I talk to so many people who are looking for validation from someone who is not giving it to them. And this is such a hard one! Because even if you know you should be validating yourself — even if you want to, even if (like me) you’re a recovering people pleaser trying to disconnect from the drug of outside approval — that desire is still there, to be validated, to be affirmed, to be deemed worthy.
I had a thought the other day: what if you granted validation to yourself?
Not thought about it, wished for it, longed for it, waited for it, but GRANTED it.
How do you grant yourself validation?
How about we try this:
Write out the validation you want from someone. Imagine them saying exactly what you want to hear: singing your praises, telling you good job, nodding with approval at your actions.
Now this is the important part — read it out loud. If possible, to a trusted friend. Nod with approval. Stand up and clap your hands. Sing your own praises. And end with something like:
I hereby grant myself the validation I seek.
To commemorate, put on a validation song and dance to it, or write out a certificate, or make a tiny sigil to wear around your neck, or find a ring to wear, so any time you’re feeling small or insignificant or like an imposter, you can make a fist and say to yourself:
YES: I see you
I know you
You are powerful
You are learning
You are growing
I validate you
I strengthen you
I encourage you
I believe in you
I think something happens when we say this out loud to ourselves. When we adopt it as a daily practice, something you can do no matter how you feel, something you can feel your way into.
It’s not a given. It’s not either you have it or you don’t. It’s not something someone else can give you anyway.
Have you ever noticed that? How often, when the validation DOES come from outside, we swat it away, we deflect it, we dismiss it?
I wonder if, when we begin truly to affirm ourselves, when we build up those muscles and recognize ourselves, we also begin to receive more validation from the outside. Because we’re open to it — we’re ready for it — we’re not in a desperate game of hide and seek with it, wealready have it.
Something to experiment with! And that’s what I love about this work. It’s something you can practice and learn. It’s a choice you can make and a stance you can take, a question you can ask.
What if I had the power to grant myself validation?
I have to share the magic I’ve been experiencing this week, in all it’s unpredictable mad wild glory.
There are plenty of times when I feel lost and frazzled and… unmagical. Monday morning was one of them. I saw in my facebook memories that four years ago I’d posted a gleeful, glowing update that ended with something like…”even though the past year has been the hardest of my life, it’s also been a time of joy and change and breakthrough. For me, motherhood = creative explosion.”
I vividly remembered writing that post – but I can’t remember what happened that day to fill me with excitement and confidence about my new ventures, the business I was dreaming up, the show I was making. And though I’ve made a lot of progress in the last four years and I still feel like this is the most confident creative time of my life… this Monday I was not feeling confident or joyful. I was feeling tired and overtaxed and unsure.
I had time for a shower so I did one of my favorite rituals: I asked a question and drew some tarot cards to find an answer, and stepped into the shower to contemplate them. How can I tap into that feeling from four years ago? The cards went deep: what helps me is the Queen of Swords. What stops me is fear of failure. Who I am is the Fool.
I didn’t have much time to dwell on it after that, and when I picked up the kids and hustled to get dinner ready, I remembered that the new sitter was coming over in an hour. I had to cancel a bunch of plans over the last two months because we couldn’t find a sitter, the kids were sick, miscommunications, mayhem, etc. Now I had one coming over but I didn’t know what exactly to do with myself! I didn’t feel like singing karaoke, I didn’t have time to text anyone to meet me, and I didn’t want to drive around aimlessly without a plan. I felt like reading a book, but I was worried that I’d get sucked into scrolling on my phone. The thought drifted into my head – is it possible there’s a reading at Powell’s tonight?
I looked it up while the kids threw spaghetti noodles at each other, and sure enough, there was something happening… and what’s that? That can’t be right. Is it Lynda Barry??? My hero, the person who got me thinking about changing the way I work as an artist??! Was she really in town?
SHE WAS. And she was reading at the exact right time for my schedule. WHAT?!
I have no doubt that if I had planned it for weeks, something would have come up to throw sand in the gears. But somehow magically with no effort I was on my way to hear Lynda Barry speak on a night I surely, sorely needed inspiration.
I went, and it turns out she also has a new book coming out!
And long story short – oh my goodness. It is pure vivid direct delicious magic. I can’t read it without grinning, and crying. I couldn’t listen to her reading without grinning and crying either.
