Do you know what today is? It’s the most romantic day of the year, right?
Today is the day that makes one important truth about modern society very clear: external validation is a drug and we’ve been trained to be addicted to it.
Yes, external validation has always existed, but it has never mattered nearly as much as it does now. Before the industrial revolution, most people were servants, serfs or slaves and they didn’t really have the means to curry favour with each other on all the levels that we appear to need today. You had a job and you did not speak unless spoken to. There was no film or television industry to fill our heads with idealised versions of family, relationships or jobs. There wasn’t really a cult of celebrity and there certainly wasn’t social media sending you notifications every time someone liked what you posted. So yes, external validation existed but it was not something people were addicted to.
“What does that have to do with Valentine’s Day?”
Valentine’s Day is the perfect example of external validation as a social convention. If you are alone on Valentine’s Day, it’s supposed to mean you must not be very desirable. Yet we allow and even encourage children to exchange Valentine’s Day cards at school. We all know how that ends for the kid who doesn’t get one. If you are in a relationship on Valentine’s Day you are expected to show your love by spending ridiculous amounts of money on things which have been marked up just for the holiday: flowers (perishable), chocolate (full of addictive sugar and often involving slave labour) etc. With a population so addicted to external validation, it’s no wonder so many relationships end or go through a rough patch around this made-up and exploitative holiday! Woe be unto you if you don’t spend enough or plan something special! It’ll mean you don’t care, of course!
“But Valentine’s Day is about love!”
I’m not against love but none of this is about love. This is all about our fear of rejection and really about our relationship to ourselves. I get that we need other people and that on an existential level, children need the attention and care of others or they will die but that doesn’t justify continuing this behaviour once we can fend for ourselves. Unfortunately, it continues throughout our education. If you get bad grades, you’re worthless and you'll never achieve anything. If you wear the wrong clothes or say the wrong thing, you’re not good enough. If you don’t think like everyone else, there is something wrong with you. If you're poor, it's your fault. It’s all about fitting in and finding the acceptance of others. The acceptance of others has become so important to us that we’ll stop at almost nothing to get it. We will also let any indication that there is a chance that we have been rejected ruin our day. It’s like we go into withdrawal or something!
For one reason or another, people often come to me, the autistic guy with the brain injury, for advice. Can you guess what their chief complaint is? Someone acted in a way that they didn’t like. It’s odd to me that we allow ourselves to invest so much in feeling bad about the action of another. That person doesn’t know who you really are and is using you as a mirror. Whatever they are reacting to and however they are acting has everything to do with their own self-perception. Don’t take it personally and certainly don’t use it as an excuse to treat yourself badly. Don’t let it stop you from doing the things you want or need to do either!
“But how will I know what I am worth without the validation of others?”
At the end of the day, the only person who knows you well enough to tell you what you are worth is you and it’s possible that you might have a lot to unlearn before you can learn to validate yourself but I guarantee you that your relationships will also improve if you do the work. All of this Valentine’s Day stuff is designed to make us feel bad about ourselves or stressed out and worried that we aren’t loved enough. Either way, we’re going to spend money and guess who that helps? Not you or me.
You will never find happiness outside of yourself. What you will find are fleeting moments of exhilaration that don’t quite fill the void inside you. You know, like the high you get from drugs. When you constantly demand this kind of high in the context of a relationship (friendly, professional or romantic), you pretty much guarantee its failure. Setting those kinds of expectations puts a lot of pressure on the other person to keep giving you hit after hit after hit of this drug you are addicted to and it becomes exhausting. What's funny is that you're not feeling those highs because of anything they did or bought. Like your reaction to the slightest whiff or possibility of rejection, you're the source of these highs as well. This happiness is within you and you can always access it. If you let yourself!
“So how should I celebrate Valentine’s Day?”
Look at today as an opportunity to show love to yourself. Not by buying anything but by reconnecting with all the good things there are about you and showing yourself some compassion. Nobody is perfect and that is exactly how it is supposed to be. If we were all perfect, life would be boring and nothing would matter. So, give yourself a break and appreciate the things you are good at. Who knows? You might find a whole new person in there! Let the detox begin!
So what do you say? Will you be your own Valentine?