Every human seeks validation. It reassures us that we are, in and of ourselves, okay. As children, we are a reflection of the outside world. Once we realize that we are, in fact, different than everyone else, the competition starts. The media reinforces this fact quite competently, ever increasing our conviction that different does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean good.
This is where the human psyche seeks extrinsic validation. We crave that feedback from the people around us that we are of value to them. In doing so, we gain a sense of contentment, and therefore come to the conclusion that we are happy. This is a normal part of development; it doesn’t make someone bad, or less of a person if they are still in this phase. It merely means that they haven’t progressed to the next step yet. We, as humans, exist on our own time schedules, and rushing things simply does not work. (Just ask any parent who has tried to “push” their kid into potty training before the kid was ready.)
However, the problem is that many people reach this phase, and stay there. Their self image is firmly rooted in the attention or positive feedback they receive from trusted people. Negative feedback of any kind can be devastating because they do not have the intrinsic foundation to understand that that feedback does not necessarily equate to condemnation of the individual person. Their happiness is so wrapped up in what comes from outside sources that it crumbles at the first sign of trouble.
People who are stuck at this stage will never function in a healthy, adult relationship. This is not my opinion; it’s a fact. Until intrinsic validation is reached, true happiness is unattainable. Without that internal foundation of self, anything that comes from the outside has the power to control us. And believe me, it will. They are, to be blunt, emotional train wrecks waiting to happen. Not pretty, but it’s true.
There is a difference too, between physical and emotional maturity. They are not necessarily parallel in developmental timelines, as there are external forces that can affect both of them in positive and negative ways. Where an unhealthy diet in childhood can affect physical growth, a traumatic experience in a relationship can inhibit emotional growth as well. The variations of this are, of course, numerous. With physical maturity comes brain development which grants us things like patience, foresight, self-control. (This is why AD/HD gets a little more manageable for most adults who have it.) With emotional maturity comes the ability to separate the external from the internal, and to build the self-image and self-concept on that internal. We learn to validate ourselves by self-assessment, and by finding ways to meet our own needs.
This intrinsic validation scheme is vital for our own inner happiness, but also for the ability to function in a healthy relationship. If it isn’t there, we constantly seek the other person’s reassurance, and if we don’t get it, the sense of rejection is overwhelming. This can be devastating to the relationship, and it can be exhausting for the partner; the desire to have pre-recorded responses can rise quickly. “Yes, you’re beautiful.” “No, you are absolutely not fat.” “Yes, you did the right thing in that situation.” “No, you were not wrong to feel that way.” “Yes, you are a good person.” It can also be the reverse, in that someone stuck in the extrinsic phase gets their own validation from being the knight in shining armor. They are the sentinel to their partner, and it saps their own ability to realize the potential for their own self-concept to develop on its own merit. These are examples with clear hyperbole, of course, but you get the idea. Having a partner to bounce things off of, and debrief stressful situations is great, but it should not be the sole meter for one’s own worth. If one person is always the “victim,” and one is always the “savior,” metaphorically speaking, it puts any relationship, friendship, romantic, or whatever, an a level of uneven ground that cannot support both of you. It becomes a repetitive process throughout subsequent relationships as well, for some people. The victim stays in that role with various partners, and the savior does as well. It is only when confronted by the theoretical clue-by-four upside the head that these roles are challenged, and perhaps broken. It’s the only way to progress to that next phase of development. This is by no means an admonition that we should never seek feedback; let’s not deal in extremes or reactionary methods. They tend to be counterproductive, and only wind us back up where we started.
Instead, we need to step back, and look objectively at where on the spectrum we stand. We need to spend some time figuring out what we need to do on our own to build that foundation, and actively seek to make it happen. Make conscious efforts to feel good about ourselves before we seek feedback from others. If there is any sort of disappointment or negativity, don’t demand the reassurance from someone else that “it really isn’t you.” Call on your own strength. Know that you deserve to be happy, and then put your big kid panties on and take the responsibility to make it happen.
Because really, it’s no one else’s job to make you happy. It’s yours. Do your job.