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A Validation Junkie

Originally published 14th August 2018


Most of us crave it in some aspect, right?

Well, for most of my life, at least since I stopped living purely through my Ego, I have been a deeply insecure human. Little kids are fascinating in the sense that they haven’t fully developed awareness outside of the very basics. How does this feel/taste/sound/smell? They don’t really know what insecurity even is or why or how someone would have it, because they’re too busy being. Little kids just be. A toddler doesn’t look at their stomach and think, ‘damn, someone’s getting chubby’. They don’t hear themselves crying and think, ‘jeez, people must find me so annoying’. And neither did I at that age. Nobody does. But as soon as that side of me developed which gave me the ‘advanced’ ability to analyse, empathize and self-criticize, I overindulged myself in the latter from the get-go.

By the age of 7, it was fair to say that while 70% of my body was made up of water, the other 30% was made up of intense self-loathing. This continued throughout my pre-teens, teens, and all the way up into adulthood. Or at least, until the past few months.

Like many people who self-deprecate and self-hate, we cope with ourselves through second-hand verbal laudation. Our love language is Words Of Affirmation, but not just with romantic partners – with family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers too. We’d ask our damn pets for reassurance if only they could speak. We put ourselves down in front of other people, sometimes only with the intention of having them build us up back up. We call ourselves ugly to be told we’re beautiful; call ourselves dumb to be told we’re geniuses. Or, if we’re the narcissistic variation of this person, we do the opposite, and constantly brag. We post a million selfies of ourselves on Instagram to get a million likes and be told we’re beautiful a million times. We brag about how clever we are and how high our IQ is. We won’t shut up about how amazing we are to everyone we know. And we also do all these things too, because we’re insecure. In the simplest terms, we seek validation.

I used to do this all the time (the original putting-myself-down version), with all the people I knew, often to the point where I’d get a high off it. There’s something about feeling really, reeeeally shitty about yourself, only to have someone or a plethora of people bombard you with praise – that you’re amazing, funny, intelligent etc., all these traits a few minutes ago you were not just doubting but were adamant you possessed the antonymic qualities, which becomes something you crave, something you need. Because even if you don’t believe what’s being said (which you don’t), it still feels nice to hear. It’s reassuring to think that this could possibly be what they see – their truth. On one of your better days, you might even toy with the idea that this is THE truth. Maybe you really are smart and funny and cute. Not sure? Go tell someone you’re doubting it again, and sure enough, they’ll repeat what you want to hear back to you.

When I first downloaded Tinder, for the first few weeks it was like Validation Heaven. I was a junkie, and this would give me all the hits I needed. I could spend hours on there, swiping and swiping and swiping, just so that when I’d get a match (which isn’t exactly rare when you’re a young female) I’d feel that high. Almost like I was a character in a video game, 1 match = 1 boost of confidence. I just had to keep collecting matches. All these people, strangers or not, thought I was worth swiping right on, and that surely meant something.

Of course, like with anything, this high was always temporary. As a professional Validation Seeker, we know best that when the praises stop, the self-hatred seeps right back in. That’s why you must keep going. And to keep going, to keep experiencing that high, the irony is that you also have to keep hating yourself.

The ‘aha!’ moment came twice. The first time was when I was dating a guy. Let’s call him Boring McBoringson. I was at his house. We’d stayed up having 3 rounds of hot, sweaty sex like people in their early twenties do, and had woken up after a few brief hours of sleep. As I was getting dressed I asked him something along the lines of, ‘Do you enjoy this time with me? There was a pause. He hadn’t responded, so I turned my head to him. Finally, with an exasperated look on his face, he replied, ‘Why do you even have to ask that?’ He didn’t say it in a sweet, hypothetical way, that way you say something to someone you like to elicit a long drawn-out ‘awwwwwww’. Instead, it was very blank, serious. He continued to basically inform me that the thing which made our times together exponentially worse were questions like these. Wasn’t it obvious he’d enjoyed it? (Weren’t the 3+ orgasms pretty decent proof?)

I remember feeling surprised at his reaction. I’d put in a concerted effort to ask the question in the most casual, blasé way possible, looking down at my feet, clearly not bothered. But he saw right through me, and I felt caught out. My desperate need to be validated was as transparent to him as some of his own insecurities were to me.

