“When do you feel best about yourself?”
Is it when someone tells you ‘How good a job you have done today’ or is it when you have accomplished a task you have assigned yourself?
I have been a person who have always wanted to be told by others how good I am or whatever I am doing is okay.
We are all social beings, hence seeking validation from others is part of our existence. We love to hear good things about ourselves from our friends, positive feedback from our colleagues and this is an important factor to keep us going.
Trouble arises when we rely too much on external validation and we start defining our self-worth only based on what we hear from others. We are then constantly looking for acceptance and approval from others to feel good about ourselves.
Relying extensively on external validation means we are allowing others to dictate our worth. It can stop us from doing many things that we want to do, hold us back from expressing our true self for the fear of what others will think of us; leaving us feeling unfulfilled and disconnected. This is where the importance of self-validation steps in.
Working on our relationship with ourselves is the first step to self-validation. It’s about strengthening our skill of turning inwards to be our own support system.
Here are few steps we can follow to self-validate:
Listen to and acknowledge our thoughts and emotions without judging them. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to slow down and understand our needs. When feeling frustrated or angry, take a step back without judging or reacting to these feelings. Give yourself time to experience them and comfort yourself with compassion.
Engage in accurate self-reflection: This is about acknowledging and labeling what we are experiencing internally. It’s about stating facts rather than making assumptions. Accurate reflections should include the emotion that we are experiencing, the situation that caused it and a factual reason of why we are experiencing this emotion. “I am feeling sad and frustrated as my interview did not go well because I was looking forward to this job opportunity to move closer to my friends.”
Start the practice of self-acknowledgement: We all have our strengths and values which we tend to overlook. It is a great practice to ask ourselves daily, be it as soon as we wake up or as we drive to work.
“What am I celebrating about myself today?”
This way we are creating a space in our daily life to consciously practice self-acknowledgement and thus boost our confidence and self-worth.
Practice self-compassion. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding rather than harsh criticism and judgement.
“Self-compassionate individuals should evidence better mental health outcomes than those who lack self-compassion, such as a lower incidence of anxiety and depression, because their experiences of pain and failure are not amplified and perpetuated through harsh self-condemnation (Blatt, Quinlan, Chevron, McDonald, & Zuroff, 1982), feelings of isolation (Wood, Saltzberg, Neale, & Stone, 1990), or over-identification with thoughts and emotions (NolenHoeksema, 1991).”
Here is an Art Therapy activity that I use with my clients that helps to explore and practice self-compassion.
· Paper, pen, available colors like sketch pen or water colors
Directive: Part 1 : Painting / Drawing
Take few moments to think of something that you don’t like about yourself, something that you feel you are not good at.
Use the colors and try to draw/ paint this thing that makes you feel inadequate. It could be any relationship issues, any behavior pattern, abilities, physical appearance, or any part of your life.
Create this image either in abstract form or using shapes, lines figure or realistic figures, which ever way you want to express this idea.
Notice the emotions you experience, feel those emotions, and express them in words, colors, or images.
Part 2 : Writing
Take a fresh piece of paper. Think of a loving, kind and compassionate imagery friend who knows your strengths and limitations. He / she knows your whole life story, everything that you have gone through and loves you unconditionally. Your friend recognises the fact that your limitations are linked to so many things outside your control.
Write a letter to yourself from the perspective of this imaginary friend about this part of yourself which makes your feel limited.
What would your friend write to you about the thing that you don’t feel good about?
Reflect on the events, childhood experiences and family history that has contributed to aspects of your being which you struggle with?
What would the person write to remind you that we all are human, and it is nothing but natural that we all have our strengths and limitations?
What would your friend say to gently remind you to not over-identifying with your painful thoughts and feelings?
What words will your friend use to offer unconditional love, support and acceptance?
What would your friend say to help you refocus you attention on something helpful?
Once the letter is complete, take a break and come back to read the letter slowly to soak up and feel all the words of kindness. The intention of this letter writing is to be kinder to ourselves and gradually develop this into a habit.