Plot twist: We seek external validation, even more than we imagine.
“The only man who is really free is the one who can turn down an invitation to dinner without giving an excuse” – Jules Renard. We are not as free as we like to think. By virtue of being social creatures, we seek endorsement from sources outside ourselves, wittingly, unwittingly, or both.
Esteem (prestige, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, confidence, and respect by others) is close to the apex of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Seeking validation is inherent in us, and we must go about this with intention and consciousness. Else, we would look for it (and possibly not find it) in the wrong places.
Here is an example of unconscious approval-aspiring attitude: Entering a negative mind space because someone disagrees with our perspective on an issue that is not life-threatening. In feeling upset, it shows we are bothered the person does not approve of our idea. If a person thinks the sky is pink when we think the sky is blue, it should not get under our skin, considering it does not harm anyone.
Another example is borrowing money to buy things to impress (and ‘oppress’) people. At times, we over-bend our backs to do things for peer applause. Peer applause is the validation we get from our mates/friends. To think we outgrew peer pressure as teenagers. Living a champagne lifestyle on a sachet water income is such a reach: the kind that can cause us to dislocate our shoulders.
In her book, The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout wrote that sociopaths lack the capacity to feel guilt, regret, and shame. These three emotions exist in everyone, albeit in varying degrees. They are tied to the conscience and how we seek validation. This makes me wonder if we are inadvertently becoming sociopaths by not caring about people’s perception of us. “You can’t shame me, as I don’t care about your hot takes on what I did.” Pending on emotional proximity to the recipient/observer of our actions, we tend to feel these three emotions. We might not feel guilty if we lied to a random person distributing flyers on the street. However, there are high chances we would feel guilty if we lied to a loved one.
To seek validation with intention, we must consider emotional proximity. We have to examine our different relationships and understand how much they mean to us. In making certain choices, chances are we can validly hurt some people, based on the intimacy of our relationship, ergo, it behoves us to look towards them for approval. E.g., what happens to my kids if I decide to blow this month’s salary on a trip to Bali? Would it be fair to my almost-reclusive flat-mate, who I care about, to invite strangers to the house on a weekly basis? Would my partner mind being seen in public with me in the event I decide to dye my hair pink, green, and yellow?
In addition, we must examine the context. E.g., for security reasons, I owe it to my neighbours to get back home on time. However, I do not owe it to my neighbours to explain why I have dyed my hair in pink, green, and yellow colours. Is it my ma’s cup of tea what colour I choose to paint the bedroom I share with my spouse?
What are our motives for taking a particular stand? Are we saying one thing online and doing the opposite offline for retweets and likes?
Also, we should carefully consider our choices: are we making our choices for peer applause? Self-betrayal happens when we sacrifice our choices on the altar of other’s opinion, and it is worse when we do not realise this is happening.
Once we realise the external places we are seeking validation, we should ask ourselves and analyse if they are worth it. At times, the first place we look for approval should be the last place, because people in that place do not matter to us. It is like going overboard trying to look good for Sunday service in order to pepper other members of the congregation. “This my gele will grind pepper and blow it inside Mama Nkiru’s eyes.” But does Mama Nkiru matter? What if Mama Nkiru acts as though she does not care about the gele? Will we run to the hills screaming, “Woe, woe, woe!”
It is pertinent we ask ourselves what ways we seek societal thumbs-up. And we must be honest with ourselves and our answers. Are we telling ourselves we do not care about validation, yet feel hurt when the bomb selfie we posted on our Instagram account, with 3k followers, gets only three likes? We should know where and how we are seeking validation and seek it with our chest. If we are not proud of seeking approval in those places, we have to stop.
It is wisdom to know (and understand) that seeking validation is an integral aspect of our human experience, so we must be intentional, mindful, and conscious about the places we turn to for approval.