It was at that moment when I realised, people weren’t going off me because I was boring (at least not in the way I thought). It wasn’t because I wasn’t pretty enough, or smart enough. It wasn’t even because I was insecure (like I said, almost everyone is to some extent). It was because I expected them to save me from my insecurity. And after a second time which evoked the second revelation, I finally realised this truth:

When you’re constantly seeking validation from people, especially from a specific person/persons, you are giving them a job they never asked for. You are putting pressure on them to point something out about you, only to have it disbelieved, only to have it asked of them to point it out again. And again. And again. And again. Until they grow tired of having to build up someone else’s ego, when they know it’s always inevitably going to crumble.
It’s almost like asking someone to build a tower for you, only for you to bash it back down, then asking them to build it again ad nauseum. Like, bloody hell, build your own tower! Anyone would get fed up! It is no one’s responsibility to constantly make you feel better.

(I don’t mean that in a way that says you’re not allowed to be reassured or tell someone when you’re feeling shitty. ‘Course you are! If you’re having a down day and you call your friend for support, that’s different. That’s just called friendship. I’m talking about when you purposely and persistently use people as your personal pick-me-up, and don’t try to deal with your insecurities yourself. There’s a huge difference: The former is vulnerability, and brings people closer, the latter is validation, and tears people apart.)

The worst thing about dealing with your insecurities through the lens of other people is that it isn’t sustainable. If you base how you feel about yourself on how somebody feels about you, what if they change their mind? What if they decide they no longer find you interesting, or worth talking to? What if they stop loving you? Then, you guessed it: Your world comes crashing down. Your identity feels threatened, and you feel lost. It’s just too precarious. Even if you find a loving romantic relationship with someone who’s willing to build that tower for you, and you don’t bash it down, they still could someday.

I’ve had this happen to me first-hand, like many people. Where, in a romantic context, somebody decided I wasn’t that great anymore, so I went right back to hating myself. If I’d have loved myself regardless, yes, that rejection still would have hurt, but I could’ve picked myself back up relatively quickly and easily, because I would’ve known a simple rejection doesn’t deeply reflect on who I am or affect who I thought I was. I’m still me, now just with my pride a bit hurt! Instead, because of my poor guidance, my depression got significantly worse for a period which lasted much longer than it should have. (Not to mention, what if you’re even more unlucky and end up with someone who stays with you because they like how insecure you are? Someone who enjoys how desperate you are for their approval? When you give somebody the ability to validate you, and thus potentially break your identity, you give them a hell of a lot of power which the wrong person could easily abuse.)

Love yourself because you love yourself, not because of somebody else’s ability to love you. Self-love should always be self-inflicted; that’s why it’s called SELF-love.

Jumping into a relationship to make yourself feel better via that person’s love might be easier, but it’s still toxic. It’s still not worth the risk. That’s why I’ve decided to take a break from dating for at least a few months – I recognized that I was doing -or trying to do- exactly that. I was dating to seek validation. (Ironically, a pretty unattractive trait!) And as a singleton, learning to love myself through myself is proving pretty difficult. But honestly, it’s still not anywhere as difficult as I thought it would be. Crazy what a bit of reading, hard truths and 10-minute meditations can do.

Only two months ago when I was in Cambridge visiting my best friend, I couldn’t bring myself to wear a dress without also wearing tights or stockings.

Let’s backtrack a bit. When I was younger, I had severe eczema, which has left me with a fair amount of discoloration/melasma on my legs. It’s not surprising then that almost my entire life, I have covered my body, fearing remarks and judgement from that majority of people who don’t have awfully sensitive skin (and so can’t empathise with the horror of having seen your scathed skin literally bleeding through your clothes). This was, of course, reinforced by actual remarks, such as one from a delightful young lady who said it looked like I had the plague. (Teenagers can be so sweet!)

Only at 17 did I manage to treat the eczema and most of the discoloration on my arms, which lead me to no longer feel the need to wear hoodies in the summertime. My legs never really made the improvement my arms did, so I never quite built the courage to stop covering them up, until now. Now, would you believe it, I don’t just wear dresses tights-free. No no, I’m more hardcore than that. Most days, I’ll wear high-waist denim shorts (y’know, those ones which go all the way up to your damn ass) without a mere second thought. And I guess it’s because I just don’t really care anymore. If I don’t need validation, I don’t need somebody to think I have nice legs. And if I don’t need somebody to think I have nice legs, I don’t really give a monkey’s shoe if a total stranger thinks I don’t. I think they’re fine, (rather lovely actually) and that’s all that matters.

