The Anatomy of Validation

September 10, 2010

When you grow up with (or find yourself experiencing in later life) low self esteem or diminished body image, the politics of finding/receiving/negotiating/bargaining for personal validation can be tricky at best. Often, it’s as if some sort of disaster zone overtakes you and you black out, finding yourself in strange territory when you wake up to your surroundings.

I have done many things that I am not proud of.

I have done almost all of those things because of a deep seated feeling of self loathing.

Let’s start at the beginning:

When I was a kid and I was fat, I was often made fun of in school and left out of social engagements. I made up for these shortcomings by being very nice to everyone and performing academically. I got straight A’s, it became my “thing,” but simultaneously, I did my best not to talk too much in class, because, well, no one likes an opinionated woman. [sidebar: I really believed that]

When I moved into high-school, my self esteem bottomed out as girls around me were scooped up and given flowers and asked to dances. I was not asked to dances. No one wanted to hold my hand in public. I was the make-out-with-her-in-the-close-and-lie-to-all-of-my-friends-about-it girl. I don’t think that I need to describe to you how dangerous this line of behavior became. I would do anything to feel accepted. I wanted to be just like everyone else. And still, academically, I was a “smart” girl. ┬áI was the editor in chief of the newspaper. I was the captain of the water polo team. I was a student leader.

Back to today:

I had a terrible week. In fact, I can’t remember a more awful week in recent memory. This week I: started grad school, moved to Boston, started my placement, and my grandmother passed away. I bring these things up, not to make you guys feel badly for me, but instead because I was very strongly reminded of my remaining crutches when it comes to personal validation.

Firstand I do not mean this to sound arrogant, I’m not stupid. And this week – I felt stupid. I felt like everyone knew more than me, and that I was the last to know about everything. I didn’t understand concepts as easily as others did. I didn’t know all of the right answers. I was stressed out to my absolute maximum, and I very seriously contemplated quitting. I learned: though I haven’t been in school in a long time, vestiges of the old, “I got an A, I guess I don’t suck so badly” still run pretty deep. If that is true, than the opposite is also true, “I can’t figure out how to do this homework, I suck at life.”

Second – I haven’t overcome my financial anxiety. I feel validated when I have a paying job. Living off of loans (though necessary for this moment in my life) is not my forte, and in fact it makes me feel vaguely nauseous all of the time. And I’m scared that I won’t be able to pay back all of the money that I’m taking out – so there’s that.

Third – I know that the past two weeks haven’t been stellar around here, but largely you guys have been pretty silent (and absent). I had completely not realized how much of my validation was stemming directly from comments on posts, page views, emails, tweets, facebook messages, and all around internet validating. This was a MAJOR revelation for me, as it felt really horrible – and thus forced me to examine it deeply. Mostly, the absence made me feel like a failure, like I had moved, lost all of my real life friends, and lost all of my blog friends in one fell swoop. This freakout and paranoia made me not want to post, because I wanted to avoid more failure. ┬áIntellectually, I know that weeks like this come and go, and that I’ll get back on track. But, emotionally – it’s tough going when you are slugging through the everyone hates me blues.

Still a lot of work to do, huh?

For those of you reading, thanks for sticking around. I pinkyswear that there are still lots of good things to come.