Whether actively or passively we continually seek validation. Isn't time to trust ourselves?
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Yet we let others' opinions of us dictate our worth all of the time, often without even realizing it. Recently two brave souls conducted a social experiment of sorts when they chose to acknowledge strangers’ advances a bit differently than those wannabe Casanova’s expected.
Last week Claire Boniface, college student and amateur social scientist, got curious about the messages she usually ignores. Once approached by men with the typical opener, “You’re hot, beautiful, amazing,” she replied simply, “Yes, I am.” Her would-be suitors did more than back-peddle, they got mean with their responses and quickly told her she wasn’t all that.
After sharing Boniface’s results on her own social media, 18 year old, Gweneth Bateman, repeated the experiment with a twist. She replied, “thank you!! I know aha how are you? [sic].” Her response included gratitude, confidence and a courteous follow up yet her not-so-gentleman caller actually got hostile in his response, “being vain won’t get you anywhere, it just makes you a bitch.”
Boniface believes their response has “a lot to do with how some men believe that they have the power to tell women what they are, without considering that women have already acknowledged this themselves.” An astute observation, no doubt, and it made me explore a more subversive element…how and why we seek approval and ways we can validate ourselves.
The motivation seems clear, a stranger compliments a woman with the expectation that she will be grateful thus opening the door to further social opportunity. At first blush this is fairly innocent. Yet, the man's anticipated outcome relies, not just on the recipient’s gratitude, but on her own need to be viewed “enough." Women worry about being pretty enough, hot enough, or amazing enough to be worthy of a men's affections.
Whether they realized it or not, these boys were more concerned with what they would get in return (praise, opportunity, even being seen as a hero of sorts) than they were with extending themselves with any sincerity.
You can see then, in these particular cases, the unconscious motivation to compliment her was not to give validation it was to receive validation. Doing good for others always makes us feel good about ourselves but these interactions included expectation. That there was one right way for her to respond in order to continue receiving his attention and that was to let him be the one to define her physical worth.
It can be argued that his assumptions are rooted in male privilege, the advantages men have based solely on their gender and the attitude of superiority that results from those advantages, and it’s safe to say that there is just some good, old-fashioned youthful arrogance. Because we don’t have any reverse scenarios (girls approaching guys) to compare this to that would confirm or deny those claims I’d like to lay those two assumptions aside and use this case study as a reflection for our own desire to be accepted.
There are varying levels of validation and because I’m writing specifically to this social experiment I’m focusing on the reasons and ways we seek social approval in the first place...
1. Get rid of doubt.
Most often we seek validation from others to resolve any doubt we have about ourselves or our choices. We are more confident when we feel understood or justified in our actions or appearance. There are plenty of women and men who feel included and special based on their physical attractiveness (or excluded because of their perceived unattractiveness) which is why it is an easy assumption for a boy to believe that simply calling a woman beautiful is enough to receive her gratitude and, of course, her return attention.
2. Don't fear failure.
Sometimes what we think and what we believe are at odds and we simply want someone to to talk us into or out of something. We feel empowered when we have collaboration regardless of whether or not that collaborative voice is an expert or a stranger. In Boniface’s experience the complimenter might have thought he was bolstering her to feel like a success (by letting her know she was pretty enough to garner his attention) and as soon as his attentions weren’t required to establish her worth his own fear of failure rose to the surface. Every step we take (or don’t take) is leading us along a path with an unknown destination of course we want assurances along the way.
3. Be mindful, but not scared of community.
Sometimes we simply want to know that we’re not going it alone. That other people are holding the same vision we’re holding and they have our back during shaky times. Also having someone tell you it’s a good or bad decision shares the burden of the outcome especially if it's less than desireable
We gain validation in two ways, actively and passively, and it's important to recognize this when as we investigate our own motivations to give or receive social validation. Here is what this means:
- Active validation is somewhat easy to catch because we’re making the choice to seek it in the first place. We’re asking our friends what they think of us, looking for media content that supports our current beliefs, maybe even trying to look or talk a certain way so we can feel more accepted. This is a natural part of our personal growth since the brain integrates information by comparing and contrasting.
- Passive validation is harder to catch because, as the name suggests, we’re doing it without consciousness. It can be like the men in Boniface’s experiment where he thought he would be making her feel special when in fact he was the one who needed to feel special. It might be as routine as expecting a reciprocated “I love you” when we say it to a partner first or even a “thank you” when we hold open a door for a stranger.
Subconsciously we look for others to recognize our importance and when they don’t we find it hurtful. We may even create a story about the state of humanity and how people, on the whole are losing common decency simply so we can dispel any fears we have around our self-worth (or lack thereof).
Desire for validation isn't inherently wrong but when unchecked it can climb to unhealthy levels so its helpful to consider how and why you seek this level of approval and how you can intentionally embolden yourself and others. Quite simply, you can validate yourself.
4.Take full ownership of all of your gifts.
You’ve got a lot going for you, outwardly and inwardly. Make a list, feel the ownership of these gifts and express your gratitude for them. Keep a journal and add to it each day. When you’re feeling low you’ll always have it to remind you that you are a person of worth and that your value does not rely on any external circumstance or outside appreciation.
5. Remember how far you’ve come.
You’re growing and changing all of the time. You’ll always want to be more ______ (fill in the blank)...that’s ok and it doesn’t need to detract from the fact that you've learned and grown substantially over the years. Make a promise with a trusted friend that part of your coffee date conversation will be what you’ve accomplished not just what's missing. Big and small, every achievement matters. Remember and celebrate each step forward!
6. Take stock of your own core values.
You know what you stand for and its so easy to forget what that is when you're bombarded by “you're not enough” messages. When you use your deepest core values to make goals and measure success there’s simply no room for naysayers because you’re perfectly clear on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
7. Find the FEELING state of “enough."
Whatever you think that new fashion, better boyfriend or next milestone will get you is already a piece of who you are. How will you feel when you attain it? More confident, excited, more joyful? Those emotions and characteristics do not come with goal attainment alone - they’re already a part of your physical makeup, you’re just not as practiced at embracing them as you are at chasing them down.
Embody the empowering emotions within you because when you’re feeling on top of the world there’s nothing anyone can take from you or make you feel without your permission.
8. Be careful of judging others.
Accusing others of conceit or hubris for knowing their value without your validation creates the voice in your head that says, “If you already know you’re beautiful/amazing/smart you’re being vain.” Quieting self doubt is as simple as practicing acceptance of others.
Boniface and Bateman understand their own worth and feel like enough without these boys’ compliments. When we get incredibly clear on our deepest truths and then act according to those core values we release the hold others’ opinions and reactions have over our lives.
Claiming your own worth is empowering beyond measure. It's possible that if Eleanor Roosevelt were alive today she might also clarify her sentiment with “everyone can feel empowered without someone else’s approval."
How do you feel when you offer a kindness (a compliment, a favor) and it goes unrecognized?
Will you examine your own motivations for giving validation in the future?
How do you feel when someone knows their worth? Do you always know yours?
What ways do you self-approve or self-validate now that I didn't list here?
Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Triffany helps dedicated women with a vision bring their powerful dreams to life. When you’re ready to heal yourself for better partnership with others start with this free monthly call or schedule a chat with her directly.