To seek validation is to seek approval from others or to feel the need to be of value to others. Nobody is immune from the chains of validation, everyone has sought and seeks validation somehow, in some way and to some extent. We seek approval for our decisions, actions, thoughts and everything in between- from our parents, family, friends, employers, colleagues, strangers and broader society. We do it in our everyday lives right through to our online presence. At times, seeking validation is synonymous with attention-seeking. In fact, the role of ‘validation’ in our lives is hardly ever discussed in academic literature, and yet we are all ‘slaves to validation.’
There’s a lot of questions that arise from the concept of validation, like, why does it matter what other people think of us? Can we actually control how others view us? Do we actually own our reputation or is it actually owned by others? What happens to us when we seek validation? Why do we seek validation? Is there a healthy form of validation seeking? Is seeking validation a good or bad thing?
To me, the scariest question of all is, who are we but for what other people say we are? How do we know we’re good kissers but for other people saying we are? How do we know we’re smart or beautiful but for other people saying we are? How do we know our butt looks big in these jeans but for other people’s views? Are human beings inherently a product of the reflections other people have of us?
Let’s examine these questions.
Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Twitter. For many, social media is a place for sharing one’s life with friends and family but for others it’s a place for seeking validation from the world. I’m sure some people automatically come to mind. To show how seeking validation can manifest itself online, take Instagram model, Essena O’Neill, who made headlines recently for quitting social media and exposing the truth behind the façade of appearing perfect on Instagram. She said she had a conditional sense of self-worth because she was happy when she looked like the fitness models she looked up to- the beautiful, tan, firm-breasted, thigh-gapped women. Her self-love came from how she looked in photos and posting images was how she validated her life. She claimed that all the world would see is one image, but behind the images are 100 different poses, a good filter, and sticking in your tummy in to appear the way she did on Instagram.
Now, there was a lot of controversy surrounding Essena O’Neill’s “coming out” because people thought it was a scam to get more publicity and a laughable attention-seeking ploy. But even if it was attention-seeking, instead of criticizing her for attention-seeking, we should be asking why she feels the need to get attention, to seek this validation. Why anyone feels the need to seek validation?
There are many reasons why we seek validation, from feeling like we’re not good or that we don’t measure up to society’s impossible standards of what is beautiful or ideal or praise-worthy, or it could come from feelings of neglect during upbringing, bullying, feelings of betrayal from a bad break-up and many more.
When we see people attention-seeking or validation-seeking, we shouldn’t criticize, it should really prompt our sympathy above all else because it is so easy to be caught up in the toxic cycle of validation and the cycle goes something like this:
We are told we are not enough. We become insecure and feel that we are not enough. We try to change to be enough. Even if we change we still feel like we’re not enough. So we seek validation to tell us that we are enough and the cycle continues.
What’s worse, is that the economy and society thrive upon us not being enough. Not being thin enough, not being curvy enough. Not being rich enough. Not being muscular enough. Imagine if we all thought we were enough in ourselves, how many industries would go out of business, especially the multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry.
What’s even worse, is that enough is impossible! Enough is unrealistic. Enough is perfection and perfection is impossible to attain. O’Neill’s story, like many others that fall victim to validation shows us what validation seeking does to us, we change ourselves to try and become the person we think the world wants us to be. We are left feeling empty and instead of being filled with self-love, we are left with self-hate. They say we are our toughest critics and while it can be extremely difficult to please ourselves it is impossible to please everyone because there is one truth about humanity, no matter what you say or do, someone will disagree, someone will not like you. As Aristotle puts it “criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing.” So this cycle we find ourselves in is impossible to beat, unless you try to break out of it.
Can we break out of it though? Can we control the way we see ourselves without resorting to validation?
I want you to think of your best physical asset or personality trait. Now, think about why you consider your choice to be your best. You’ll find that it has come from some external source, someone told you that’s what they liked about you or maybe society shows you that’s an ideal so you’ve come to like that about yourself. So really, what are we without the perceptions of others?
And if we really are nothing without the perceptions of others. Can we even control how others think of us? There’s this line of thought that argues that our reputation is not owned by us. Our reputation is solely determined by the views of others. Sure, we can try and change the way people view us, maybe by changing ourselves but ultimately we do not own our reputation.
So what are we, but for the ultimately, uncontrollable perceptions of others. Are we validation’s puppets? Slaves to validation? And if so, how do we free ourselves?
Studies show that the happiest people are the people who accept that they are not perfect and embrace their imperfections. They find perfection in their imperfections. They realise they are enough. This may sound clichéd but it’s true. When you realise you are enough, you learn to love yourself from within, and you garner a strong sense of self-love and self-worth that can resist societal expectations and pressures.
When you free yourselves from the chains of validation you no longer require attention from guys to feel beautiful, you no longer need sex from women to feel validated. Be warned however, that once you learn to break out of the validation cycle and learn to love yourself from within, you could still face what I’m going to coin “Hopkins Hating.” Yes, it is a reference to Katie Hopkins who believes things like “I don’t believe you can be fat and happy,” it’s the kind of hating that says “you’re living a lie,” how the hell can you be happy-you don’t conform to society’s standards.
On the other hand is seeking validation always a bad thing? The need for approval, validation and likability can be extremely profitable avenues in life- in advertising, brand-management, politics, reality television, entertainment. Really, you can find it almost anywhere. Which begs the question, is there anything inherently wrong with wanting to be liked, wanting validation, and wanting approval? It seems as if it’s part of human nature to want to be liked, to be validated. Maybe we’re really all just egocentric people. It feels good. But the dangerous line you don’t want to cross is where your primary source of self-worth is through external validation.
But what do I know, it’s just some food for thought. What do you think?
Featured Image: Zac Quitzau Fb: Zac’s Doodles