A Somber Realization)
Yesterday I brought up the common sensation we all have of not being appreciated as we ought to be. I examined why others don’t validate us in the way that we wish they would, and I also pointed out that in many cases they literally can’t.
At this point one has to make their peace with a fact of life: you will never receive exactly the validation, recognition, and appreciation that you desire from other people. Some people, some of the time, might say some of the right words, but there will always be some things left unseen, unappreciated, and unsaid.
This realization brings one to a crossroad. On the one hand, you could simply accept this dissatisfaction as a necessary part of life, an unpleasant but unavoidable reality that you just have to bear and move on with. On the other hand, you could start to consider outside solutions. Maybe no other person can give you all the validation that you need, but is it possible that you’ve been looking in the wrong place for it all along?
To choose that satisfaction is impossible is the more cynical option, it is to accept life as inherently broken. Unfortunately, some might aspire to such a cynical view as a show of strength. They might say, “I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be happy.” In my experience, however, simply denying the longing inside me does nothing to make it actually go away. I might say it doesn’t bother me anymore…but really it does. And so long as it’s going to keep bothering me, I may as well see if there’s not an alternative.
And in my contemplating, I have come up with two better, more reliable sources of validation. Today we will look at the first.
One of the problems I mentioned with seeking approval and validation from others is that most of the good we do in life will be imperceptible to those around us. Another reason was that even when our good is recognized, the exact words of affirmation that we need to hear are a personal secret. Only we know exactly what qualities we feel that we most need to be appreciated for.
And so, what better person to provide the specific and targeted validation that we need than our own selves? Of all the people on Earth, only we know all the good that we have done, and only we know what qualities we exercised to do it.
I first considered giving approval and validation to myself after learning about Internal Family Systems, which suggests that your personality exists as several different entities, such as the wounded child who still hurts from a trauma in your past, and the protector who pushes others away in order to protect that child. My therapist guided me through a program in which I, as the authentic self, work with each of these different parts, unburdening them and giving them validation. After a while, I realized that I didn’t have to wait for those hurt and frustrated parts to come and find me, though, I could proactively care for them by letting my authentic self speak words of kindness and praise to them at any time that I wished.
Matters of Concern)
Even after having the idea of giving myself this self-appreciation, I still had my skepticisms about the practice. On the one hand, I suspected that I wouldn’t be satisfied. I felt that what I really wanted was validation from others, people who had said that they cared for me, but then took my contributions to the relationship for granted. How was validating myself supposed to resolve those relationship problems? My other concern was that I would give myself an over-inflated ego. I already felt like I was obsessed with the praise of others, wouldn’t patting myself on the back just extend my narcissism further?
I think that these were valid concerns to have, and I’m glad that I had them in mind from the beginning. Since I knew what dangers to watch out for, I felt I could experiment, and at the first sign of trouble I could abandon the practice altogether.
Thus I moved forward, and though I did not start this practice until recently, much to my surprise I have already seen both of these concerns be emphatically refuted. It is true that I have still felt taken for granted in some of my relationships, but now that I am receiving validation from myself, I no longer feel like I have to get the approval of others. For years these other people have been my only hope for validation, so I had a codependent relationship with them. I haven’t dared to speak my mind, for fear of losing what little I had. Now that I’ve learned that I can meet those needs without them, though, I am finally free to speak up for myself. I can tell them how I feel, and if they respond with hostility, I am perfectly content to end the unhealthy relationship.
And it has been much the same with my other concern. Being able to receive approval and validation from myself has disintegrated the need for the praise of the world. After a showing love and appreciation to myself, I really feel okay with the idea that I might never have the broader love and acclaim that I once dreamed of. As it turns out, it isn’t really fame that I wanted, it was a listening ear, even if only my own.
Recognizing and calling out the good things that I do is now one of my fundamental practices of self-care. It has taken my peace and fulfillment out of the hands of unreliable sources and brought them under my own jurisdiction.
So how exactly do I do this practice? I’m out of time for today, but I’ll spell out the simple steps I follow with tomorrow’s post. Maybe it’ll be useful for you as well.