I was reminded why I got so excited four years ago when I first read her books Syllabus, then What It Is – why I felt that thrill of recognition and clarity and sureness, the THIS IS WHAT I AM SUPPOSED TO BE DOING feeling.
They gave me the structure and confidence to frame my ideas as coaching – to bring the kind of creative transformational work I was doing in theatrical spaces to people directly. And to start drawing and encourage others to draw with me.
It wasn’t until I was driving home that I remembered the accidental magic spell I’d cast that morning – my desire to connect with the inspiration I felt four years ago. Here I was, 10 hours later, not remembering that inspiration but reliving it, immersed in it, swimming in that beautiful blissful sense of connection and purpose and deep need for creativity. Lynda Barry, man. Her books are a guidebook for how to connect to your own soul using creative work.
I drove to Powell’s feeling exhausted and overwhelmed; I left with so much energy I could barely sleep Monday night.
And then life continued. I picked my six year old up from school on Tuesday and found out he’d been acting out, as boys often do, by being physically aggressive.
As it happens, many of the exercises in Making Comics come from Lynda’s work with her 4-6 year old “co-researchers”. So I used one of those exercises with my son, to see if it would help us connect.
And OH MY GOD. We spent about two hours drawing and talking and telling stories and laughing. I had him draw a Bully Monster, and then draw the Bully Monster’s parents, what he looked like as a child, where he lives…
I’ve been trying to get this kid to talk for two months, and that night I was so mad I couldn’t speak the whole drive home, until Lynda’s exercise floated into my head. We went from not speaking to joking, laughing, dancing, telling each other stories, asking questions. I asked him why he likes to hit and got curious instead of freaking out. He asked me to tell him one more time the story about the kid who was bullied in high school, who I wish I’d stood up for.
I still have no freaking idea how to handle this, but it opened up the energy between us.
So that’s the magic I’m experiencing this week. A lot of ups and downs, joy and despair, I’m the best / I’m the worst / maybe I’m doing ok kind of magic. And I’m sharing it because this is magic we all need. To connect with our children, with our inner children, with the world. We need it. We need to draw with our own hands to see what’s going on in our hearts.
I’ve still offering a free hour long session as part of my people project, so if anyone out there is resonating with this and wants to draw and dance and talk with me, please sign up. I know it’s scary! I’m a little nervous before every single session I do. And then each one fills me with energy and a rush of connection.
Here is the self portrait I drew at Lynda’s reading on Monday, and one I drew four years ago. If you want to draw one right now, set the timer for two minutes, grab a notecard and draw. It doesn’t have to be good. And anyway you are not a reliable witness on whether it’s good or not. What does it say to you? That is the question.
One of the themes that comes up a lot when I’m working with people (and with myself!) is ADHD.
It’s such a loaded term, isn’t it?! I remember when my therapist gently brought it up with me a few years ago — have you considered that you might have ADHD?
I felt a hot rush of shame and defensiveness. What are you talking about?! I’m smart, I’m on top of things, I was always a good student! Just because I’m late to everything, just because I have a lot of ideas, just because I talk in circles doesn’t mean I have ADHD…!
I resisted it hard, and yet as I did some reading, I found myself resonating with a lot of what I learned. I had to ask myself: if this rings true, why would I not embrace it? What am I resisting?
One way of getting help is to go do a doctor or therapist or psychiatrist, to get a diagnosis and therapeutic plan, maybe some medication. I’m not knocking any of those things — but what I find helpful is to approach it as a creative challenge.
This is something we can do with any label.
We can redraw the lines, we can choose how we define ourselves, we can reframe our world so that we feel at home in it. If I notice myself devaluing and minimizing and dismissing traits, that’s a clue. That tells me it’s time to slow down and do some looking and questioning.
Here’s an interesting thought experiment: what if my therapist had looked at me that day and asked: have you considered the possibility that you are a GENIUS?
Same traits, same condition, same situation… but what changes for me when it’s seen as evidence of my greatness instead of a sign of disorder?
I imagine I would have felt a thrill go up my spine. A warm glow of validation, affirmation. An instant reframe of my traits: ahhh yes, I do thrive in big impossible situations. I’m never short of ideas. Sometimes my passions are so big, I struggle to find the right words. I am full of energy, I am brimming with ambition. I dive in without a plan and learn how to swim as I’m swimming. YES. I am a genius.
