How I Became Less Dependent On The Validation Of Others In The Age Of Social Media

How I Became Less Dependent On The Validation Of Others In The Age Of Social Media
Photo by Artem Beliaikin / Unsplash

What do you think of me? Good things, I hope.  I used to say that I didn't care about what people thought about me but I've learned that wasn't the whole truth. I do care what people think about me sometimes.  Especially the thoughts of the people I deem as "important" for lack of a better word. Unfortunately, the people I deemed as "important" didn't always see me the same way and I've suffered because of it. I often made the mistake of allowing them to determine my value instead of determining it for myself and I wrongly assumed that because they didn't want me, I wasn't worth having. We all have the desire to be loved but when we can't find that, we settle for being liked. Facebook changed the world as we know it when it launched in February of 2004 and then changed the world again in February of 2009 when it added the "like button" feature to it's site. This "like button" allowed users to show approval, support, admiration, or sneaky sarcasm to one another's posts without having to use words because words are hard! This "like button" is responsible for so many relationships and friendships beginning and ending.  

A little later we were gifted with Instagram which is pretty much based entirely around the "like" and that's really when "likes" became a sort of digital currency. We've been programmed to believe that more equals better so of course having more likes and followers was the goal of pretty much everyone that used social media. It wasn't long before many stopped using social media as a platform to share moments and ideas and began using it as place to fish for compliments or post their complaints about life in hopes that someone else would validate their struggle by liking their status. It took me a while to realize it but I had some insecurities that over time made me dependent on being validated by others. Social media enhanced this dependency with it's immediate gratification but it also made my insecurities worse because I didn't always get the response that I wanted and I also had more exposure to the lives of others who appeared to be doing "better" than me which made me jealous at times.  I wasn't always sure of myself so I needed those around me to remind me of who I thought I was. A lot of people spend their entire lives in this trap of living for the approval of others but I grew more and more tired of having my mood affected by the opinions of people that I honestly didn't even relate to so I started studying myself and inquiring on why I gave them so much power. I began to face my insecurities and consequently began to see through the emptiness that is the approval of others.

The people who are always announcing their successes are the people who are the least secure about what they're doing in life. We all like to pretend that we always have our shit together and trying to convince the world that you have your shit together is a full time job. A lot of us don't really have a clear idea of what our purpose is or what we should be doing with our lives and that makes us insecure. This insecurity makes us want to share every victory we experience so that we can make it appear to our peers that we know what we're doing. Especially if we feel like we have something to prove. I used to do this for sure. Unlike a lot of my friends, I got a job immediately after college in Boston, MA working for what I thought would be my dream company. I announced the news on Facebook and Twitter and everybody hit me with the "congrats!", "you did it!", "how inspiring!", "how awesome!", "you're so lucky", "you deserve it", "it's going to be amazing", and all the other stuff you'd love to hear when announcing big news. And it was awesome before I got to Boston. I felt like I had won. I had made it out the hood and I did it legally. I felt like I was doing life right and that's not a feeling I had experienced often at that point in my life. You can imagine how embarrassed I was to end up quitting my job in Boston after only a month because I didn't like the company and some other circumstances. As if that weren't enough embarrassment, quitting also meant that I had to move back to little Laurens, SC, a place that I deplored, to stay with my momma for the first time in 4 years. I remember feeling defeated by my first attempt at the "real world". I remember being so worried about what people would think about me. I thought they'd think I was a failure because I thought I was a failure. What's crazy is, now I don't think they thought I was a failure at all. But I did this thing that we all do. I created this entire imaginary drama in my head where people were judging me and mocking me as a failure. And that's the rollercoaster that external validation uses to transport you from pleasure to pain over and over again. 

We get high when we think that people approve of something we do and then we get low when we think that people don't approve of what you do. I've learned that even though rollercoasters might be fun for a spell, what I ultimately want is peace and balance. I noticed that I really liked myself until I compared myself to someone else so I stopped comparing myself to other people. I realized that comparing myself to others makes no sense because what you see when you see a human being is an output that's been shaped by thousands of inputs or experiences over the years. If I didn't have the exact same inputs as the people I compared myself to, why would I expect to have the exact same output? As I began to truly like myself for who I am, the likes of other people started mattering less. What people said about me started carrying less weight because I was getting to know myself beyond my appearance and in doing that, I became less insecure. My life became less of a rollercoaster and more of a lazy river when I learned to take both the good things and bad things people say about me with a grain of salt because they don't have the full picture of who I am. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate their compliments or take their criticisms into consideration,  I just no longer get attached to what they say as the absolute truth about me because the most it could ever be is a relative truth. Their truth about me is always relative to the perspective they've been allowed to experience me from. I realized that what's more important than their relative truths about me are the truths I learn about myself because those are the only truths that I have to live with.