That’s only one way no longer needing validation has manifested into my life. It wouldn’t be a big change to most people, but for me, it’s huge.
Still, I’m not perfect – sometimes I catch myself going beyond the lines of vulnerability into seeking validation and approval like a leech or a mosquito or an asexual succubus. But when I recognize it, I immediately try to stop and take responsibility, and ask myself why. It isn’t fair on myself or the other person. Nonetheless, safe to say this is an area of self-improvement in which I’m really killing the game. And that’s life-altering because, most importantly, it’s helping me learn to validate myself – my own beauty, my own greatness, my own intelligence and creativity.

I shouldn’t have to rely on anybody to be aware of those things, and neither should you. Let your brilliance validate itself.

It’s Too Late; It Won’t Matter

Where does all the time go?

Where does all the time go?

There is always something of a psychological aftermath to birthdays and Christmases and New Year’s Days. While these are meant to be some of the best days in any given person’s year (the entire month of December is like an exercise in forced happiness), I can never help but feel a wave of something sinister almost as soon as the celebrations are over. I say ‘something’ because it’s hard to pin down exactly what the feeling is. Sadness is perhaps too simplistic; anxiety is too general. It’s more of a sort of remorse, which rolls around as reliably as the holidays preceding it, like a bad cold you can’t seem to nurse into memory.

It’s quite apt that the first blog post I write in well over a year is one about feeling like you’re wasting time. Just now, my instinct was to rewrite that, change it to: ‘feeling like time is slipping away from you.’ But I had it right first; it’s more that the time I do have, I fritter. It’s only as a consequence that it seems time itself is escaping me. But the truth is, it’s either that I’m not running very fast to catch it or that the net I’m using is just one large hole with a ring around it.

After a recent birthday, which itself was a happy and well-fed day, nonetheless, I’ve been feeling especially abundant ever since, not in experience or growth, but in regret. I worked quite hard this past year to improve myself and my circumstances, generally feel better about my life and its direction, and for the most part, my efforts have been successful. Still, no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve already wasted all of my chances, exhausted all of my options and have nothing left to work with. While I’m well aware that this likely sounds ridiculous, is ridiculous, is even borderline ungrateful, this doesn’t make the feeling any less visceral. If anything, it acts as an aggravation, a means of getting stuck in that relentless emotion-loop, feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, until you realize there’s not been much logic behind these feelings; there’s not been much thinking.

Sure, there are plenty of people out there who would love to be my age, a time when society (reluctantly) allows you an excuse (somewhat) to still be figuring yourself and (almost) all of your shit out. But with every ageing year, society clamps down on its expectations, growing less and less tolerant and more and more tired of your inertia, like a disappointed parent, but one that you can’t simply ignore the calls of. They ring inside your head, and you answer them instinctively. It asks, “What’s the excuse now?” Once the excuse of youth is gone, you have to come up with something new: It’s my bad childhood/It’s my depression/It’s my soul-crushing job. But they all feel and fall flat when held up against your mirror image, reminding you that your life is meant to be growing too, alongside you.

Birthdays, Christmases, New Year’s Days; they’re like mirrors in that sense. They remind you of the passing of time, and everything you’re doing (or not doing) to squeeze the most out of it. I guess that’s it, really. I’m scared of running out of excuses. I’m scared I already have. I’m scared I’ve become that aged person already, looking in the mirror, wondering what they’ve done with their life.

A Seed

The problem is, it seems like the age to have your personal pile of shit all neatly tied together is only getting younger and younger. By proxy, the reality of not having your shit together, of your life being as unstable as a drunk bachelorette on a mechanical bull, feels increasingly inadequate. The ages of my peer group, very late Generation Zs who nonetheless like to think of themselves as Millennials, we were around the last age bracket fully allowed to be embarrassingly young. It seems like being a kid is something of a dying breed (I could go into this in depth, but I’ll leave that for another day). And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying looking at someone 7 years younger than you who dresses better, has better hair and better skin and an established morning routine, who smiles with the confidence of a self-made millionaire and walks with the certainty of someone who knows which direction they’re headed. Not that there hasn’t always been very young, very successful people. But it seems like now more than ever, there’s this overwhelming pressure to be “grown”, in every manner of the word. I don’t feel grown. I feel very much like a seed still. A seed waiting to flower.

I can’t help it. I can’t help wishing to be them, those non-kid kids. Even more so, I can’t help wishing to be 16 again as myself, so I could do everything differently. I guess I look at that age as something of a checkpoint in my life, as though I was a character in a video game who failed the round. But I’m not a character. I can’t go back to my checkpoint and have another go; I can’t do it over and over again and again until I win and get the high score. I have to just work from where I am, despite all the mistakes left behind me and the crippling inability to do anything about them. I just have to leave them there like bodies on Everest, things I can’t save, at least, not in the way I want to.