(I actually find the label genius to be just as unhelpful as ADHD but we’ll dive into that another time).
When I notice myself using mean language to describe myself or my situation, the first step is to change my language.
That doesn’t mean ignoring reality. It doesn’t mean that’s all I change. But I start with language, because the language matters.
When I change the language to fit what feels right to me, the nature of the problem changes, and so does the solution.
Which brings me back to my creative relabeling of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. What I’ve landed on for now is: Big Wild Super Power.
You don’t have a deficit of attention, you have a surplus of energy and ideas.
You have a variant form of attention, a different way of focusing that requires motion and multiplicity to thrive. (Guess what else works like this? Our planetary system.)
You are not too much, too loud, too crazy, you are at your best when given space to run and move and be big.
You have big wild super power and you need a big wild super project to contain it.
You have big, wild super power that can change the world when it’s channeled in the right direction. The world needs your big wild super energy.
There! Try that on for size. I encourage you to do your own word associating and creative relabeling, of this label or any that give you trouble.
(And of course, if you want help doing this, it is my great joy and I welcome you to sign up for a dreamtalk with me…)
A creative exercise for freeing yourself from panic, stress and overwhelm
You can watch the video –or– read through the steps below.
I don’t know about you, but I frequently find myself in the grip of panic and stress, especially lately. When there are overwhelming things happening in the world and it feels like there’s nothing you can do, try this:
First, take a deep breath. I like to put my hand somewhere on my body, like on my forehead or over my heart. Somewhere that feels like a loving touch.
Think back to a moment when you most recently felt overwhelmed by stress. Could be five minutes ago, could be last night. Put yourself back there.
Notice everything around you in that moment – the air, the sounds, the smells, what you see, who is with you, what you’re wearing, what you’re saying. You might notice your body now in this moment feeling the sensations that you felt then, and that’s okay. Remind yourself that you’re here now, and you’re noticing those feelings without judgment. Only noticing them and feeling them.
Take a deep breath, and send love to yourself in that moment. Without thinking of what you’d like to change, without judgment, send love and support. The way you would to a friend you love dearly.
Shake it off! Now we’re going to widen our focus.
Think back to a moment ten years ago, a moment that caused you great stress or panic or overwhelm. Put yourself back in that moment when you’re consumed by stress, and look around. Where are you? Who is with you? What are you doing? What sounds do you hear, what do you smell? Are you throwing a tantrum? Are you yelling, are you crying? If it’s overwhelming to you now to put yourself back in that moment, remind yourself that you’re only noticing what you were feeling then, and you can always pull yourself back.
Ask yourself: what do you see now that you couldn’t see then? How do you see the situation differently now? What advice would you give yourself then, knowing what you know now? What would have been helpful to hear? What did you need? Grab some paper and write it down.
Take a breath, and send deep love to yourself in that moment ten years ago. Let her know you love her and believe in her, and you know she’s going to make it.
Bring yourself back to the present moment. Look at the advice you wrote down. Does any of it apply to your current situation, to the thing that has most recently caused you stress? Can you take some of that advice now?
Open yourself up to guidance and love and support from yourself ten years from now. Imagine she is sitting somewhere sending you a breath of deep love. Accept it, and open up to whatever she might know that you don’t know in this situation right now.
I had a session with someone the other day, and one of the things we talked about was how to build in accountability when you have a big idea, without making the pressure so big that you bail on it altogether out of fear.
This struck me as something we all struggle with, or at least, those of us who like to dream big. There’s a tendency to think that step one is doing only for yourself, and step two is sharing it with the world in a huge public way.
When in fact, there are a lot of steps in between.
In our session, we wrote out what those steps might look like, and came up with this:
Do it for yourself
Tell friends what you’re doing
Invite people to play with you
Invite a few strangers
Lead a revolution
I’m not sure what happens in steps 6-9, but I’d love to hear your ideas.
In the meantime, if there’s a project you are excited about but scared to share with the world, here is my assignment for you: what is the tiniest, easiest, most fun way you could share your thoughts?
Could you tell your kids about it?
Could you mention it to your friends over drinks?
Could you write a note and leave it somewhere for an anonymous person to find?
Could you write about it cryptically on facebook?
Could you google it and see if anyone else is as excited about it as you are?
Or here’s a thought: you could say something here or over on the facebook page! I’d love to know what you’re excited about.