The validation we get through social media brings us a lot of pleasure but never happiness. Never have I posted a status or a selfie that got so many likes that it made me a happier person but there were definitely times when what I posted didn't get as many likes as I expected and it made me sad and more insecure. People's likes definitely stroke my ego. Their likes certainly give me a sense of  validity and reassurance for a moment but never have they made me fulfilled in the way that loving myself has fulfilled me. Social media has made it easier for us to get attached and addicted to the validation of our peers. I'd argue that all people are insecure about something and our insecurities make us crave reassurance from others. We convince ourselves that we need a lot of followers and that we need a lot of likes because only people with a huge following are valuable, right? We've been programmed to believe that the more people that want it, the better it is. The more people that like me, the more worthy I am. The more money I have, the happier I'll be. The more pleasures I can pack in my day, the less time I'll have to be sad. More, more, more. But more is never enough.

First I was "happy" with 11 likes, then I needed 20 likes to be satisfied, then it was 50 likes, and then it was 100. What number of likes will be enough likes? What number of likes will it take to fill the void that was inside of me? I've learned that if you can't love yourself with 0 likes, you will never be able to love yourself with 10,000 likes because by basing your happiness in what even one person thinks about you, you will end up suffering because you have allowed your happiness to be controlled by them and not you. When we base our happiness in the opinions of others we suffer because we allow their limited view of us to affect how we see ourselves. When people say that we're great all of the time, we become a little blind to our errors. When people say that we're lacking all the time, we become very blind to our strengths. The only person that has the full picture of who you really are is yourself and so the only validation you should be seeking is that of yourself.  People's likes are nice but you don't need them. And not getting them doesn't make you or what you've shared any less valuable. Please understand this. Value is almost never objective. Value has the meaning that people give it. Kurt Hahn said "Think highly of yourself for the world takes you at your own estimate" and I believe it's so true. In order to be valued by others, you must first value yourself.

Change is a truth that I spent all of 2016 confronting. I learned that another reason why it's unwise to become attached to the validation of others is because they will change and you will change and when that happens, how they feel about you will change. Sometimes they'll think better of you, sometimes they'll think worse. Life is change and external circumstances are always changing and that includes your relationships with others. We try to prevent this change from happening because we fear that our role will change from the one we've become comfortable in. Then when change inevitably comes, we get hurt because we have become attached to how things were. Most of us (think we) want comfort and stability and change seems to be unsettling and unstable. I used to be the champion of the "things change, people don’t" mantra but I was so wrong. People definitely change but only on their own accord. I suffered a lot early on by trying to change the people around me instead of trying to change myself. A lot of us suffer in our relationships because we base our happiness in what other people think of us and because we want what they think of us to remain consistent. It's unfair that we expect people to always be what they were when we met them. All things on Earth grow and/or change with time so why do we try to keep other people from growing or changing? Because we fear that their growth and changing may not include us. Because we've based a part of our identity in who that person is to us and now we fear that them changing will cause us to lose a part of ourselves.

Having the same relationship with someone forever sounds romantic and it certainly is possible to maintain a relationship for life but it's naïve to believe that the person you're with will always be the same person you fell for originally. That's not to discourage you as I believe that falling in love with yourself or someone else is not something you do once but instead something you do every single day. I believe that if both you and your partner are focused on growth, you'll continue to fall in love over and over because you'll continue to create new, better versions of yourselves. You'll become more compatible with each other because you would seek to understand before being understood. But that's not what we do, is it? We become infatuated with how a person is at one specific point in time and then we expect them to stay that way forever. We get attached to this image we've built of who they are, so when they begin to change, we hurt. Not even necessarily because the person changed for the worse but because they're not what we want them to be anymore. We feel like we're being treated unfairly when in reality, we're the ones being unfair.

I've changed pretty drastically over the last few years.  A big part of that change came from moving to Oklahoma City for two years which allowed me space from thought patterns, bad habits, and belief structures that I'd accumulated over time back home in South Carolina. Things that I once regarded as fundamental parts of myself have crumbled but I feel like what remains today is what I'm supposed to be. Some relationships have died off, others have flourished. At times, I was terrified of changing and what it would mean to the people closest to me. It wasn't always easy but I really love this new version of myself and every sacrifice I've made to get here has been worth it for that reason. I've learned that me liking myself is way more important than anyone else liking me.  So I no longer worry about whether or not other people will accept my growth and changes because I know that they're making their judgements based off of the experiences they had with the Micheal they knew. The Micheal who has passed. And maybe they preferred that Micheal, which is okay. They can still hang out with him in their heads all they want and I won't try to stop them or change their minds because I finally understand that what people want to do with a ghost is none of my business – even if that ghost is of a lesser version of myself.