We all want to be validated. It is essential to a healthy life. Yet it has a shadow side we need to understand. What is validation and how can it lead to a flawed view of reality? For starters…
- We are born with an innate desire for validation. Babies’ emotions, in part, are drawn from the caregivers around them. But as a child grows there is a “healthy” separation from the thoughts and emotions of their surroundings. When this is hindered, many children continue to seek this even in adulthood. This is why it’s so easy for adults to base their happiness and self-esteem on the opinions of others. We all suffer from this to varying degrees.
- Comparing can be good if celebrating differences and diversity. When I compare myself to you and celebrate the differences, the comparison becomes a strength. Celebrating diversity leads to a healthy outlook. When coupled with personal validation, it leads to “enrichment” – not “entanglement” and “entrapment.”
- Imperfection does not invalidate your value. Focusing on everything that is wrong is toxic. Fix what needs to be fixed, but focus on what is right and move forward. Capitalize on what’s right with your life. Make adjustments as needed.
- We are wired to see through the lens of “learned experience.” Often, though, the lens is out of focus. The result is a distortion of reality. Psychologist Charles Cooley identified the social phenomenon called “The Looking Glass Self.” Our self-image comes from our own self-reflection of what others think of us:
- “I am not what I think I am.”
- “I am not what you think I am.”
- “I am what I think you think I am.”
Self-reflection is only healthy if it’s based on your true self. So how do you maintain your true self – your moral center?
Here are 5 ways to move your brain from anxiety to validation.
1. Understand most people we know don’t think about us that much. Olin Mills put it this way:
“In my teens I thought everyone was thinking about me. As a 40 year old I thought ‘To hell with them, I don’t care what they think anymore.’ As a 60 year old, I realized they were all too busy thinking about themselves for me to be more than a blimp on their radar.”
The idea that people are watching and critiquing your every move is an illusion. It doesn’t exist in the way you imagine. The film on the walls of your mind are projected by your own fears and insecurities.
2. Acknowledge the triggers that set you up for external validation. How do your thoughts about what others are thinking play out in your life? What are the responses you regret? What would be a better response based on what you now know?
- I will not respond based on what others might be thinking.
- I will not let someone else’s opinion become my reality.
- I will not sacrifice who I am or inspire to be because someone might have a discouraging opinion.
- I will not base my self-worth on net-worth or the number of “likes” and “comments” on social media.
3. Know that what you know is better than “not” knowing what others think. Get comfortable with that! True confession: I always hope people will like what I write. Imagining that they don’t is not helpful. I’ve discovered it’s better to put my energy into writing than trying to know what I can’t know for sure. My motto has become, “as long as I’m not causing pain or damage, I need not worry about what others think of me.”
4. Let go of catastrophic thinking. Our brains trick us into thinking the end of the world is coming! It’s not. Anxiety? How long do you really think you’ll be anxious? The brain creates distortions that you’ll be “freaked out” for years. Reframe those thoughts. Some things you can’t control. There is a lot you can control. Use the flashlight in your brain to focus on that. You control the flashlight. Your mindset will begin to change. You will even develop a different – better – relationship with what you can’t control.
I live at the beach. Nobody tries to control the ocean. But you can surf the waves! I’ve seen many learn to surf the uncontrollable – one wave at a time.
5. Focus your attention on what matters. Your words and mannerisms always have a chance of being misunderstood and misused. So take the safest and most secure route. Behave and make decisions based 100% on your values and convictions. List what’s important to you and make those your behaviors.
What matters comes from internal validation. Random episodic behavior based on external validation is a snare.
What’s the secret to less heartache and disappointment? Care less about how others perceive you and more about how you perceive yourself.