Sensitivity, Invalidation, and Learning to Be a Cocky Asshole
In my last post, Three Sensitive Men on Television, I commented on how Dr. Cal Lightman on Lie to Me is portrayed as somewhat jaded by his "sensitivity", his ability to see lies everywhere, and how it can hurt to know things. I'd like to expand on this theme about one of the primary ways it can hurt: invalidation.
Now Cal is a cocky asshole who it turns out deserves to be a cocky asshole because he is pretty much always right, even though in just about every episode there is someone around him who invalidates him, doubts him, thinks he's projecting or letting his ego get in the way. I'm not talking about him manipulating and toying with people and sometimes just plain being mean. I'm talking about his confidence in his skills at reading people. I only wish I was half as much of a cocky asshole as Cal, but in fact even though I'm often, probably usually, right, I've let myself be destroyed by invalidation starting in childhood. I have really terrible self-esteem. I always thought I was the fucked-up one.
Acute perception is particularly a problem in relationships, and you see that on the show. It is a problem because most people don't like being called out on their bullshit, they often deny their true motives, and sometimes they aren't even aware enough to realize when they are lying to themselves. This is very confusing when you are on the other end and a person's words are saying one thing but their energy is saying another.
There is a term in psychological circles called gaslighting, based on an old Ingrid Bergman film where the man she is dwelling with makes her doubt herself and her sanity by doing a variety of things to make her question her perceptions, such as causing the gas lights to flicker while denying it. Gaslighting means manipulating someone into believing that the manipulator is being truthful and they (the person perceiving accurately) are the crazy one. It is often done to empaths by narcissists and probably more subtly in most relationships by people who are not consciously out to be manipulative, but are simply ruled by their own shadow. That is invalidation. As a sensitive person, in some respects, the whole of popular culture invalidates your awareness.
Because I was well-schooled in New Age conceptions of egolessness and non-duality, I used to think that when I was feeling bad it was ALWAYS my fault, that I shouldn't have any negative feelings or emotions if I was perceiving the world correctly, that if I did I was taking things too personally. I gave a lot of people the benefit of the doubt and let them walk all over me. I spent a lot of time second guessing what people really meant with their words and fretting over whether I was right or wrong or at fault and trying not to react. I ignored my perceptions and let myself be invalidated time and time again and it drove me bonkers.
I don't do that anymore because I believe it is healthy to feel negative emotions when negative things are going on. It is healthy to embrace duality. I think that there is a Truth and the truth is some situations are just plain shitty. You can't be a victim of this kind of behavior unless you allow yourself to be. Now I'm a lot more willing to simply walk away from people who invalidate me. I believe I deserve better. I'm also more willing to call these people on their bullshit, though I've got nowhere near the balls or the certainty of Dr. Cal Lightman. But if you're facing this kind of challenge here are two pieces of inspiration:
One of my exes, one that I fought with often, and I should't have been with as long as I was, wrote me a long email months after we broke up. True to his style it contained a healthy dose of flattery and a healthy dose of self-victimizing bullshit denouncing my character, but it opened with something like: "If I have one regret, it's that I never gave you credit. You were always right."
Stay strong and your validation may come when you least expect it.
And the second piece of inspiration? In the end of the movie, Ingrid defeats the bad guy and tortures him.
-Emily, The Super Sensitive Human