On The Notion Of Invalidation

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Listening to a preacher pontificate on our existential need for validation was so validating that my alacrity had no need to validate his claim. It sounded so right. Validation is that crave for others to attest our significance in who we are and attach meaning to what we say and do. We pant for confirmation especially from those we long for. Just as they make a difference in our lives, we desperately want to make a difference in theirs. And invalidation is when others seek to destruct our effects to be significant and meaningful. When they abuse our relationships, doubt  our endeavors, ignore our presence, reject our longings, they invalidate who we are and what we have become.

This solipsistic pastor was standing in the nave with his predecessor (who is also my friend) after worship service. Partly pleasantry, my friend affirmed, “Looks like you are doing a good work here.” The pastor pointed to the back of the sanctuary, “When you were here, that whole section was empty.”  He wasn’t finished, “Don’t you think the congregation has grown a lot?” It wasn’t a question, but my friend answered it anyway. His sarcasm kicked in, “Oh no. I think the congregation has more than doubled.”  The pastor bought it, “You think? I think you’re right!”  But my friend wasn’t finished either, mostly in jest “I know I’m right. Since I left, the number of people has doubled. The sanctuary is packed.”  Then he stared at the pastor with wide eyes. Imperious, he bought it again and added, “The church didn’t grow like that when you were here. Right?” Another time, another place, the pastor’s apparent invalidation would have been dyspeptic in my friend’s diffidence. But that day he was standing in a good space. My friend thought, “What a nincompoop! His need for self-validation was so severe that he had to invalidate me.” Still he felt a tinge of pain. “This pastor’s egregious invalidation is an evil thing,” he thought, “probably perpetrated by the hellish imps who have tied this idiot in a pathetic knot.”  My friend walked outside to get some fresh air.

Another friend’s mother was gravely ill. In a quiet afternoon, her two sons sat with their mother. My friend held her in his arms and looked back those two excruciating years of a long good-bye. Their mother took their hands and clapped them together. She looked at her younger son and graced, “After I’m gone, you take care of your older brother. He’s the only brother you have.” Then she turned to my friend, “You take care of your younger brother. There’re only two of you in this world.” They wept as they caressed their mother’s face. A few days later their mother died. Since, my friend has owned that afternoon as “a transforming moment.” Growing up, and separated by age and space, the siblings were not close. But their mother’s illness has strangely drawn them closer. This is how my friend remembers it. Their mother calls for filial piety. As the older and head of the family he is to stay close to his brother and take care of him. However, his brother took it another direction. Since he was wealthy, he is to support his older brother who is not so well off. In time, the two brothers chuckle over their diverse perspectives. And yet, their adherence to their mother’s exhortation magically validates their relationship. Once my friend rehearsed the episode to others, his wife was sitting with him. She immediately contradicted him, “No. That wasn’t what your mother meant.” Incredulous, wounded, he stared at her. He wanted to slash, “How dare you try to strip this from me when you weren’t there!” But he held his peace. For months, his wife’s words overwhelmed his angst. Why would someone who claims love for him want to nullify this transforming moment with his dying mother. No matter how he looked at it, her senseless invalidation was egregious. An insensitivity conjured from the pits of hell. Unlike my other friend, this friend carries the pains of his wife’s excoriation for life.