External Validation and Emotional Responsibility
August 28, 2016
Years ago, I discovered Validation, a wonderful short film by Kurt Kuenne about a parking garage attendant who validates tickets ... and validates the people who bring their tickets to the window, offering compliments to each person as he stamps their ticket "Validated". He goes on to offer validation far and wide beyond the parking garage, and every recipient of his validation is uplifted by the experience, until he encounters one person who seems unaffected by his compliments and other efforts to make her happy.
As with many sources of inspiration, each time I revisit the source, I notice new aspects, since I am a different person during each visit. I watched the film again recently, after returning from a meditation retreat, where my main takeaways were letting go of blame and judgment. One of the other lessons from the retreat, noted near the end of my post, was
- Teaching me that one cannot depend on anyone else for validation
During this most recent re-watching of Validation, I was feeling uncomfortable and irritated during the first portion, where people are literally lining up to bask in the glow of external validation provided by the parking lot attendant. I realized I was judging them for their dependency, and then recognized that the dependency on external validation that irritated me in others was the same dependency that irritated me about myself ... as so often happens, my externally-focused Judge was simply reflecting my internal Critic.
The aspect of the film that resonated especially deeply with me this time was the unsuccessful efforts of the parking lot attendant to validate - and uplift - a woman who worked as a photographer at a motor vehicles department. Nothing he tried seemed to have any effect on the woman's disposition, and I realized that his own sense of validation and worthiness was dependent on other people's feeling validated in response to him. He was happy when he made other people happy ... and he became unhappy when he could not make this one person happy ... i.e., he was suffering from dependence on external validation.
This reminded me of another lesson I learned at the retreat:
- No one can make me angry, shame me or cause me to dissociate
Watching the movie, I realized two important corollaries to this:
- No one can make me happy
- I cannot make anyone else happy (or angry or sad ... or cause any other emotion)
I might - and often try to - create conditions that I believe are more conducive to someone else feeling happy, but I cannot make them happy. Conversely, I might - and often try to - avoid creating conditions that may be conducive to someone else feeling angry, but I cannot make them angry. So the expanded lesson is:
I am not responsible for anyone else's emotions, I am only responsible for my own.
This may be obvious to many emotionally mature individuals, but as a life-long people pleaser with an inner conviction of intrinsic unworthiness, I have relied on others' validation for as long as I can remember. I believed others were responsible for my validation and I was responsible for theirs
I have recognized repeated opportunities to learn this lesson since returning from the retreat. I'm sure such opportunities have always abounded, I'm just now becoming more aware of them (when the student is ready, the lesson is recognized). When I do something with the goal of winning another's expression of appreciation or approval - or avoiding another's expression of disapproval - I am setting myself up for disappointment, and invalidation.
Since the retreat, I have new tools to look at that disappointment, take responsibility for the feelings of sadness and anger, and recognize that the feelings are a signal that I was doing something for the wrong reasons: seeking approval vs. doing something because it is the right, or kind, thing to do. And in this recognition, I can shift from feeling blame and judgment to feeling grateful for yet another unsought opportunity for further awakening