Hello everybody, welcome to Episode 61 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take questions you have on life and answer them on the show.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
Today, we’re going to be looking at a lengthy, heartfelt question about needing validation or significance from others. This is, of course, something we all can relate to, but what happens when it lasts a lifetime and oversees all of our actions? We’ll find out today.
QUESTION: “Hi Greg. For years, I have struggled with a feeling of constantly being looked over for opportunities and recognition, which has left me feeling deeply insecure. I found myself incredibly envious of other people who were achieving my goals and dreams and positively indignant when others were praised for doing the same thing that I was already doing. I was known for being a ‘good kid' — the one that simply follows the rules, and does what is asked without needing to be reminded. While I have been quite proud of this, is the fact that I have been well behaved and obedient left me invisible? I feel as though why should I bother if no one will notice me and I know that the pain of not being noticed will be so severe that it will take away from my feeling of success?
Do you have any recommendations for a better way to approach or view these situations? Is my need for validation from my peers and superiors unreasonable or am I letting my ego steer me down a bad road? Your input would be greatly appreciated, as I have never really expressed these feelings before.“
Your Childhood Experiences
And there we have it. A big question, a layered question, and a question that certainly required a lot of vulnerability. So thank you very very much for sending this in. I’m always particularly honored when you guys mention not having expressed these feelings before. It’s very meaningful to me, so welcome to a community where we all appreciate that and are here to support you.
Really quickly to start, I just want to say that for this scenario it seems like a very good use of your time for you to revisit your relationship with your parents or your childhood in general.
I know that might sound the like the same old story, so I won’t dwell on it for long. But if you’re not sure where this is coming from, a lot of our feelings of significance formulate in those developmental years and I would guess that’s definitely the case for you since you mention this being something that dates back to childhood.
Perhaps you received a lot of praise early on, which made other forms of praise never quite measure up and thus you were unreceptive to them. Or perhaps it’s just the opposite and you never received enough praise and are still searching for it. Or maybe those are both completely wrong and I’m just speculating.
But I do think it’s worth exploring that part of your life either with your parents or with a therapist because it dates back to a young age, it’s a bit easier to pinpoint the inciting event or events that started these feelings within you.
Your Past vs. Your Present
That’s the past, though. And while I can’t really answer much about that, what we can talk about here is your present.
And presently, the rub here is that you have no sense of self, no self-worth. If you look back through your question, you say things like “incredibly envious of other people,” “indignant when others were praised,” “known for being a good kid,” “why should I bother if no one will notice me,” and so on. Your main concerns all relate to how others operate; they’re all very reactive.
Obviously, having so much of your pride rely on the opinions and validation of others won’t do — it hasn’t and it won’t, and you know that, otherwise you wouldn’t have sent in this question.
What’s crucial is for you to change the impression you have of yourself by generating experiences that have more to do with how you feel about you than how others feel about you. While it is important to assess the “why” underneath your habits with a therapist or someone similar, you can also be taking actions to counteract where you are right now so you’re both understanding your current state of mind and working to make it healthier.
The question you can get to work on on your own is, what about you do you like no matter what others have to say about it, and how can you exploit that in your daily life?
Maybe you always give yourself credit for being a kind person and know that that holds true no matter whether or not others recognize and praise you for it.
Play to that kindness. Volunteer, go out and do random good deeds for people, or make a donation to a charity you’re passionate about.
Maybe you’re like me and have a love for animals that goes unshaken, and it’s a part of you that’s organic and that you really value that. Go pick up some work as a dog walker, foster an animal, or make weekly visits to the local pet store — I’m sure the employees won’t pick up on it after the first couple of months. Seek out the parts of you that you take huge pride in and maximize them.
One of the things you mentioned is that you’re proud to have been a lifelong rule follower; a “good kid” as you put it. That’s not only a great thing to be proud of but also a great acknowledgement to make on your part. But you also asked if this behavior is precisely what has left you invisible, as you see it, indicating to me that you might be tempted to not follow the rules if it means getting recognition. Surely people that act out get more attention, but it’s usually not good attention. Regardless, for you, that would be an extremely bad idea in my opinion.
If being well-mannered is something you’re genuinely proud of, selling that away for the sake of getting noticed is only going to further distance you from the vision you have of not being insecure. It would be you sacrificing what you want for the sake of what you assume others want from you, and we definitely want to do the opposite of that right now, right?
Minimize What You Do for Approval and Validation
Just as much as you should be trying to maximize the amount of things you do purely for YOU, you should be MINIMIZING the things you do for the approval of others. So the same way we brainstormed about things you love about yourself no matter what and how to make more time for them, also brainstorm about things you only do to appease others and how you can do less of them.
While that method will help you make good changes over time, you’re still going to be faced with trying situations in which your instinct is to appease others and seek out credit. That instinct will change over time, not overnight. But until that happens, when you’re in the heat of that moment and your need for validation is spiking, try to take a breath and ask yourself what you really want or what really comes from gaining the approval of others.
Ask yourself what the true benefit is: Is the praise from another person going to make you a valuable person? Does it really make you, you? Probably not. Or do you just crave this significance because it’s something you feel you’ve been deficient in, not because it really reflects the type of person you are? Probably.
How Praise is Given and Received
Also reflect on how others may give praise in a way that’s different from how you receive praise. It’s like the love languages, right?
People can show their love in all different types of ways. Why wouldn’t it be the same for praise? Is it possible that the way you receive praise just doesn’t line up with how others give it? Is it possible that many people recognize all the wonderful attributes about you, and maybe they show it by — I don’t know — maintaining friendship, or going out of their way to do things for you as opposed to verbally crediting you? It’s possible.
Perhaps others are looking for the same validation you are, and you’d be more likely to receive validation if you were the first one to offer it to others. That’s possible, too. Understanding or attempting to understand the wavelengths that others are on as opposed to purely looking at this from the standpoint of your own needs and your own expression can be a very eye-opening tool. You might not get the answers, but assessing the possibilities can make a huge difference.
At the end of the day, praise, validation and recognition are something we all strive for in our own ways. It’s a normal thing, and like most things, only becomes harmful when we attach our identities to it. Yours is anything but unreasonable. It might be more than many others, but it’s a perfect amount given how your life has panned out up until this moment.
Just remember: if you were to start getting all the praise from everyone that you hope for and were to become happy because of it, you still wouldn’t be the one controlling your life. The true control and security you seek goes beyond getting credit from others, and you can attain it by starting to work on what we talked about here today.
And we’ll wrap things up there, folks. It’s been a long one on validation. Thank you for submitting this question, thank you again for trusting in us!
I sure hope that your first time revealing these feelings has been a time in which you’ve felt both safe, educated, and, well, inspired.
Anyone else, if you have a question that you’d like to submit to us and get answered on the show, please do. You can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll talk to you next time, everyone. And stay safe out there.
1. National Academies Press (US); 2015 Jul 23. 4, Child Development and Early Learning. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310550/
2. Parenting NI: The Importance of Praise and Encouragement