It sounds needy, desperate even.
But is it always bad to want people to give you positive attention?
What is the Difference between Emotional Connection and Validation?
In reality, validation isn’t always a dirty word; it can be good to give and receive validation. In it’s purest form, validation is simply one person saying to another: “I get where you are coming from, I see you. I acknowledge you and where you are right now, even if I see things differently.” For the sake of discussion, let’s call this “good” variety of validation “Emotional Connection.”
Validation only starts to deserve its bad rap when it ventures into ego-monger territory: “Reflect back to me a picture of myself that I want to see and believe, even if it isn’t quite accurate, even if it’s only a carefully massaged part of the picture.” Let’s keeping calling this “bad” kind of validation “Validation.”
|Emotional Connection Seeks||Validation Seeks|
|Honest and thoughtful feedback||Positive reactions only|
|Intimacy with true friends||Praise from high-status people|
|To both give and receive attention||To primarily receive attention|
|To feel nourished and grounded||Euphoria no matter how elusive|
Why it’s Better to Share an Emotional Connection than to Receive Validation
Apart from the benefit of becoming more genuinely likable to other people, why should you want to swap validation for emotional connection, particularly if you manage to keep a steady stream of adulation coming in?
Well, because people who pursue emotional connection are braver and steadier than people who pursue validation; they are not afraid that they are unlovable, and they are capable of tackling life’s ups and downs without compromising their core values. They design their own lives, and they are happier for it.
When you prefer seeking Emotional Connection, it means you feel safe, comfortable, and ready to take measured risks in order to move closer to your perfect life.
In contrast, when you are hooked on Validation, it means you feel out of touch with who you really are, unsteady, and willing to contort yourself in order to continue receiving reassurance from others. People who chase Validation blow around like the wind, never really getting anywhere truly meaningful to them or broadly satisfying.
Learning to pick Emotional Connection over Validation is the ultimate exercise in self-development.
So How do you Make the Swap?
People who prefer Emotional Connection to Validation have experience being loved without having to put on a front. That is the bottom line. So if you think you might be more into validation than you care to admit, please don’t beat yourself up.
But what do you do if you don’t have much experience being loved in your unfiltered form? It can feel kind of like graduating college only to find that all of the “entry” level positions actually require 5 years of experience. So are you doomed to spend forever in chicken-egg purgatory?
Well, the good news is: No! You can chart a course to get yourself some practice, slowing but surely becoming more secure and confident in your inherent lovability.
Here are 8 steps to follow on your path to becoming open, vulnerable, and ready for Emotional Connection:
1) Make a List of Safe People
Make a list of people in your life who you respect, who are emotionally generous, and who are non-judgmental. If you are having a hard time coming up with a list (people like this can be hard to find!), keep in mind that you really only need one person to get started. And while ultimately you’ll want to expand your list in both quality and quantity, in the beginning you can include people who are only superficially involved in your life. The warm barista at Starbucks, your friendly dentist, or your spunky manicurist are all good candidates.
2) Start Small
The key to success here is not to overwhelm yourself; if you have a validation-seeking problem, you probably have good reason for it. So ease yourself into the pool. The next time you see one of your Safe People, look for a natural opportunity to reveal a tiny flaw (pic something appropriate for a public space but that you are truly self-conscious about) and wait for them to react. The ideal situation is that they will warmly empathize, maybe even commiserate a little bit. That is Connection!
3) Use Humor
Even an excellent Safe Person might feel a little nervous if your self-disclosure is too heavy in tone. In the beginning (and especially if your Safe Person is not someone you know very well), use humor to lighten the mood. Poking fun at your flaws, fears, and imperfections with humor is a great way to get started. It allows a casual recipient to empathize without feeling nervous that you are going to come unglued in front of their eyes. Eventually you will want to open-up fully to a very trusted Safe Person, but that will come in time.
4) Be Strategic
Try to match your personal revelation with the interests and temperament of your Safe Person, i.e. tell your dentist that you are lazy about your health and your manicurist that you secretly love QVC, not the other way around.
5) Make Note of Your Feelings
At first, you’ll actually probably have a mixed bag of emotions; the Emotional Connection will likely feel incredibly wholesome, but you might also feel over-exposed, vulnerable, or even silly (not in a good way). You might not know what to say or do next. Take a deep breath, and take a mental note of how you feel so that you can reflect on your feelings later on. You might have to practice keeping the conversation going and not immediately deflecting the kindness you receive. In time, you will start to notice the uncomfortable aspects of Emotional Connection falling away as you get used to the idea that your real self is actually worthy of support and people are happy to give it.
6) Prepare for Rejection
But, things might not go according to plan, at least not every time. Your Safe Person might be having a bad day, be tired, or just otherwise distracted. It is possible that at times you will get no response or even a dismissive response. It’s important to know that this might be coming so that you are prepared to take it in stride and soothe yourself. By the way, even soothing yourself will get you closer to feeling comfortable being vulnerable and real on a regular basis!
7) Ramp Up Your Self-Disclosures
The goal with this process is to become increasingly comfortable with being “real” in front of others (and yourself) and naturally expecting that they will encourage and support you. In order to achieve this, you’ll have to progressively decrease your Validation seeking and increase your Emotional Connection seeking. You’ll have to endure some discomfort to get the gains, but keep going, slowly increasing the significance of your revelations to appropriate Safe People.
8) Develop an Eye for Safe People
If you start this process with few open, vulnerable relationships and you wish to complete it, you’re going to have to start to make new, higher quality relationships. This doesn’t mean that you will have to get rid of your current friends (although you may naturally want to shed some of them in time), but it does mean that you’ll have to add more. Look for people who are generous and comfortable in their own skin. Overtime, you’ll naturally begin to gravitate to people like this (and become one yourself!).
A couple of caveats:
Complaining is not the Same as Vulnerability.
For example, telling a friend that can’t believe your last relationship ended due to your having been cheated on is fine, but it will not provide you the same kind of Emotional Connection as telling her that you think you need to lighten up because you are afraid that your nervous energy puts too much pressure on your relationships.
Emotional Connection can Feel Mellow Compared to Validation.
Validation is a high. Connection is emotional nourishment. Starting to leave Validation on the table in favor of Emotional Connection will mean forgoing high-highs and low-lows in favor of a steadier, more wholesome emotional state. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get to have a boost of excitement when your boss compliments your intelligence or you get invited to a sample sale, but it does mean that you’ll stop living for these things as the only evidence that you’re worthy and lovable.