Happiness, fulfillment, validation, and acceptance are things that most of us search for on a daily basis. We look all over for it. Sometimes we look to our friends to find them. Maybe we’ll be on Facebook or Twitter or some other form of Social Networking. We might even be out shopping among strangers or walking down the street looking for it. We certainly look for it when we’re making that “gotta have it now” purchase and we try our best to get it when we choose to have “one more bite”. All day, every day we find ways we seek happiness, fulfillment, validation, and acceptance. Most of the time we’re looking for it and not even realizing that’s what’s happening.
From an early age we’re taught that these things are found “out there”. In fact without even realizing it our own parents help to plant that seed. They don’t intend to do that and for all intents and purposes have no idea that’s what’s happening. After all, what could be wrong with saying,
“Honey, you did an amazing job!” or “Wow, that is beautiful!” or how about “I’m so proud of you!”?
Praise from our parents isn’t the only form of acceptance and validation we receive. We also receive it from friends growing up, we get it from teachers, coaches, and even from the television shows we watch. It doesn’t take long to realize that the majority of all the forms of fulfillment, validation, and acceptance, which in turn make us happy, come from the outside.
It’s not hard to see how, as a child, we learn very quickly that the only way of obtaining these things is by looking outside of ourselves. When we get older it’s so ingrained that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Except this time it takes much more to meet that quota of happiness, fulfillment, validation, and acceptance and we’ll try a lot harder to get it.
I don’t think it’s wrong to find these things externally. However, I believe that many of us aren’t even aware that there’s any other options. We’re not aware that we can actually give all these things to ourselves. We’re not aware that we can choose to accept external validation on our own terms. Often times we’ll feel like there’s something missing inside or we’ll feel a sense of lonliness, maybe even scared. Sometimes we have stronger feelings like we don’t feel good enough, or loveable or even worthy. With thoughts and feelings like this it’s easy to see how we’re almost forced to go “outside” to find ourselves, to find happiness, fulfillment, validation, and acceptance.
Because we are born with our esteem intact (perhaps not self actualized at such an early age) we’re actually able with the proper love and attention to maintain self esteem throughout our childhood and adult life. However, keeping that self esteem intact requires great intention and focus from our caregivers. Outside of the home there are so many other factors that will play into trying to break that down. That is why as parents I think we have a great opportunity and responsibility to break the cycle.
Not too long ago when O would come home from Pre-School and share a project I’d tell her how proud I was of her. I’d give her huge hugs and tell her how beautiful whatever she created was. I’d shower her with love, affection, and validation. She would see how happy I would get because I’d be full of smiles. In turn she would often smile and feel good.
Lately I decided I’d turn the tables around a bit. This time when O came home to show me an art project she’s worked on I’d ask her how she felt doing it. The very first time I asked this I think she was a bit baffled but after asking her again she’d reply, “it’s good”. Now, I ask her and she gets a huge smile on her face and tells me how happy and great she feels doing it! I immediately shower her with praise and appreciation of my own. The point being is that I’m teaching her to look inside for happiness and fulfillment. I’m showing her that the very thing we are all looking for as adults has been inside of us since we were children. I’m showing her that she can realize these same feelings that just up until recently she was only getting from me.
Again, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t praise our children or that they should not receive validation or approval from external sources. I’m only suggesting that we can help reinforce their self esteem by simply asking them to look inside. It’s a simple step that leads to some huge stepping stones later in life. Perhaps many of us lost our sense of self at an early age but that doesn’t mean we have to repeat the cycle. We can give the greatest gift we’ll ever give our children, the gift of self.