A real revelation for me in overcoming mind malfunctions and brain exhaustion has been realising my overwhelming dependence on validation. When I say validation I basically mean any feedback that comes from anyone else apart from yourself. Any comment, compliment or look that makes you feel good. Or worthwhile. Or something. Within the past year or so I became aware of the extent to which I had been utterly addicted to it. For as long as I can remember. I also realised how incredibly unhealthy that had been to use as an energy on which to run my life. The issue was this had been so normal I barely had any idea it was even happening! Surely I was just a “nice guy” who liked to help! Perhaps…Or maybe things were a little more grey than that…
I’ll delve briefly into the murky past for a bit more background…ten years ago, for example, I would get excited about an upcoming party. There would be mates there I could have a laugh with. And there was a girl there I liked. I could have a laugh with my mates and chat to that girl! It was going to be awesome! I could say that joke to this friend and compliment that friend on the job he’s just got and take the piss out of that other friend who I piss around with. They will all really like me! They will laugh at my jokes and I will feel good. Then they will talk about me being awesome and I will feel even better! And the girl…well I will play it cool at first. I will make sure some of my best interactions are near her of course. I might look over and make sure my hair looks good in the reflection when I do. But I will make sure I do not look too bothered… After a while I’ll sidle up to her, cool as anything, drop a few nonchalant hilarious lines and then we’ll kiss and live happily ever after! What a time it will be!
I would run through these scenarios and buzz all over with excitement. High on the anticipation of the glorious love that was certain to come my way! What could go wrong with such meticulous planning!?…
The party would arrive a week after the mental sorting had begun. By the time I got to the house I was already exhausted with anxiety after going over in my head all of the things that could go wrong. I was alright though…I thought I had covered most of them! The party begins…people are having a good time, I’m enjoying the atmosphere. Everyone is here that I expected. But somebody else has made that joke I wanted to make. Oh well. I’ll try say something else to join in that conversation. But there’s no opportunity to say anything worth saying…maybe there’s no point in me being here…maybe no one wants me here…how depressing! I don’t like this feeling so I’ll drink more booze! That’s right being drunk is fun. Then I’ll have the confidence to go up to that girl! I’m sure I’ve caught her looking over at me. Won’t go over just yet though, don’t want to seem desperate…so I’ll drink a bit more…oh no I’m drunk! People seem to be ignoring me… Maybe no one likes me… Fuck it I’m guna go talk to that girl…but she is talking to my mate now. She is laughing at his jokes…I’m guna drink some more…Life is shit.
That whole unfortunate and unhealthy experience was driven by me either not getting the validation that I desired from the situation or judging the feedback I was getting as not good enough. That then had significant consequences on my mental wellbeing and interpretation of the world around me. It was so impactful that I felt compelled to try to control my emotions via covering them up through alcohol. I was desperate to get the positive feedback coursing through my veins. And if I did not get my fix I was miserable.
My comparisons with addiction are deliberate. I was hooked. I would exhibit behaviour that one may associate with more conventional addicts. Such as manipulation and deception. If I was participating in a conversation with a colleague about a piece of work of mine they had seen, I would drop in “I hope what I said was okay”. This was knowing full well the work I had done was valuable. But I wanted the “Oh, it was great” response. I manipulated the conversation to get that. I made it the sole focus of the conversation. Or, if I had made a good point in an argument or debate amongst friends and needed to go to the toilet, I would linger outside the room to listen to the praise that I expected to come my way but that the people talking did not think I would hear. That was deception.
I am not the only who has experienced this craving for positive feedback. This can begin for many in early childhood. When we are young we all, inevitably at some point, experience some negative feedback from our caregivers. After all that affection, if you are lucky, a sharp criticism or even punishment will be literally the worst thing in the world to a child. A terrible feeling! And so, a longing for the good stuff begins. Maybe this is achieved by really good behaviour in front of Mum and Dad. Maybe by drawing. Maybe by scoring a hat-trick in footy training. Anything for that praise!
Fairly quickly society picks up on the thread and feeds into this mindset. Disney films have told children for generations that you can only be truly happy when you find true love. This tells our impressionable subconscious that someone else holds the key to our future happiness. Only when someone utters the words “I love you” are you safe. The implication being that otherwise you will end up alone and miserable. Unfulfilled.
Our current youngsters have to be the generation that have had this message screamed into their souls more fiercely than any other. In their pockets, always, are devices that literally buzz every time they are messaged. Or called. Or “liked”! Phones and social media can be great ways of connecting people to each other. But they can also end up as simply another tool that reinforces the belief that other people and other things let us know that we are alright. We rarely learn, or indeed are rarely taught, how to believe we are actually okay. From ourselves.
