A common thread that runs through a lot of the issues my clients bring is validation. By validation I mean the process of being confirmed as ‘ok’, ‘acceptable’ or ‘good enough’. For many individuals this sense of being ‘ok’ is derived from others or how we imagine others think of us. We need others to consider us interesting in order for us to feel interesting. We need others to think that we are beautiful in order to feel beautiful. We need others to think that we are intelligent in order to feel intelligent. We need others to give us permission to feel ok before we give ourselves permission to feel ok.
And what’s wrong with that you might ask? On the one hand we are social animals so of course what other people think of us is important. If we were not influenced by others’ perceptions, what that would make us? Psychopaths?
There is nothing wrong with being influenced by others. However if you imagine there is a continuum going from one extreme of needing others to validate our experience to the other extreme of not needing anyone to validate our experience, I suggest that being closer to the centre of the continuum would feel better. Firstly, if we are dependent on others’ validation in order to feel ok then we can never feel ok within ourselves. Instead we feel anxious and uncertain each time we think we have upset them.
Secondly it takes up a lot of energy to be constantly evaluating oneself on whether we are worthy of approval. It’s tiring! Not to mention how frustrating and irritating it is to strain so hard for others’ confirmation. Although often we hide these angry feelings from ourselves, they show up when our attempts to get approval from another are rejected. Then we might think, ‘how dare they not like me when I was trying so hard’. We might react to the rejection in a way that is disproportionate to the situation for example feeling furious or devastated.
Lastly, it is often a futile task. Think about the people that you find most interesting or attractive. They often have an easy-ness about them, the ease of being ok with themselves, the ease of not having to try too hard to please. This enables them to be spontaneous and to feel excited in the moment about their encounter with you. This is what makes them attractive to others. Indeed it is precisely this element of openness and spontaneity that we lose when we are trying so hard to be validated. We may succeed in portraying a polished image however in exerting such control over ourselves we also manage to polish away qualities such as openness, vulnerability, ability to be with uncertainty and sensitivity to the environment and to others. These are qualities which we find endearing in others We’ve probably all been in the presence of people who seem to have mastered the social game and yet they do it by not allowing anyone else a word in edgeways, or by asking lots of questions without giving anything away themselves. Somehow we find ourselves glazing over or getting bored.
So how do we feel more ok with ourselves? Well I can’t offer a ‘magic wand’ cure. However the journey starts with learning to validate oneself more. In order to do this we need to get to know ourselves so that we can connect with our own signs and signals that we are doing ok. The route to this is through our bodies. Our body sensations and emotions provide important messages about ourselves. From time to time throughout the day try asking yourself the simple question, ‘am I doing ok in this moment here and now?’ Then close your eyes and go inside to feel the answer. Wait for the voice that may be weak that tells you that you are doing ok. Be patient and let it tell you exactly how you are doing ok in this minute. Notice the body sensations and emotions that go with it. For example a client in therapy looks at me as if seeking my approval on what she is saying. I ask her to see if she can approve of herself. She takes a moment to reflect, notices a warm steady glow in her chest, a quietness and absence of anxiety. She connects these sensations and emotions with something positive. She realises and tells herself that actually she is doing ok right now with me. She even manages to elaborate on why this is. She is self-reflecting, courageously exploring herself and taking the risk of sharing difficult material with me. Indeed therapy is hard so dammit she is doing more than just ok!
So go on, try it and let me know how you get on?