a little east of reality

Sunday, January 08, 2006

validation and forgiveness

A rather long post

A few posts back I wrote about unequal friendships and how frustrating they are. I was feeling lonely and had realised that some relationships I had regarded as friendships were in fact one-sided affairs with people who are happy to tell me their problems and ask favours, and socialise when they feel like it or don’t happen to be dating someone, but who get a vacant, distracted look when the topic of conversation turns away from them.

Anyway, Lewis wrote some interesting ideas in an email in response. Here’s some of what he wrote:
…as complex as the emotions feel when we're in need of someone to listen, the mechanism that leads us to that point is amazingly simple. It all boils down to one thing: validation.

When we reach that low point at which we feel the need to talk, it's because our self-esteem has been knocked down a few notches. The cause of our lowered self-esteem can originate from zillions of different sources, but they all have the same net effect.
He went on to discuss how we create standards that we impose on ourselves or others, some realistic, others not. When those standards are violated, we become angry. If that anger is aimed at ourselves, it manifests itself as guilt; if at others, as resentment.

This really rang true. I realised that validation was exactly what I had really been seeking, and that resentment was exactly what I felt at not getting it. I don’t need someone to solve my problems, but I do need to know that I’m not being silly; that the things that upset me are actually worth being upset over, that the things I stress over are stress-worthy. Someone can tell me that just by listening for a while. I can lead a good life without a husband and kids, but I need to at least know that I’m the kind of person who could make a good marriage and be a good parent. (Actually, Drummer Boy gave me a list of ‘ten great things about chosha’ with my Christmas present. Number 4 was “you’re the only person who listens to me.” I don’t need to be his parent, but something in me loves knowing that if I were, I probably wouldn’t have screwed it up, because he feels loved by me and respected as a person.)

In other words, I expected that, as friends of mine, those people would validate me. Amazing how even typing those words makes me feel selfish, unreasonable. I want to delete them and find another way to describe it that sounds better somehow - less needy, less demanding. But I’m not going to delete them, because validation is a reasonable need, and to be validated as a person by friends is a reasonable expectation, as long as you don’t expect it every moment of the day.

So validation is good...or is it?

Which brings me to a new question. I think that it’s okay to need validation sometimes ~ in our work, in relationships, in our families. But when do I need to guard myself against needing it too much or too often?

I can think of one answer to that question straight away. When we don’t get validation from people we love and respect, we start looking for it from people whose validation isn’t really anything to value. I mean, isn’t that pretty much what peer pressure is: people seeking validation from others in the easiest way possible – by conforming to behaviours that instantly identify you are someone who ‘belongs’ in that group? But what kind of validation is that? The people I know who never fall for it are the ones who feel confident of their worth. SR, one of the kids I looked after in December, is a good example of that. I don’t think she considers herself particularly cool or gorgeous, and she definitely knows she’s a bit of a geek (in the good sense), but she also knows she’s smart and loved and creative and responsible. She can be hurt by things kids at school say, but they never stick.

Validation & forgiveness

Another time when I think we need to leave behind our need for validation came to me this week when I was reading Brian’s post on forgiveness. Generally I forgive easily and often, but there have definitely been times when I just could not let something go. A situation like that came up last year when a friend misunderstood something I did and completely over-reacted – they were quite nasty to me, but they were under a lot of stress at that moment. I knew that, but assumed they would apologise for it after they calmed down and saw the situation for what it was. The apology never came. I tried to chalk it up to experience and move on, but the fact that they saw their actions as reasonable bothered me a lot. This went on for four months, and then one night what had happened came up in conversation. I was honest about how I saw the situation and although the other person didn’t ever apologise, they at least acknowledged my take on it. And right then it was gone – all the resentment, all my strong feelings on it, all of it – like a breeze had come through and sweep it out into the atmosphere. All I really wanted was have someone acknowledge that my feelings were valid, and then I didn’t need those feelings anymore.

Of course this isn’t useful. Some people never acknowledge wrong-doing. Not only could I wait forever for that validation, but I also don't think I should need validation of my hurt in order to let things go and forgive. Forgiveness allows you to leave things behind. It doesn’t mean your injuries weren’t real ~ some people seem to think that if they let themselves heal they are somehow diminishing the injustice of whatever hurt them, but that isn’t logical. Moving on doesn’t change what happened ~ it just stops it from hurting you. I mean, if someone stabs me, should I keep the knife and reopen the wound each week in order to prove that I really was wounded? No, of course not. And at some point, when enough time has passed, when you've gained enough perspective, etc that healing could have occurred, you have to take responsibility for the fact that if you're still suffering hurt, it's because you are hurting yourself. Forgiveness benefits most the one who does the forgiving. It heals and healing is good.

Theory vs reality

Wow, that all sounds logical and sound, doesn't it? Of all the grudges I’ve held (thankfully not so many) there’s only one I can think of that I still feel really bitter about. So you'd think that after all I just wrote ~ and I believe it all, too ~ that I'd be tossing that grudge out the window about now and dance around enjoying my newfound freedom from old and unneeded bitterness. Instead I'm sitting here contemplating it and realising just how hard it is to push the desire for validation aside. Surprisingly so. Humans like to hold onto their hurts, don't they? I wonder why that is.