The issue with all this seeking of praise is you can never receive enough. You never reach a “validation utopia” – a fantastical land where you have engineered and received so many compliments that you just exist there in pure bliss. Like any dependence or addiction, the more you desire and get the more you need. And the more you need it the less you believe you are worth anything. The less you trust yourself. Examples of this in overdrive are celebrities that crash and burn after accelerated fame. People adore them. They feel that adoration. They feel so happy. Then people get bored of them. And they end up feeling like they have been dumped or rejected a million times over.
I first properly understood this whole concept when doing Skype mental health coaching sessions with Mark Freeman this year – something I would highly recommend to anyone interested in improving their mental health as he is such a breath of fresh air when it comes to this stuff. The link to his coaching and awesome new book are at the bottom of this post. I stated to Mark that I feared I cared too much about what people thought about me in close relationships. His response: “You don’t need to get anything from anybody because you are already complete. When you go searching for validation, you create a hole that needs filling.”
Now if you can get your head around that concept and set yourself a target on continually understanding and believing it the results could be tremendous. To approach all social situations from a place of wholeness, from a lack of lacking, is very foreign to many of us. It also makes a lot of the self-love exercises you traditionally find online and in self-help books unnecessary. That route can once more be a tool to need to gain validation outside of yourself. If you must remind yourself of reasons why you should love yourself your brain will come up with reasons why those reasons are not actually true. Or it will compare you to others unfavourably. Fundamentally, we do not need to wait to love ourselves or appreciate ourselves. Because we have that opportunity right now. There is nothing to fix. Just space to grow.
Due to this being such an odd state of being to get used to, I have begun a useful miniature exercise to add on to my three daily gratitudes which I discussed in my last post. After writing three things I’m grateful for I write down either “I am complete”, “I am whole” or “I have inherent value”. I find this useful because it says to my subconscious it does not need to keep searching for validation or look to gain anything from social interactions. It means I can be in social situations and simply express myself, enjoy myself, help others, share experiences or do anything else I value. This is all without the continuous fear of judgement, the self-censoring, or the attempts to control these interactions. Another sentence to write down or to believe deeply is “People can judge me”. Let people judge you. Positively or negatively. You are already whole.
There are other ways to re-train the mind to a healthier place. One way is to be mindful. Be present. This is simply observing how you feel when talking to someone. Be curious and spot when your mind wants to be certain that someone likes you. Let it squirm and not know. How does that feel? Awkward? Anxious? Where do you feel those feelings in your body? Feel them. They don’t have to be unpleasant experiences. Instead of attempting to gain validation in conversation express yourself from a place of wholeness. Say what you really think and give yourself the permission to do that. Disagree with someone perhaps. Feel how that feels in your body to disagree with someone. Realise that you can survive that. Realise that you won’t only survive, your self-esteem will also grow because you are owning how you feel about something.
When you start acting from a place of being complete you can also begin to do things because they represent what you are about and because you have an awesome time doing them. You can try dancing regardless of what your family thinks. You can quit football if you don’t enjoy it anymore. Or you can re-start it if the only thing that was stopping you was the fear of being judged. How about making amends with a family member you really care about…Who cares if people don’t see you as someone who says sorry…Or if your boyfriend does not think you are sporty…Or if your mates think that guys don’t bake. Do what you want to do because you value doing it.
Fast forward 10 years the scenario from earlier. I can now approach a social gathering from a place of being complete. I can ask someone a question because I am interested in the answer, regardless of the judgement that may result from the question. I can appreciate a mate’s jokes rather be anxious about my own role in the group. I can express myself freely because I value expressing myself. Or I can be quiet and enjoy the atmosphere rather attempting to impose my personality. I can connect with people. I can have a drink because it might add to my experience. Not because I want to escape my experience. If I see other people getting along I can be pleased they are having a great time. I don’t need anything from them. I can be free.
I know which experience I prefer of the two. This may not be a problem for you at all. But if it is, I have found it beneficial to approach my days from a place of personal trust and valued actions. That way you can start to show your brain that you don’t need the nod from others before getting on with living your life.
Here is a link to Mark Freeman’s new book ‘The Mind Workout’: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mind-Workout-Improve-Emotional-Fitness-ebook/dp/B01MPWKFS6
Here you can enquire about his online courses or Skype therapy: http://www.markfreeman.ca/contact/
Here is Alan Watts being fabulous:
Thanks for reading!