And so, because of this inability, the dementors suck my hope. I feel like because I can’t undo things, I can’t rebuild things. Sometimes, I feel like I could only ever have been successful, could only ever have had the opportunity to become the person I want to be if I started developing -truly developing- much earlier. Like any effort I put in now will amount to nothing, because it’s far, far, far too late. I will never be the bohemian 20-year-old who works as a writer in San Francisco, a girl who moved to escape the tedious, unaesthetic, pedestrian 9-5 existence and chase her dreams. I will always be the 20-year-old who cried every day in her little student room in her little student bed in Lancaster. And even now, despite progress, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t closer in personality and circumstance to the girl in Lancaster, the girl I actually was. And for some reason, I can’t get over that. I can’t get over the feeling that my past has poisoned my future. This feeling of permanence – the face of who I was, a disfigurement, is the face of who I always am.

There are people out there who have been chasing their dreams since they were preteens. I’m now a decade ahead, still not entirely sure what my dreams are. There’s that holey net again.

The Upswing

Ironically, this what-I-know-to-be-stupid-don’t-worry insecurity about having ruined my life at only 23 is a mark of my age, because only somebody in their early 20s would have an insecurity as self-absorbed and exasperating as that. I’m well aware of this, and it’s something of comfort knowing that literally anything I believe or fear right now is unreliable. I know that I know nothing and I like it, because it leaves me so much room to learn, to one day be sure about what I know and rational about what I fear. So there’s the positive in all this: I’m an idiot, but an idiot with self-awareness, and self-awareness is one of the most valuable things a person can have… But what do I know?

In all seriousness, it’s a work in progress to unlearn an insecurity so long-held and permeating. The quiet, logical voice tries to remind me that this way of thinking is remarkably toxic, and (to state the obvious) an excuse in and of itself. It’s a bogus reason not to try – if you convince yourself you’re doomed from here on out, you’ve wrapped yourself in that warm, cozy safety blanket called self-pity. When things go wrong, you can tell yourself that it was bound to happen anyway, even if you’d tried, because that’s just what life is like for you.

Some people lose their entire lives this way, dwelling on “wasted” time. In doing so, they only continue to waste more, until they have none left to waste. Sometimes, in all those years of dwelling, they never put anything to action and they leave nothing behind. Honestly, that’s more terrifying than anything else.

Put it this way, every year I can’t believe how old I am, and yet, every year I can’t believe how young I was a year ago.

It’s not too late; it will matter.

Something To Say About Self-Doubt

Doubting myself, creating regardless.

Originally published January 2017

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

I’ve been writing poetry since I was 5 years old.
Somehow, I can still recite word-for-word a poem I wrote when I was 7 or 8 years old, ‘The Greedy Shark’. I’m pretty sure I took inspiration from that Lewis Carrol poem, ‘How Doth The Little Crocodile’; mine was like a spin-off. It makes me smile to think about it.

Around the same age, I remember my mum bought me a huge anthology; I can picture it in my head right now; it was red and had illustrations and featured at least 100 poems. My favourite one by far was ‘The Silver Swan’.

The Silver Swan, who living had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
“Farewell, all joys; Oh death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.”

Even then, even as a kid, there must have been something morbid about me for this poem to be the most appealing over all the rest; many were much more light-hearted. Apparently, ‘The Silver Swan’ is by Orlando Gibbons, but in the book, I remember it was stated as having an anonymous author. And I guess that also attracted me – it somehow made the poem more mysterious and profound and fascinating in the eyes of an 8-year-old girl.

At this age, I got a poem published, an elaborate exploration about, essentially, a mouse catching cheese. The poetry company weren’t (and still aren’t) very prestigious at all, but when I got that acceptance letter saying my poem(!) was going to be published in one of their books(!), I was ridiculously excited, I simply couldn’t contain it. My triumphant glee in that moment was the equivalence of someone getting an acceptance letter from Harvard University. Always supportive of my literary endeavours, my mum bought a few copies of the anthology when it came out, gave a few to family members, kept two for ourselves. A week later, I confidently recited my poem in front of the entire primary school assembly, beaming like a proud idiot when the audience clapped at the end, even if I knew it was just perfunctory, and probably bore no relation to the quality of the poem whatsoever.

