05 April, 2016

Invalidation and disqualification

In several of my earlier writings and posts on social media, I have talked about how south India is notorious for its high rates of depression (much of which goes unreported due to social stigma). It is comparable to that of Scandinavian countries, which has the highest depression rates in Europe.

However, there is an important difference. Depression is primarily driven by physical causes in Scandinavia (specifically, lack of adequate sunlight in winters). In south India, it is primarily due to social causes.

For this reason, much of the cases of depression in south India -- severe, as they may be -- are not "clinical" cases.

However, perhaps due to a lack of adequate literature, or perhaps due to the fact that "Science" is still predominantly characterized and driven by the West, most "mainstream" therapists treat these cases as clinical and prescribe medicines -- usually hormone supplements or mood stabilizers.

But then, the patients would not really be suffering from hormonal imbalances, and these supplements often result in side effects like nausea, drowsiness, etc. During my student days (in the 1990s), I have even been subject to Ketamine injections to treat depressive symptoms. While they give instant relief, they usually end up making us feeling much worse over time. They do not address the primary source of depression -- which is social in nature, which is exacerbated by the drug side effects. Not only are social factors driving the patient to a depressed state, the effects of the drug make them even more vulnerable to these social dynamics that made them depressed in the first place!

So what are these invisible social dynamics that are proving so deadly?

For several years, I've searched hard to characterize this. I've trained my focus on distorted notions of "humility" that pervades our culture, which sometimes includes elements of submissiveness and slavery. Submissiveness and "surrender" are often celebrated and venerated as virtues in the name of humility and devotion.

However, while submissiveness and slavery are closely related, submissiveness or a "divine" form of surrender is also an integral element of any deep spiritual quest. It is quite easy to trace the roots of submissiveness in our culture to spirituality rather than slavery.

I have now come to believe that interpreting humility as submissiveness and glorifying it, is not really the source of rampant depression in our society.

There is I believe, something even more insidious than submissiveness.

This is the characteristic of invalidation and disqualification, which are again distorted notions of humility, but much more harmful than submissiveness.

Invalidation is the process of illegitimizing someone as a person. It is different from skepticism, disagreement or rejection. Invalidation does not reject a person's ideas or their values or their worldview. It is a judgement on the person and rejects the person itself.

Persons subject to repeated spells of invalidation ends up "disqualifying" themselves psychologically. They end up believing that they are illegitimate as a person and they don't deserve to exist. Routine life becomes an intensely painful experience for them, as they are continuously fighting a deep-rooted battle to retain their sense of an integral self. This deep-rooted battle is not visible outside, but it nevertheless has its impact on the person's persona and social life.

An invalidating environment is self-perpetuating, in that, a people who invalidate others are often struggling to validate their own selves. Hence, a self-disqualifying person would receive little or no support from others in an invalidating environment. Worse, they would probably be subject to even more judgement and invalidation due to their sub par social skills.

Invalidation does not need any kind of physical or sexual abuse. It does not leave behind any physical scars or hormonal imbalances. A sense of self-disqualification can set in by repeated exposure to invalidating stimuli. If a child is brought up hearing "No", "Don't", etc. or is lectured and chided at every step at home or at school or in the outside world in general, they end up disqualifying themselves. Similarly, if children are repeatedly ridiculed for their emotions, are ignored when they express an emotional need, or are told with the best of intent to "cheer up and be strong" or urged to be not so "selfish" and  "think about others" when they need emotional support, they end up disqualifying themselves.

Even worse, invalidation is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. When children are repeatedly invalidated, they end up treating the invalidating behaviour as normal and start acting in a manner that elicits such a behaviour. Hence, the more the elders and teachers worry and fuss about their children's inability (to perform well in school, for example) the more their children will act in a manner that will elicit such a worry.

And finally, self-disqualification is an intensely distorted form of humility. Self-disqualification is even more intense than self-deprecation, which is again treated as a virtue. Self-deprecation is superficial, while self-disqualification operates at much deeper levels. Self-disqualification is often masked in layers of denial or defense by rationalizing it away as being humble, or even promoted and advocated as a virtue.

After long years of suffering and even longer years of searching, I think I've finally got a handle on what is the source of depression that has brought much suffering to our society.


Bala said...

I could relate to the environment that I was grown.Being humble quite often tends to self-ridicule. I am curious to understand, if there is any reason why this trend is specific to South India alone ?

Srinath Srinivasa said...

It is not likely to be specific to south India alone and there would surely be other regions across the world with broadly similar dynamics.

Partly the following combination of factors help: a tropical environment rich with resources (which does not motivate the need for conquest and battle so much in the population), a pacifist worldview that celebrate inward looking spiritual pursuits, and running into conflict with changes that necessitate assertiveness and strong notions of ownership.