Originally published 14th August 2018
Most of us crave it in some aspect, right?
Well, for most of my life, at least since I stopped living purely through my Ego, I have been a deeply insecure human. Little kids are fascinating in the sense that they haven’t fully developed awareness outside of the very basics. How does this feel/taste/sound/smell? They don’t really know what insecurity even is or why or how someone would have it, because they’re too busy being. Little kids just be. A toddler doesn’t look at their stomach and think, ‘damn, someone’s getting chubby’. They don’t hear themselves crying and think, ‘jeez, people must find me so annoying’. And neither did I at that age. Nobody does. But as soon as that side of me developed which gave me the ‘advanced’ ability to analyse, empathize and self-criticize, I overindulged myself in the latter from the get-go.
By the age of 7, it was fair to say that while 70% of my body was made up of water, the other 30% was made up of intense self-loathing. This continued throughout my pre-teens, teens, and all the way up into adulthood. Or at least, until the past few months.
Like many people who self-deprecate and self-hate, we cope with ourselves through second-hand verbal laudation. Our love language is Words Of Affirmation, but not just with romantic partners – with family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers too. We’d ask our damn pets for reassurance if only they could speak. We put ourselves down in front of other people, sometimes only with the intention of having them build us up back up. We call ourselves ugly to be told we’re beautiful; call ourselves dumb to be told we’re geniuses. Or, if we’re the narcissistic variation of this person, we do the opposite, and constantly brag. We post a million selfies of ourselves on Instagram to get a million likes and be told we’re beautiful a million times. We brag about how clever we are and how high our IQ is. We won’t shut up about how amazing we are to everyone we know. And we also do all these things too, because we’re insecure. In the simplest terms, we seek validation.
I used to do this all the time (the original putting-myself-down version), with all the people I knew, often to the point where I’d get a high off it. There’s something about feeling really, reeeeally shitty about yourself, only to have someone or a plethora of people bombard you with praise – that you’re amazing, funny, intelligent etc., all these traits a few minutes ago you were not just doubting but were adamant you possessed the antonymic qualities, which becomes something you crave, something you need. Because even if you don’t believe what’s being said (which you don’t), it still feels nice to hear. It’s reassuring to think that this could possibly be what they see – their truth. On one of your better days, you might even toy with the idea that this is THE truth. Maybe you really are smart and funny and cute. Not sure? Go tell someone you’re doubting it again, and sure enough, they’ll repeat what you want to hear back to you.
When I first downloaded Tinder, for the first few weeks it was like Validation Heaven. I was a junkie, and this would give me all the hits I needed. I could spend hours on there, swiping and swiping and swiping, just so that when I’d get a match (which isn’t exactly rare when you’re a young female) I’d feel that high. Almost like I was a character in a video game, 1 match = 1 boost of confidence. I just had to keep collecting matches. All these people, strangers or not, thought I was worth swiping right on, and that surely meant something.
Of course, like with anything, this high was always temporary. As a professional Validation Seeker, we know best that when the praises stop, the self-hatred seeps right back in. That’s why you must keep going. And to keep going, to keep experiencing that high, the irony is that you also have to keep hating yourself.
The ‘aha!’ moment came twice. The first time was when I was dating a guy. Let’s call him Boring McBoringson. I was at his house. We’d stayed up having 3 rounds of hot, sweaty sex like people in their early twenties do, and had woken up after a few brief hours of sleep. As I was getting dressed I asked him something along the lines of, ‘Do you enjoy this time with me? There was a pause. He hadn’t responded, so I turned my head to him. Finally, with an exasperated look on his face, he replied, ‘Why do you even have to ask that?’ He didn’t say it in a sweet, hypothetical way, that way you say something to someone you like to elicit a long drawn-out ‘awwwwwww’. Instead, it was very blank, serious. He continued to basically inform me that the thing which made our times together exponentially worse were questions like these. Wasn’t it obvious he’d enjoyed it? (Weren’t the 3+ orgasms pretty decent proof?)
I remember feeling surprised at his reaction. I’d put in a concerted effort to ask the question in the most casual, blasé way possible, looking down at my feet, clearly not bothered. But he saw right through me, and I felt caught out. My desperate need to be validated was as transparent to him as some of his own insecurities were to me.
It was at that moment when I realised, people weren’t going off me because I was boring (at least not in the way I thought). It wasn’t because I wasn’t pretty enough, or smart enough. It wasn’t even because I was insecure (like I said, almost everyone is to some extent). It was because I expected them to save me from my insecurity. And after a second time which evoked the second revelation, I finally realised this truth:
When you’re constantly seeking validation from people, especially from a specific person/persons, you are giving them a job they never asked for. You are putting pressure on them to point something out about you, only to have it disbelieved, only to have it asked of them to point it out again. And again. And again. And again. Until they grow tired of having to build up someone else’s ego, when they know it’s always inevitably going to crumble.
