Evolution of the Self

On the paradoxes of personality

The Power to Be Vulnerable (Part 2 of 3)

When we're self-validating, our personal power is almost unassailable.

self-validationSelf-Validation: "I Did the Best I Could . . . for Now"

To self-validate we must accept ourselves to the point that even when we've done something wrong we still maintain a strong sense of ourselves as basically okay. We don't need to resist taking responsibility for our errors or misdeeds because we don't perceive our worth as based on some set of uncompromising standards. At peace with our flaws and limitations, we don't judge ourselves according to rigid, perfectionist ideals. And in not defining ourselves by any single behavior, we don't experience our essential decency or competence as threatened when we happen to act selfishly, insensitively, or even stupidly.

Moreover, once we're able to view ourselves with compassion, we don't repeatedly have to struggle to forgive ourselves for mishaps and failures. And we validate ourselves not by claiming that given the situation our behavior was justified, but by admitting that--yes--we still have things to work on. When, for instance, we're irritated, or tired, or feeling self-righteous, we can say and do things that may well be blameworthy. Despite positive intentions, we can still act in petty, vindictive ways. In short, we're still "a work in progress." We've got buttons that, when pushed hard enough, can compel us to behave in ways we ourselves might disapprove of. At various times, we're quite capable of being inconsiderate, irrational, foolish, stubborn, belligerent, and so on.

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Such unconditional validation of self is rarely addressed in psychological literature. For this validation has nothing to do with seeing ourselves as right, or even fair. Instead, it centers on our ability to regard ourselves--regardless of circumstances--with kindness and understanding. We're able to grasp that our every action (however erroneous, imperfect or offensive) simply reflects our current state of mind and feeling. Ultimately, all our behavior can be seen as manifesting our inner programming, or conditioning, right up to the present moment. As such, it's only logical to appreciate it as well-founded, justified, legitimate or genuine--in a word, valid.

All this is hardly to say that in validating ourselves we deny the moral implications of our acts, that we've simply "freed" ourselves from our conscience, or lost our moral grounding. There is, after all, such a thing as experiencing healthy guilt and shame when we've acted badly. But though we may hardly be proud of our behavior, we can still appreciate it charitably--while at the same time pledging to do better in the future.

It can be tremendously liberating to no longer feel obliged to make excuses (whether to ourselves or others) for our questionable words and deeds. Once we're self-validating, we're emotionally ready to take full, unmitigated responsibility for ourselves, even for our least admirable parts. We're able to present ourselves to others with total authenticity--open and vulnerable. By finally becoming comfortable with our vulnerability, it could be said that, practically, we've already begun to transcend it. And our newly acquired power lies precisely in our willingness to relinquish those defenses we've held onto since childhood to fortify us.

In effectively addressing our deepest feelings of fragility through unconditional self-acceptance, we can at last come to terms with our vulnerability. And the rewards of letting go of such self-protective mechanisms are truly prodigious. By forgoing these age-old defenses against feeling bad or insecure, we can finally be at peace with ourselves and in greater spiritual harmony with the world outside us.

It stands to reason that once we've become self-validating our behavior will no longer be governed by the impulse to protect ourselves from criticism. Our self-acceptance will no longer depend (as it did when we were children) on the approval of others. Although we may not exactly welcome another's negative evaluation, we can nonetheless maintain our emotional equilibrium when it occurs. And once our vulnerability is "regulated" by an abiding self-acceptance, our sense of personal power is almost unassailable. It can no longer be threatened by some external force beyond our control. In the end, self-validation leads to a self-control that safeguards us from external onslaughts as no amount of defensiveness--or anger and rage--ever could.

 

Note 1: Part 1 of this post focused on how we typically deny our vulnerability. Part 3 will center on the various ways we can learn to emotionally soothe ourselves so as to become more comfortable with our vulnerability. Additionally, if you'd like to check out my other writings for Psychology Today, please click here

© 2008 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D.  All Rights Reserved.

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Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., who holds doctorates in English and Psychology, is a clinical psychologist and author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy.

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