Comfort is what we crave. The contradiction inherent in this drive is that almost everything we do in search of comfort actually destroys our chances of feeling comforted in both the short term and the long term. This can be demonstrated in all sorts of ways, but the most poisonous and destructive of these is the search for emotional validation.
Looking for validation is looking for someone to back us up. Tell me! Tell me I was right and everyone else was wrong! Tell me I didn’t deserve that! Tell me I DID deserve that! Tell me how great I am! Compliment me! FEED ME! I need more love! Approval! Compassion!
Oh, how sweet it would be. I think there’s soon going to be a cuddly AI robot-thing that can do this in natural speech. “Oh, honey, of course you deserved that promotion! Your boss is a big mean jerk.” You can choose it in pink or lavender or pale yellow, and you can select the celebrity voice of your choice. Soothing, sweet, delicious fantasy of nurturing and support.
I’ll get one and make a video of myself setting it on fire, beating it with a shovel, and then backing a truck over it.
Validation is death. The last thing we should ever want is someone to constantly yes-man our every word and deed. What a disaster. Please no! That’s the route in the maze that leads directly to a dead end. In fact, there’s only one single path in a maze that leads out; all the other options are false, distracting, routes to nowhere. The path that leads out is the path of truth. That truth by its nature has to include all the dark stuff, all the unsavory and embarrassing stuff we wouldn’t want to admit.
He broke up with me because I complained constantly and I wouldn’t take action or listen to his advice.
I didn’t get the promotion because I wasn’t ready, I didn’t look like I fit the role, I didn’t have the certifications, and I kept coming in late.
Other people talk smack about me because that’s what boring, small-minded people do, and it’ll never stop no matter what I do, so it’s my job to let it go and ignore it.
It’s my job to look for my own flaws and try to do something about them. Like most people, I’ll probably go through life unaware of my biggest and worst flaws, and I’ll chip away at the smallest, least consequential ones. Then I’ll immediately be distracted by something someone else said, or rather, my guesses and misinterpretations of what someone else said. I’ll spin my wheels over this. I’ll waste my time, always stuck on Level One, when I could be putting that energy toward making myself a slightly less obnoxious and useless human. It’s what I wish other people would do that I myself should do.
When I wish for validation, I should first ask whether it would actually help me reach my goals. Second, I should find someone else who deserves validation and give that person the praise and encouragement I wish someone would give me.
When I wish someone would listen to me with deep and heart-felt fascination, that’s my cue to find the fascination in someone else’s story. Deep listening teaches me about other people, and it also teaches me how to make my own story more compelling.
When I wish someone would hear me out, that’s my flag that maybe there’s a flaw in my reasoning or a hole in my rationale. Maybe my version of this story is bogus and self-serving. Maybe it’s boring to everyone in the world except me. This wish is my opportunity to work on it, on my writing or my performance or some other way of turning my frustrations into art.
If I wish someone else would stand up for me - have I stood up for others? If I wish someone else would speak up and praise me - have I promoted others and made them look good? If I wish for backup, have I been an ally to others? If I wish for deeper friendships, have I gone out of my way for others in ways that are inconvenient to me? Have I sought to learn what makes them feel befriended and cared for? Sometimes the validation I wish I had may come from one person, while I offer it to a different person. It’s not usually an even flow.
Validation given well can bring out the best in people. Unfortunately, we tend to want it most when we deserve it least. We ask for it at the exact moments that it could hold us back. We want to be comforted when we need to be challenged. We want someone to agree with us exactly when we should be questioned and confronted. Yes dear, yes dear, you’re right dear. Beware of validation, and instead cherish those friends (and enemies) who are brave enough to give you the cold cruel truth. You can always get one of those approval-bots and let it sing you to sleep later.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.