It’s almost like asking someone to build a tower for you, only for you to bash it back down, then asking them to build it again ad nauseum. Like, bloody hell, build your own tower! Anyone would get fed up! It is no one’s responsibility to constantly make you feel better.
(I don’t mean that in a way that says you’re not allowed to be reassured or tell someone when you’re feeling shitty. ‘Course you are! If you’re having a down day and you call your friend for support, that’s different. That’s just called friendship. I’m talking about when you purposely and persistently use people as your personal pick-me-up, and don’t try to deal with your insecurities yourself. There’s a huge difference: The former is vulnerability, and brings people closer, the latter is validation, and tears people apart.)
The worst thing about dealing with your insecurities through the lens of other people is that it isn’t sustainable. If you base how you feel about yourself on how somebody feels about you, what if they change their mind? What if they decide they no longer find you interesting, or worth talking to? What if they stop loving you? Then, you guessed it: Your world comes crashing down. Your identity feels threatened, and you feel lost. It’s just too precarious. Even if you find a loving romantic relationship with someone who’s willing to build that tower for you, and you don’t bash it down, they still could someday.
I’ve had this happen to me first-hand, like many people. Where, in a romantic context, somebody decided I wasn’t that great anymore, so I went right back to hating myself. If I’d have loved myself regardless, yes, that rejection still would have hurt, but I could’ve picked myself back up relatively quickly and easily, because I would’ve known a simple rejection doesn’t deeply reflect on who I am or affect who I thought I was. I’m still me, now just with my pride a bit hurt! Instead, because of my poor guidance, my depression got significantly worse for a period which lasted much longer than it should have. (Not to mention, what if you’re even more unlucky and end up with someone who stays with you because they like how insecure you are? Someone who enjoys how desperate you are for their approval? When you give somebody the ability to validate you, and thus potentially break your identity, you give them a hell of a lot of power which the wrong person could easily abuse.)
Love yourself because you love yourself, not because of somebody else’s ability to love you. Self-love should always be self-inflicted; that’s why it’s called SELF-love.
Jumping into a relationship to make yourself feel better via that person’s love might be easier, but it’s still toxic. It’s still not worth the risk. That’s why I’ve decided to take a break from dating for at least a few months – I recognized that I was doing -or trying to do- exactly that. I was dating to seek validation. (Ironically, a pretty unattractive trait!) And as a singleton, learning to love myself through myself is proving pretty difficult. But honestly, it’s still not anywhere as difficult as I thought it would be. Crazy what a bit of reading, hard truths and 10-minute meditations can do.
Only two months ago when I was in Cambridge visiting my best friend, I couldn’t bring myself to wear a dress without also wearing tights or stockings.
Let’s backtrack a bit. When I was younger, I had severe eczema, which has left me with a fair amount of discoloration/melasma on my legs. It’s not surprising then that almost my entire life, I have covered my body, fearing remarks and judgement from that majority of people who don’t have awfully sensitive skin (and so can’t empathise with the horror of having seen your scathed skin literally bleeding through your clothes). This was, of course, reinforced by actual remarks, such as one from a delightful young lady who said it looked like I had the plague. (Teenagers can be so sweet!)
Only at 17 did I manage to treat the eczema and most of the discoloration on my arms, which lead me to no longer feel the need to wear hoodies in the summertime. My legs never really made the improvement my arms did, so I never quite built the courage to stop covering them up, until now. Now, would you believe it, I don’t just wear dresses tights-free. No no, I’m more hardcore than that. Most days, I’ll wear high-waist denim shorts (y’know, those ones which go all the way up to your damn ass) without a mere second thought. And I guess it’s because I just don’t really care anymore. If I don’t need validation, I don’t need somebody to think I have nice legs. And if I don’t need somebody to think I have nice legs, I don’t really give a monkey’s shoe if a total stranger thinks I don’t. I think they’re fine, (rather lovely actually) and that’s all that matters.
That’s only one way no longer needing validation has manifested into my life. It wouldn’t be a big change to most people, but for me, it’s huge.
Still, I’m not perfect – sometimes I catch myself going beyond the lines of vulnerability into seeking validation and approval like a leech or a mosquito or an asexual succubus. But when I recognize it, I immediately try to stop and take responsibility, and ask myself why. It isn’t fair on myself or the other person. Nonetheless, safe to say this is an area of self-improvement in which I’m really killing the game. And that’s life-altering because, most importantly, it’s helping me learn to validate myself – my own beauty, my own greatness, my own intelligence and creativity.
I shouldn’t have to rely on anybody to be aware of those things, and neither should you. Let your brilliance validate itself.