Everyone wants to be loved and accepted for who they are—just as they are. And everyone is afraid they won't be. That's true whether someone has abuse in their background or not. It's true for apparently successful people just as it's clearly true for those just scraping by.
And yet we have this tendency to berate ourselves for needing and wanting validation—as if it wasn't part of the human condition and something everyone needs! Babies who are not loved enough literally die—it's called failure to thrive.
So why are we so reluctant to accept this part of ourselves?
Well, first a lot of kids, even those not in classically defined abusive homes, often get the message that they shouldn't be so needy, shouldn't cling to their mothers (or fathers) so much. The message may be explicit or implicit (in the body language, voice, or facial expressions of adults around them). But that speaks to the fatigue adults so often feel—not to the very human need we all have to connect with others!
As adults, if we feel needy, we may act in ways that we HOPE will elicit validation from others. The problem is that it rarely works and often means we push away the very people we hoped would stay connected to us and provide us with validation.
If we're lucky, we're able to explicitly say to someone important to us: Hey, look, I know it's silly, but it really helps if you TELL me that you care and that you believe in me. Or...it really helps if you SHOW ME that you care and believe in me. (The tricky part is that often the other person tries to show us by doing what would make them feel validated and cared about and that does not necessarily match what actually works for us.)
Now the other person may not do what we ask. If they are abusive they will use it against us and that's a good sign to get out! Or it may be a request that seems to that other person inappropriate—or more than they have the energy to do. But simply by asking we are validating ourselves. We are saying we matter. And we begin to discover what we can and can't ask for—the boundaries of the relationships around us.
Ultimately, we're best off if we can give ourselves the validation we need and then connect in other ways to those we care about. And this is, in a sense, the goal of therapy—that we reach the point where we believe in ourselves enough to provide all the validation we need. But how do we do that?
This is one reason I believe so strongly in doing things like making lists of what we like about ourselves and reasons we might have to believe we can accomplish what we want to accomplish. This is why I believe in building on small successes to create bigger ones and celebrating what we do.
If we begin by looking at our (perceived) flaws, we may never get beyond that point! We will feel like failures to ourselves. On the other hand, if we begin with what we LIKE about ourselves and our STRENGTHS, then we have something to build on. The more we love and accept ourselves, the more we discover about who we are AND WHO WE CAN BECOME.
I wish I'd been able to say to a person in my life a few years ago: Look, I know it's silly but it would really help just to have you actually say these words, every so often: “I believe in you and you're doing fine.” Then I probably wouldn't bug you with so much email, hoping what I write will (without me having to explicitly ask) get you to say it.
I wish with another person I'd been able to say: What's really going on?
I wish with my ex-husband I'd been able to truly be myself—rather than trying to be who I thought he wanted me to be. My marriage probably would have ended sooner but I'd have had more of my self-respect intact when I left.
But we can't change the past. What we can do is look at where we are now and if we are not valuing ourselves—ALL of who we are—we can practice, even if it's for short moments at a time, accepting who we are. We can look at the things we like about ourselves and past successes and begin from the point of who we are and what will make our lives better and happier. And instead of calling ourselves idiots or weaklings (or whatever else our favorite chastisements may be), we can practice reminding ourselves that we are strong and resilient and creative and capable and survivors.
Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),