When you walk into a room, what do you look for? More than a hello or a glance in your direction, it’s someone’s eyes lighting up when they see you. A sense of someone truly seeing you — something Toni Morrison spoke about on The Oprah Winfrey Show many years ago and a thought that has left a mark on me. When you read the title of this article, you might think I’m going to talk about happiness, love or peace of mind. However, as Oprah says, the one common denominator of all humans is validation. We all want to be seen and recognised.
When we think about validation we usually mean getting someone’s approval or agreement, but that’s not always it. I want to talk about validation in the sense that when I say something, I want to know you’ve paid attention to me, heard my words and thought about what I’ve said. I want to know that you are happy to see me, want me in your life and appreciate the person I am. If you think about how you feel based on the number of responses you get on a WhatsApp group or the likes on an Instagram post — these are just small ways in which we measure validation. We feel like these small acts represent us being seen by those around us and reflect that they are paying attention to and thinking about us.
There are some people who continue to disappoint us. People who prove that they do not see us, they don’t understand us and they might not want us around. They do this in small ways, like disrespecting our time, not understanding our opinions or negating our experiences. You might have a friend who only calls you when she needs something and isn’t there for you when the tables are turned. Or someone else who you go out of your way to do things for, but never see them truly appreciate the effort you have put into this. I don’t think it’s possible to give validation to every person in your life, because that would mean you need to be willing to really connect with each person in a meaningful way. So we make choices. We choose the people we will respond to and those we might be lazy about sharing positive reactions with.
In this episode, Toni Morrison asks the question of whether your face lights up when your child walks in the room because that’s all that they’re looking for. You might think that your love and affection for them is obvious and on constant display, but a child is only noticing the fact that you’re frowning or thinking about something else. A child does not know his or her worth based on your words, but on the way you behave, and I think this extends to us through adulthood and through our lives. We want to know that we are valued by those close to us, and we want them to show this to us.
I learnt two important lessons while listening to this episode. The first was that I need to be more present and mindful of those around me. Whether it’s my pet or my partner, I want to show them that I SEE them. I am fully aware of their presence and I am happy to have them with me. It’s my job to show someone how I feel on the inside through my actions on the outside. I want the people I love to know I love them and to make them feel appreciated while giving them that sense of validation. I think understanding this aspect of relationships can really change the way we interact with each other.
The second lesson is that there will be people who don’t want to or maybe cannot see me. They make a choice to focus on something or someone else, and I cannot let my validation lay in their hands. It is hard to not look for validation especially from important people in our lives and I find that this is where a lot of insecurity and self-esteem issues stem from. As children, it’s possible that our parents did not give us that sense of validation as we carry that burden throughout our lives. The goal is to be aware of this and to know that sometimes it’s difficult for people to show us they care because of their own experiences. It’s also important to separate our sense of self-worth from the validation of those who aren’t able to give it to us. You cannot be seen by those who don’t want to see you.