Many of us struggle with building self-image and fostering self-love.
The world has taught us to cast judgments on our bodies, our thoughts, and our feelings. We’ve learned to do this over time through observing our world and using our senses. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Have you ever questioned what causes us to be incredibly critical of each other and ourselves?It all stems from one idea: validation.
Validation is telling someone that what they feel, think, believe, and experience is real, logical, and understandable. We can validate others (or have others validate us), or we can self-validate by quietly reassuring ourselves that what we feel inside is real, important, and rational. We all have moments of doubt about the reality of our emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Validation helps us have better relationships, calms intense situations, allows us to better problem-solve, and allows us to let go of the pain and exhaustion self-doubt causes.
Ultimately, validation can improve the quality of our lives.
Often times, though, we are taught that certain thoughts or feelings are inappropriate or not what we should be thinking, feeling, or doing. Somewhere along the way, we learn that we should trust others, but not ourselves. We are taught that our inner experiences are not valid, are flawed, or are deceptive. This is invalidation.
Invalidation can often cause us to emotional distance ourselves from others, or in cases of self-invalidation, it can cause an identity crisis. It heavily impacts people with mood disorders such as depression and can compromise the recovery process. Sometimes, invalidation can happen subconsciously, or it can be used as a manipulation technique.
Personally, I have spent many years constantly self-invalidating. I take others’ kind words and try to internally deconstruct them to give them a negative meaning. When I apologize to others, I degrade and insult myself. I have denied myself dreams, goals, and pleasant feelings by internally believing that they were not real, achievable, necessary (even if they were what my heart truly desired). I’ve also allowed others to invalidate my emotions and thoughts, both out of a desire for pain and a hope to fulfill their desire to help. People can invalidate without ever intending harm, but trying to “help” by rerouting or discouraging the feelings or thoughts can be just as detrimental as not acknowledging them at all.
Part of the process of validation involves examining and defining a person’s inherent worth. Enter my struggle: I can’t even begin to see my worth. I’ve asked myself many times, “What makes me worthy of life?” That’s all part of the problem: It’s hard to validate yourself when you see yourself as worthless when you don’t feel like you matter to anyone on this planet.
The truth is, though, we are all worthy of life.
Another part of validation is avoiding judgment. In other words, there’s always room for emotions to just be. To judge what someone is feeling is to say that they are somehow wrong or that their experience is unrealistic or inauthentic. Everyone sees life through their own eyes, and these eyes all develop differently and witness life through unique perspectives. We are all individuals, so it makes sense that how we see life is individualized as well.
I actually find it easy to empathize with others; I could be considered an empath. I can rationalize almost anything that someone says they feel or experience, but I can’t seem to rationalize my own experiences. I often work to discredit myself, arguing or accusing myself of being dishonest. Sometimes I tell myself that what I think or feel isn’t valid because it is incredibly different than those around me; sometimes I tell myself that my feelings don’t matter or are unequal to others.
None of this is true.
Validating others makes us incredible friends and strengthens our relationships, but self-validation is where the real magic happens. Without self-validation we cannot experience self-love, and without self-love, we cannot accept true happiness. I am learning that the road to self-validation is a long, winding, strenuous trek. I know that this work is important, though; this labor will be rewarding once I make it to my destination. I know that someday, I will look in the mirror and love what I see, and that will make my journey worth it.