.

If someone tells you that they were uncomfortable on an airplane because someone got on the plane wearing a hijab or a turban, ask the person, "What did the passenger do that concerned you? Did they say something threatening to you?" Again, sound totally clueless, like you have no idea why they might find this person threatening because you don't think of people wearing a hijab or a turban as threatening.

If someone tells you that a boy came into their class wearing a dress, you can try saying "Uh-huh," like I did with the spandex issue, until you force the person to actually say that they don't think boys should wear dresses, and wait until that point to tell them that anyone can wear whatever they want. Or you could ask what kind of dress the person was wearing and say, "Cute! I've been wanting to get a dress like that! Do you know where they bought it?" Speak with a tone that this is totally normal and acceptable, nothing out of the ordinary. Speak the way you would if someone were acting like it was front-page news that a girl wore a dress to class. Invalidate the idea that there is anything wrong or weird about a boy wearing a dress.

I'm normally against invalidation, but in cases like these, it can be a powerful tool. Use it wisely.

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