Have you ever wondered how much of your own journey is spent seeking validation for your thoughts, feelings or achievements from others?
This post is inspired by a childhood favourite of mine, The Wizard of Oz. It is a movie that likely inspired my own desire to dream beyond the rainbow, to live in multicolour and to wear fantastic shoes. Or, perhaps my interest in those things are why the movie resonated so much! Watching it as adult, my focus was less on Dorothy’s journey and her realisation that there is in fact no place like home, but more on the pursuits of her lovable sidekicks: Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion.
We all know the story (spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph if you don’t and are not ready to). They joined Dorothy on her quest to find the Wizard so they could find what was missing for them. Whether it be a brain, heart or courage, it turned out they had each gift within them all along. Was that enough? No, knowing that they had what they had always dreamed of wasn’t enough. They were happiest when the Wizard rewarded them with validation. For the scarecrow, he received a diploma to certify his intelligence. The Tin Man gained a testimonial of his heart and the Lion, a medal to honour his courage.
So today, I ask this question:
Are you merely seeking that which you seek, or validation of it?
Read it back again and take a moment to reflect.
I will share my own reflections. Most of what we seek falls into the four desires sought by the characters in the film: brain, heart, courage, home. I relate to the recognition for intelligence. It was the reason I went to University, as I knew a degree would stand me in good stead to become a journalist (my earlier career choice). When my higher education was interrupted due to the onset of epilepsy, I felt like a failure. I sought to reclaim that by eventually taking up other courses. I have done so ever since, yet my most fantastic learnings have not been through a text book or course. When I’m able to stand back objectively, I can see a certificate validates my brain less than putting into practice what I know.
I seek validation of my heart. I love my family deeply and my career is dedicated to supporting others, but I need to know that I am doing a good job. I think if that validation was written down I would move forward with more confidence. Likewise, I have done many courageous acts in my life, but I have not realised my bravery until this has been recognised by others. Yet the validation does not affect my ability as a parent, coach or consultant, nor does it determine how brave or courageous I am.
Perhaps some of this resonates with you, or you are starting to think of how your own actions and feelings have been influenced by the need for validation from others. By now you may be wondering where this all comes from.
Why we crave validation
Our search for validation is the result of being fed it from the moment we entered the world. It’s a loop we get stuck in. If this validation is for achievements rather than for our self, we naturally grow to believe we must achieve to be validated. Praise and recognition make us feel good from an early age and we continue to seek that boost. Without it, we have a gap that needs to be filled. So we fill that gap with feelings of low self-worth. It’s the logic our brain creates: “I am not being praised for this, therefore I must not be good at it”.
It’s not the validation itself that means we are good at something. We could be doing something amazing, but if nobody tells us, sometimes we don’t even know ourselves. It’s starting to sound illogical now, isn’t it?
Why it’s a problem
It is easy to get trapped in the loop of enjoying validation and seeking your next fix, often at the detriment to being true to yourself. We all know that social media heightens the awareness of what others are doing and so therefore the potential to compare, imitate and seek validation. When this either fuels an insecurity or becomes an addiction, it can lead to lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
Validation from others is a short-term fix, but it does not heal the longer-term human desires for happiness, purpose and fulfillment. Relying on validation for a boost is one thing, but relying on it as a source of happiness is likely to leave you unfulfilled.
Relying on other people means you are allowing others to dictate your worth. Your worth is not determined by anyone else but you, so to reclaim that you need to break the loop.
How to break the loop
That gap, if not filled with validation from elsewhere, will remain. If we don’t fill it with feelings of low self-worth, we can fill it with something that’s going to feel more motivating. This means we need to create our own validation source. Enter self-validation.
We are not going to solve self-validation in a blog post, but we can start to appreciate it’s power.
Self-validation is about being able to determine your own self-worth, to understand your strengths, accept your limitations and celebrate your successes. It is about listening to and acknowledging who you are, without needing anyone else to validate that for you.
Seeking external validation is often the result of years of subliminal practice, so it’s going to take some work to build new habits. We can do this by repeating these 4 steps every time we feel the need for validation: recognise, listen, reflect, and accept.
- Recognise when you are seeking validation and take action against it, whether that be to take time away from social media, not to ask someone for validation or to actively take time to be mindful
- Listen to your self whenever you think or feel something that you are ready to dismiss, instead noticing and accepting it. Start to understand what motivates you and demotivates you, taking ownership for your own thoughts and feelings.
- Reflect on your emotions and experience using facts and kindness. Self-criticism is not welcome here. Know that having an emotion does not mean that you are the emotion (i.e. being sad is a response and does not mean you are a sad person)
- Accept that what you have felt or experienced is normal and it is part of who you are. Applying logic to your emotions will enable you to understand the process that got you there.
Recognising habits associated with seeking validation will set you on track to consciously step outside of your comfort zone and replace them with new habits, which will in turn have a more positive impact on how you feel. As you develop your self-awareness, you will be able to look inward when you need a boost, rather than seeking validation from others.
We are not the sum of our approvals, but we are the sum of our experiences, thoughts and feelings. The switch to self-validation requires us to look a bit deeper, to accept who we are and be able to move forward with that. Validation from others will always be there to give us a boost, but it doesn’t have to be what defines us and ultimately holds us back.
A mantra to end this blog post: “I feel good when you recognise that I have done well, but I am motivated by my acceptance of my own expectations, feelings and achievements toward my own success.”
What would yours be?