16 October 2015
We humans are born craving the validation of others. It pleases us to know when people appreciate and approve of who we are, what we do. Reciprocal love mutes the doubts that niggle the corners of our youthful consciences; it’s the mortar that glues our characters tight. Those deprived of validation in childhood often protect themselves with bluster or by choosing a path that seems calculated to diverge.
Chances are the hole continues to eat away at their soul.
Self-help gurus will tell you it’s harmful to spend your life seeking validation, that you are who you are without anyone’s permission, and that you must learn to accept yourself as okay. This kind of thinking requires us to go against deeply-engrained nature. It seems to imply that a person’s craving for approval is detrimental to wholeness. Certainly some people center their whole being around feeling unworthy, but the rest of us simply want to feel useful and loved.
Such a feeling requires mutuality, and what’s wrong with that? It’s a by-product of living in any society, whether one on a large scale—like a community or nation—or one as small as one’s immediate family.
Family. That’s where affirmation needs to begin, in just the right doses so a child knows he is loved but doesn’t regard himself as better than others. I’ve known children desperate for a parent’s validation. Their need is so raw, so pure, and so painful. They are innocents waiting for someone’s eyes to turn and take them in completely. They do everything they can to win that ephemeral badge, but it’s to no avail. The light dies within them, little by little. They begin to question their interests—perhaps changing will help? Eventually, they find themselves doing things that fit their blindered audience better than the song of their own souls, and then they become lost. I’ve seen this cycle scar friends and loved ones throughout my life. Gurus would assert that since the audience won’t change, the performer must cease acting out this purposeless play. But isn’t the longing for success too engrained?
To varying degrees, we transfer this childish need into adulthood. Some people are quiet, withdrawn, and seek little attention from the world. Others love the spotlight, indeed their livelihoods may depend upon multitudes of strangers. Those who knew me in childhood may have thought I belonged to the first type of people, but secretly I belonged to the latter. I forged my love of validation in piano recitals and debate competitions. I cherished the awards I received while longing for more and yet more acclaim. I thought about writing novels but didn’t know what that endeavor really entailed.
Then I chanced upon a job writing a regular newspaper column, and my world turned around. I discovered the wonder of public feedback and professional respect. I gobbled those moments like a victim of famine scarfs down hard bread.
I loved it. I craved it. I wanted some more.
Validation—it’s amazing, and I readily admit that it makes me feel whole. With my first novel coming out soon, I can’t wait to find out if my writing will please more than a paltry two dozen people. Will I wither without praise? So far, I’ve subsisted for 36 years with only my mom’s; I’d like to think I’ll survive if no one else loves my work. I’d like to think I don’t define myself by the hoped-for admiration of strangers. But, really, what wrong with that? I strive for success and, in publishing, success depends on winning thousands of hearts.
In the end, I’m only a child trying hard to get a parent’s attention. Spinning, pirouetting, dancing my heart out. Singing the song that burns in my heart. Hoping for your love.
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