One of the most overlooked of basic human needs is our need for validation—the overt or subtle assurance from others that we are liked, respected, admired, and cared about…in short, that we are worthy in the eyes of other humans: that we matter.
The degree of validation we receive as a child molds us into who we become as adults. It is a form of nourishment for the soul. Too little, and it stunts our growth; too much and we become bloated and too self-important to function effectively.
Some of us, for whatever reason, can never seem to get enough validation. Lord knows my parents, family, and friends all seemed to like me and not to keep that fact a secret. Yet I constantly craved—and crave—more. As a writer, absolutely nothing delights me more than when someone says they like what I write. It is, truly, food for the soul.
But like most forms of nourishment, our need for validation is with us all our lives, and the sad fact is that as we grow older, we seem to receive less of it just when we need it more. To be deprived of validation leads to loneliness and isolation. The older we become, those people to whom we have always looked for validation…family, friends, coworkers…fall away and too many of us grow weak through its lack.
That we live in an increasingly technology-driven society which seems values the individual less, only intensifies increases this insidious form of emotional starvation.
Validation need not, especially as we grow older, be in the form of effusive praise—and there is nothing more transparent or insulting than condescension. But a simple sincere statement (“You look nice today, Mrs. Johnson”) or question (“I heard you weren’t feeling well last week: I hope you’re better now?”). Something so utterly basic as a smile and a “Hello” or “How are you”—and if that’s too hard to manage, just a smile—can provide the emotional equivalent of a nice meal.
And as I say this, I realize that I do not practice what I preach nearly often enough. My own insecurities make me hesitant to make the first move in any social contact. As people grow older, they often become more withdrawn and as a result give the impression that they don’t want to be bothered. Why smile and say “hello” to someone who looks so dour? That it is a defense mechanism doesn’t seem to matter: it works.
I have, recently, really tried to do better at this, and will, after writing this, try to do even better. It isn’t easy. But consider how much a smile costs compared to its value. So you’re shy? So what? Get over it! It isn’t about you, or me. Consider how you feel when someone smiles at you or says something kind, and that what you are doing when you do the same may very well contribute to the recipient’s RDA of validation, and remind him or her that they are not invisible…that they do matter.
There is nothing more validating than to be the recipient of a gratuitous act of kindness. Keep that in mind. Better still, act on it.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).