I remember when my sister was getting ready got her sophomore formal in high school. She had her four girlfriends over to help her get ready, one of whom helped her put her hair in an up-do. When she showed my mom, my mother replied in Italian, because my mom thinks Italian is a secret code language that no one understands:
“Did your friend do your hair bad so she’s look better than you at the dance?”
At age 12, I heard this, processed it and carried it with me till present day: People are out to get you, hurt you, and most of all judge you.
The fear that others are judging me is what feeds the validation beast. The more I think others are looking at me (and judging my walk, my chewing, my updo) the more I need others to like what they see.
I don’t blame my parents for introducing me to the debilitating world of narcissism. But to this day, my father still believes, and I quote, "If you tell someone 'good job,' they'll get lazy so I say nothing so that you'll work harder."
What I crave now in my adult life is for somebody to do what a lot of parents do for their kids -- praise, qualified or not. Every situation is a possible place to score a hit: at work from my boss, at the bar from a stranger, or at my high school reunion (with an "I should have asked you to prom" from my high-school crush -- isn't that right Mike? MIKE??!).
And worst of all, that narcissism Large Hadron Collider, the Internet.
You don’t even have to take off your pajamas to get high. Every new Twitter follower* or re-Tweet, every “like” or positive comment on your new Facebook profile photo ... In an instant you can be applauded for “Having homemade tacos for dinner!” or your self-taken pouty-faced cell phone pic.
The Internet is a validation addict's crack den. It’s awesome, and terrible.
I should also mention I’m a comedian, actress and writer, career choices that are heavily rooted in validation and acceptance. Cast me! Laugh with me! Clap for me!
But here’s where I get confused. We all need to be liked and approved of. We all need validation to a certain degree, in order to help gauge how we are doing as human beings. Sometimes, the opinions of others help us become better people: like in the cases of mentors, or friends who want you to stop dating horrible men, or your parents praising you for successfully doing your taxes by yourself.
But at what point does it teeter into the pathetic? When it's solicited? When it's about fame and attention and not accomplishment? Is it so wrong to want validation? (And does starting a sentence “is it so wrong” constitute validation-seeking? Is this article even making any sense? Will you leave a nice comment? It never ends!)
I cross the line when I start to obsess over praise and feel like absolute garbage without it. I call it "Birthday Party Syndrome." I’d have a birthday party, 49 of the 50 people I invited would come, and I’d focus on one that didn’t show up. It wasn’t enough that all these other people loved me, I needed everyone to agree.
Or I'll send an email to someone regarding a career opportunity and weeks go by without a response, and the wheels begin to turn in my brain: They hate me, they’re think I’m dumb, they’re telling everyone how horrible I am. Weeks later, when I get an email reading, “Sorry for the delay! I was having a baby!” I breathe a sigh of relief. But even if that email didn't come, shouldn't I know I'm awesome even if nobody's there to say it?
I think the answer has something to do with like really loving yourself, which takes time and a lot of consciously reminding yourself not to be crazy. One of my favorite self-help books is The Four Agreements, in which one of the rules of life is: Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
A few years ago I told my dad that his steadfast campaign of witholding praise to build character had messed me up royally, and that some positive reinforcement would have been nice once in a while. Sadly, he agreed. He explained this was an ideology passed onto him by his father, and that he truly doesn't know how to always communicate positive feelings. He also apologized.
My father's behavior had nothing to do with me -- it had to do with him, his wounds, and his shortcomings.
He also told me, "I know I should have said I'm proud of you more but if you know you're smart and doing the right thing, it doesn't matter what anyone thinks."
"Sure," I replied, "but I still want to be told good job."
Ever the tough-love dad, he answered, "Yes, so tell yourself that. You know when you're doing a good job."
And in his own rough way, he was right. Validation from yourself is vital, validation from others is bonus. So let's all agree to stop looking outside to evaluate what we're unsure of. Say it with me: “I don’t care what anyone else thinks ... This updo looks fucking great."
(* Follow me @giuliarozzi, thanks!)