Since that day, 12 or so years ago, excluding family members, I have never again recited any of my poetry to an audience. Not once. And it’s not like I haven’t had opportunities. I’ve been to open mic poetry nights, only to always find myself watching from the safe comfort of a chair, envious of the people who got up from theirs, and walked past the rows to perform; envious of their composure, of their nervousness, of their bravery, of the words they weren’t afraid to share.

Sometimes I thought the poems were good. Sometimes they were brilliant. Sometimes they were atrocious. It didn’t really matter; it was all subjective anyway. That wasn’t what I was focusing on. Rather, every time someone’s name was called, I would wish in that moment to trade places with the owner of that name. I wished I could see things from their perspective, if only for those 2 or 3 minutes before the next poet was beckoned. I wished, being them, I could skim my eyes across the faces of the audience, and catch those of the girl with the nervous energy and the afro hair. I’d shake my head at her in disappointment. Fervidly, so that everyone would turn their faces to look at hers. I’d press my lips against the mic, pause for dramatic effect, then finally, I’d give her an ultimatum: get up (to perform) or get out.
She’d get out, of course. Undoubtedly.

I have gone years without writing a word of verse or prose; I have probably gone months without writing recreationally altogether. In fact, in my lifetime, I’ve probably started hundreds of novels, stories, screenplays, plays, articles, even recipes. I’ve finished about 8, give or take.
(I’ve only written so many poems because they’re short, so finishing them doesn’t scare me nearly as much. Writing a poem is an injection; the pain’s there but it’s over quickly.)

So, what happened?

You’ve probably already guessed from the title. I have self-doubt.

If a ‘Self-Doubters Anonymous’ therapy group was ever created, you can rest assured I’d be the first person to sign up. “I am Meah, and I’m a Self-Doubter.”

I’m pretty sure it’s something I’ve suffered with all my life. The only difference is, when I was young there was less of it, and I didn’t care very much anyway. People were going to listen to the stuff I wrote whether they liked it or not. Now, however, and by ‘now’ I actually mean for quite a long time, I’ve struggled with anything that could be classed as a ‘hobby’ or ‘interest’. Anything that someone can actively be good at is difficult for me to enjoy – it’s an open invitation for that voice in my head to creep up from its squalid hole to brazenly inform me that I’m not good enough. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for a second that I’m the only one who gets these thoughts. Everyone does, especially creative people – singers, dancers, artists, writers, actors etc. From time to time, or at some point in a person’s life, they will be confronted with their own potential inadequacy. It’s not pleasant, but it’s fairly normal.

When this starts to become a real issue is when these thoughts occur regularly – weekly, daily, hourly – when they crawl into the crevices of your mind, festering like bacteria, feeding on your self-esteem. Finally, they manifest into your beliefs; every time a doubtful thought occurs, you trust it. 100%. You stop doubting the doubt itself. As someone who is currently, finally coming down on a mental elevator from this extreme level of self-doubt, it’s a horrific place to be stuck at.

When you doubt yourself that intensely, the feeling doesn’t just stay boxed into one category of your life, it implements itself into every single one of them. Before you know it, everything you do is wrong. You can be washing a dish and BOOM; ‘you’re not doing that right, you’re a f**king idiot’. Every aspect of your day-to-day existence is put under scrutiny, from what you’re wearing to how you’re talking to what you’re eating. It’s like spending your entire day walking backwards and forwards through a full body scanner, constantly detecting faults and flaws in the way you’re living life. You start to feel embarrassed simply by your own presence in a room. It sucks.

Writing is particularly difficult for me because it’s what I’m most passionate about. I care, perhaps too much. Ironically, it should be the very thing I enjoy the most. And I kind of do. I love it, and it kills me at the same time. Right now, as I’m writing this, somewhere in my head someone’s wondering: ‘What the hell is she on about?’ But I’m ignoring it. Because it’s not worth listening to. I’ve finally realized that, I think. Sylvia Plath was right. Creatively, I could’ve achieved a lot more if I didn’t suffer from self-doubt. But she was also wrong, in ways.

There is a level of responsibility in every emotion we feel. I’m no longer indulging my self-doubt. I’m writing again, and it hurts but I don’t want to care anymore. I guess I’m learning a lesson from that 8-year-old girl who wrote every day, not even because she gave any thought to being good, but because she simply enjoyed it.

Finding that balance between self-belief and self-berating is extremely hard. Sometimes we put way too much emphasis on being ‘good’ or ‘successful’ at what we enjoy, to the point where we stop enjoying it altogether.

Screw that.

Someone once said, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. So I say, feel the self-doubt and do it anyway.