How to avoid the validation trap
Why haven’t they texted me? Did I do something wrong? Maybe they’re with that pretty girl who liked their status yesterday. Maybe they saw that picture of me with pizza on my face and lost interest. After two minutes of anxiety spiraling, a full-blown panic has set in. No matter what you try to do, you can’t distract yourself from obsessing about it. Then, just as you start to convince yourself it’s all over, you hear a noise that’s music to your ears. Your phone rings. It’s them! You breathe a sigh of relief. S/he likes me. I feel good now. Everything is fine.
Does this sound familiar? This example may seem a bit dramatic, but it’s not far from the emotional roller coaster we can experience when we like someone.
By the time you reach your mid-twenties, having relationship baggage is inevitable. Some of us travel lighter than others, but we’ve all had our heart shattered, broken someone else’s heart, or both. Chances are you’ve experienced one of these types of people: the one who is emotionally unavailable, the one who betrayed your trust, or the one who caught you with your guard down. With each one, you learned something new about yourself and even if you didn’t realize it at the time, it changed you.
If you’re asking yourself “Why do I always pick the wrong men/women?”, it might be time to reframe the question to, “What is it about me that is attracted to these types of guys/girls?
According to Dr. Terri Orbuch (PhD), relationship expert and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, in an interview with me, “if you don’t like yourself, you also might pick/be attracted to someone who is not like you (opposite), in attitudes and key life values. When in reality, studies show that similarity in key life values (underlying values) is what keeps people together in relationships over the long-haul.”
One of the most important questions you need to ask yourself is: “Where do you derive confidence from? What makes you feel good?” For some people, it’s work accomplishments and excelling in their careers. For others, it’s the quality of their relationships with family, friends, or significant others. The problem arises when you focus your energies primarily on one area, because you will be emotionally devastated when something inevitably goes wrong in that area. With all of life’s ups and downs, it’s important to seek balance in your personal life.
“If you seek approval and validation from others (and to feel good about yourself), then you will seek out men [or women] who give that to you immediately, or you’ll seek out relationships to receive that affirmation/validation,” says Dr. Orbuch. “You’ll be more likely to pick someone who isn’t right for you, or a relationship that isn’t right for you.”
Here are four tips Dr. Terri recommends to help you avoid the validation trap and feel good from within:
1. Practice self-affirmation. Write down 5 things you like about yourself and keep the list close to you. Read it, say what you like about yourself often.
2. Pick friends who value you and affirm you often. Schedule specific time on the calendar with these friends. That way, you don’t have to seek the wrong men/women to give it to you.
3. Journal/share your story with others. Join a support group of women who affirm, validate, journal, and help one another.
4. Every month, have a goal of giving yourself love. Do something good for yourself: treat yourself to a massage, go out for dinner, buy yourself something small, hug yourself, take a bath, etc. Know that you can be generous to and reward yourself.
In the wise words of author Stephen Chbosky (you know, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I believe our romantic relationships expose who we are at our core. It took me a long time to realize the relationships we have with others reflect the relationship we have with ourselves.
Over the years, I’ve experienced both toxic friendships and relationships, and regardless of whether it was a friend or boyfriend, the reason it took me so long to let go was the same: I wasn’t confident. I didn’t want to be alone and I was scared to take a risk and reach out to meet new people. So I settled. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 20-year-old self to take more risks, because being happy is worth it. I’d tell myself that I deserve to be with someone who is on the same page as me and who is loving and supportive and inspires me to be my best self.
Kaitlin Vogel has been working in New York City in both the marketing and publishing industries for more than three years, following her passion for psychology and health/wellness. Everyone calls her a mix of Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones — a fearless-meets-honest relationship writer who puts herself out there. Looking back, she’s happy she followed her third-grade teacher’s advice to pursue writing as a career. Since then, she’s moved from Backstreet Boys poems to relationship columns. Kaitlin can be found on Twitter @KaitlinVogel.
(Image via Tali Yalonetzki.)