Every year during April I get the telltale symptoms of seasonal allergies, and every year I get nervous that I’m actually getting the flu.
You’d think I would know this by now, but here’s a scene from two Saturdays ago that proves otherwise:
- I worry that my allergies are actually the flu.
- I take allergy meds and complain to my Sweetheart.
- Sweetheart witnesses and comforts me .
- I complain again, except this time I add in “I don’t know how you stand being around me when all I do is complain.”
- Sweetheart reminds me that she doesn’t feel that way.
- I recognize I am projecting a narrative onto her.
- I stew in my self-induced shame that I am complaining, projecting narrative, and I still feel sick.
My Sweetheart was doing all the right things: witnessing, validating, and comforting me. So why couldn’t I kick my a worry-complain-shame loop? The answer could have been a complex mix of my efforts to heal from codependency, people pleasing, and perfectionism…. More likely, though, it was a strong kick in the pants to learn how to practice self-validation.
So, I spent last week doing just that.
I have an amazing support system. I have my Sweetheart, a best friend on the west coast and a best friend on the east coast, a therapist, healers, advisers. I can reach out to them for support and advice, but my allergy season stress-loop showed me that I need to learn how to witness and soothe myself without relying on external validation to feel better.
What is Self-Validation?
To answer this question, we first need to know what validation is. According to Dr. Karyn Hall, “Validation means to express understanding and acceptance of another person’s internal experience, whatever that might be.” Basically, you are witnessing someone else’s experience as their truth—even if it isn’t your truth.
Therefore, Hall tells us, self-validation is “accepting your own internal experience, your thoughts and feelings. Self-validation doesn’t mean that you believe your thoughts or think your feelings are justified. There are many times that you will have thoughts that surprise you or that don’t reflect your values or what you know is true.”
I know how to validate others, and I know that I like when others validate me. But it’s important to learn how to self-validate because, according to Dr. Hall, “If you fight the thoughts and feelings, or judge yourself for having them, then you increase your emotional upset. You’ll also miss out on important information about who you are as a person….Validating your thoughts and emotions will help you calm yourself and manage your emotions more effectively. Validating yourself will help you accept and better understand yourself, which leads to a stronger identity and better skills at managing intense emotions. Self-validation helps you find wisdom.”
How Do I Self-Validate?
The key verb in self-validating is accept.
One of my favorite mantras is “Acceptance. Awareness. Action.” Also called “The Three A’s,” this concept is used in Al-Anon to help people learn practical skills to help them heal from codependency. To break it down: you should accept the reality of your situation objectively, then you should become aware of the choices you can make, and finally you should make and informed choice and take action. If I have thought about the potential outcomes and accepted my role in them, I will feel better about choosing which action to take.
Last week I practiced self-validation through applying each of these steps.
To practice acceptance I first tried to recognize when I felt a little off.
Have you heard of the acronym H.A.L.T.? It’s used in recovery circles, and it stands for “hungry,” “angry,” “lonely,” and “tired.” If you’re feeling out of it, it is suggested that you check if you are H.A.L. or T. before you make any decisions that don’t serve you. In addition to seeing if I am H.A.L.T., I check in and ask myself: am I having a flashback or and I afraid I will have a flashback or panic attack? Am I dissociating? Am I disappointed? Am I in pain? Do I feel shameful? Am I nervous?
Once I accepted the reality of the situtation, I knew what I was working with.
I checked myself before I wrecked myself.
Often, I feel an immediate sense of relief just by naming what I am feeling. Once I have accepted the reality of the situation, I am able to see the experience more clearly. This can help me to counter negative self talk, such as “I don’t deserve to be loved” or “My needs don’t matter anyways.” Awareness allows me to stay calm and consider multiple options I could take in solving a problem or making a choice. I can write down my concern and assure myself I will ask my healers when I see them, or I can remind myself that I cannot control other people’s feelings.
This last part is important for recovering people pleasers. Sometimes when I am sharing that I am upset about something I will sugar coat it. If I tell someone that I’m having a hard time and I add “but it’s fine” or “it really isn’t a big deal” when I feel like it ISN’T fine and it IS a big deal, I send myself the message that my feelings don’t matter. Ouch.
Make an informed choice and make change happen.
Once we have accepted the reality of our experience and made ourselves aware that we can choose how to act, it is time to make an informed decision about what to do. Whether that action is to meditate, quit sugar, book a therapy appointment, or quit smoking, you are making a change, and that change has been informed by clear thinking.
If you are the journaling type, journal these out. If you’re not, reflective thinking could work, too, but you want to be sure to remember what you come up with. The key here is to make an individualized plan to self-validate when the going gets rough. I don’t want you to feel like you can never seek external validation; rather, I want you to practice the 3 As as a tool you can use when you have your own allergy season freakout.
Acceptance: Name Reality
You don’t have to be in recovery to use the H.A.L.T. method. You likely have specific times when you feel off/bad or you may have particular triggers. Write them down, and bonus points if you can note when you usually tend to feel them.
Kate’s example: Sometimes I dissociate after I do intense trauma work in therapy.
Awareness: Witness Reality
Write down options you can choose and also how you will feel if you choose that option. Are you more interested in making a choice that is challenging but serves your larger healing path? Are you more interested in choosing an option that reminds you to stay in the moment? What about reaching a goal? Or showing yourself compassion? The article “Painting My Nails Kept Me Sane Through College, and Science Backs Me Up on That” is a good argument for choosing self-loving actions when we are struggling.
Also, remember to check in and see if you’re putting yourself down and if you can remind yourself of the reality when you are practicing negative self talk.
Kate’s example: When I dissociate I can choose one of these options: fall into an Instagram hole, which will distract me but ultimately make me feel worse, or move my body by going for a walk or to the gym, which may feel hard at first but will help me feel present, grounded, and connected to my body.
Action: Change Reality
Choose one of your acceptance steps and write out what would happen if you made that choice. Know that sometimes your action choice might be to go back and start over with writing what new thing you accept now that you have become aware of options.
Kate’s example: When I start to feel the twinge of blanking out, moping, or not feeling in touch with my body, I recognize that I am dissociating and I choose to go to the gym or go for a walk.
Make It Work
Using your above answers, write yourself a plan by finishing these three sentences:
I accept that….
I am aware that….
My action is to….
Mine would be: I accept that I sometimes want to dissociate and feel disconnected after I have worked on old trauma in therapy. I am aware that dissociating by falling into a social media hole makes me feel worse. My preferred action is to immediately go for a walk or go to the gym when I start to dissociate.
If I had applied the 3 A’s to my allergy-induced shame cycle last week I might have said: I accept that I am upset and disappointed that I have allergies. I am aware that this happens every year at the beginning of allergy season and I know that taking allergy meds will help me feel better. My action is to take allergy meds, drink a lot of water, and do relaxing activities until they kick in.
*Please note that the original version of this blog post was published here.
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