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  • Steven Sutton, LCSW

Self Validation

It’s normal to be resistant to new ideas and criticize things you’re not sure will work. Notice if you feel that way and wrestle with it — try to open yourself to something new.

You’re starting work that is designed to move you outside of your comfort zone. If you want to get the most out of the experience, you have to embrace tolerating discomfort for growth. Also keep in mind that you don’t have to take my word for anything. Better Man Projects involves trying things out in your own life and using what works for you.

A lot of people are motivated by what they think will garner the approval of other people. They’re also motivated to avoid meeting with the disapproval of others — especially those who have some real or perceived power in our life (boss, partner, attractive stranger). These motivators are so strong that we compromise the truth in order to maintain other’s approval or avoid their disapproval. Often, we do this for so long we forget how to know our own needs, desires, or opinions beyond other people approving of us.

Many of us use a reflected sense of self — meaning that we look to other people to help us understand who we are, how valuable we are, and if we’re good or bad. Getting what we think is approval from others validates that we are fundamentally desirable while the absence of validation brings out the worst in some men — resentment, anger, rage, jealously, de-investment, etc.

  • Do you recognize how you use others to feel good or bad about yourself?

  • What do you think is meant by validation?

  • What are some examples in your relationships where you are validated? How do you feel when another person validates you?

  • What are some examples when you are not validated? How do you feel when another person does not validate you?

  • How do you use other people to understand who you are?

One of the easiest ways to see this in action is when you find yourself ruminating on something you regret. Sometimes I call these ruminations “the cringes” because I very typically cringe when one of them works its way into my thoughts. These are the self flogging thoughts that come for you in quiet moments — while driving alone, hearing nostalgic music, when trying to get to sleep in a bed by yourself, when you have too much time on your hands or find yourself drifting through an unsatisfying day. That’s when they typically come calling, and if you’re like most of us they can derail you badly, make you sad, and leave you with a sense of hopelessness and defeat. A strategy to address this dynamic is to learn how to validate ourselves.

When you first begin this practice you can start by asking yourself a series of several basic questions:

  • What is true in this situation, or what actually happened?

  • Keep this question focused on yourself. The answer should begin with “I” and describe what you did or didn’t do. Try to avoid what others did or didn’t do. The best answer is the truth as well as you can say it about you.

  • What was I trying to accomplish?

  • Was my behavior consistent with my values? In other words, am I or would I be proud of what I did or might do?

  • If yes, then focus on that and truncate your thoughts. Remind yourself that your actions were in accordance with your values and begin to cut off further thoughts.

  • If no, consider what you’d like to do to rectify the situation. Sometimes that means apologizing, other times it may mean committing to try not to repeat the behavior in the future.

Here’s a couple examples of how self-validation works in real life:

A friend of mine was starting a small business in sales. The product was a healthcare product that she believed in and used herself on a daily basis. This friend had never sold anything before and felt uncomfortable asking others to pay her for the product. She was stuck and could not seem to move her business forward. As she described the predicament to me I realized that she was feeling nervous about not getting the approval of others when she went to sell the product despite genuinely believing it was something that would make their life better. For her, a need for the validation of others was more powerful than any other driving force in her life at that time. She reminded me of a Nice Guy! I asked her the self validating questions:

  1. What’s the truth of what you’re doing?

  • “I’m asking people to pay money for a product I’m selling."

  1. What are you trying to accomplish?

  • "I’m trying to grow a small business. I also want to help people live more healthy lives and meet their own personal fitness goals. I want to inspire people to be more healthy."

  1. Is selling this product for those reasons consistent with your values?

  • “It really is! I use it myself and I really believe in it. I think it’s worth the cost. I’m a person that wants a successful business and I also want to help people. Selling this product can do both in a way that I would be proud of."

  1. What can you do to stay focused on the idea that you’re doing something you’re proud to do and that you believe? How about repeating the questions when you’re feeling anxious or needy?

My friend had to accept the fact that some people will not like being asked to buy something, others may lose respect for her because she's selling something, some people may disagree with her about the value of the product. She can’t control what other people think and she doesn’t get to determine the outcomes. What she can do is live in integrity and remind herself that she’s doing so. Over time she realized that waiting for other people to approve of what she was doing was a waste of her time. She had to practice validating her own actions to generate the peace and confidence to sell to others.

Now let’s take a look at an example where a man validates himself and finds that his actions were not consistent with his own values.

Carl was a middle aged man who had a stressful relationship with his parents. They would ask him to do things for them around the house but would not reach out to him otherwise. Carl resented the fact that his parents seemed disinterested in his life other than when they needed a favor. He often agreed to help them out of a sense of obligation as opposed to generosity or love.

One day his father asked Carl to come by the house and remove some debris from the yard. Carl didn’t want to do it and felt his resentment surfacing so he made up an excuse and told his father he was busy and couldn’t help despite the fact that he actually had the time and was not busy. After they hung up the phone Carl realized he felt anxious about the call and it stayed with him. Since he was committed to rooting out anxiety in his life, and he felt ok about setting some limits with his parents, he decided to validate himself for taking action and saying no for once! His hope that validating himself would bring into focus the merit of his actions.

  1. What is true in this situation, what actually happened?

  • Carl told his father lie so he didn’t have to help remove the debris.

  1. What was he trying to accomplish?

  • Carl had wanted to set limits with his parents for some time. He was hoping to avoid the chore and also stand up for himself by saying no for once.

  1. Is lying to get out of the obligation consistent with Carl’s values?

  • Carl realized quickly when he got to this questions that he had a problem — his actions were out of integrity with who he wants to be as a man. Carl values honesty and trustworthiness. When he confronted himself, Carl had to admit that he was using the idea of boundaries as a rationalization to avoid what he imagined would be difficult conversation with his parents. Moreover, he was lying as a vehicle to setting boundaries which is not the way he wanted to set limits in his life.

  1. Since the answer was, “No, Carl’s actions were not consistent with his values,” he had to get serious about what he needed to do to move back into integrity. Carl’s set his intention to tell his father that he had lied and why he had lied. He took responsibility for his own actions and used that as a segue into his vision for moving forward with his parents in a way that would allow him to jettison his resentment.

For Carl, the self validation process forced him to get serious about what he wanted in his life — a more open rapport with his parents and to set limits in a way that didn’t compromise his integrity. It wasn’t easy but over time Carl worked up the courage to show himself to his parents without the reassurance they would approve or like what they saw.

The process of validating yourself will help you begin to understand who you are as opposed to who you think others think you are. Once you get accustomed to validating your own actions, or selecting those actions you want to target for growth, you’ve taken a powerful step.

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