I love Fight Club. The book and the movie. In the middle of the macho posturing and the My First Anarchist Manifesto, it so neatly captures the angst of people who recognize that there’s something missing in their lives and not knowing what the hell to do about it. We feel confused and lost and directionless and so we try to cover it all up by getting obsessed with things that we don’t actually care about but feel like we should and buy crap we don’t really need because we feel like it gives us an identity that we so desperately lack.
(And, y’know, I love the way so many people who saw the movie completely missed the point.)
So with that in mind, I want to ask you a very serious question. And I want you to think about the answer carefully, because it’s going to tell you a lot about your life in general.
What does it take to make you feel good about yourself?
Don’t answer just yet. Just let it roll around in your head for a bit while you read this article, because we’re going to be talking about the ramifications of your answer. You see, the question of what you rely on to make you feel good about yourself tells you a lot about how you prioritize the importance of how others see you versus how you see yourself. We’re talking, of course, about your source of validation: whether you rely on validation from others or whether you rely on internal validation.
That’s precisely the underlying issue that The Narrator is dealing with: he has no core. No sense of self. His life is based entirely on trying to mask that feeling with stuff.
It’s an important distinction to make; most of the men I’ve coached through their dating issues were extremely reliant on external validation. The need for external validation is often the source of a wide variety of dating and self-esteem issues; people who rely on external validation are often incredibly needy, using the approval of others as the measure for their own self-worth.
Humans are complex beasts when you get under the hood. We have an incredibly elaborate system desires and wants that are ultimately separate from what we need to survive. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, our need for esteem and belonging come right on the heels of our needs for physical safety; we instinctively want to feel love and respect. This is our sense of validation – the feeling of approval The problem however, is where those feelings come from, whether they come from internal or external sources.
Internal validation is your sense of confidence and self-esteem; you believe in your own value and worth. External validation, on the other hand, is approval and regard of others. By relying on external validation, you are inherently surrendering your identity and self-worth to others. If you want to improve your life and become a more confident, attractive individual , then you need to understand how to take back the control in your life.
The Trap of External Validation
I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.
External validation isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. Humans are social animals after all, and part of living in a group means being conscious of how you are regarded by others. Being liked and approved of by the group once meant the literal difference between life and death. Somebody who was a detriment to the group’s survival – someone who couldn’t pull their own weight for the tribe, who consumed more than they contributed or whose behavior was dangerous to the social cohesion would risked being ostracized. Their presence made it harder for the collective whole to survive and thus it was better for the group to excise the one who caused more problems than they were worth. Our desire to be liked by others is a literal survival technique – the more people like us, the less likely they are to throw us out into the cold to survive or die on our own.
So, y’know. A lot like high-school.
But while how caring how others feel about us is important – being able to interact with other successfully is a mark of social and emotional intelligence, after all – it takes very little to become an incredibly toxic addiction. One of the insidious things about external validation is just how good it feels. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with external validation. We try to cultivate our image in order to impress as many people as possible.
Don’t believe me? Take a quick stroll around Facebook. Social media allows us to control our public personas in ways we never could before. We very carefully curate our lives in order to seem as impressive as possible, wanting to put not just our best face forward but the one that makes us seem inhumanely awesome. Even people who seem to be nothing but balls of misery are grasping for external validation, playing for sympathy and confirmation of their special snowflake status as the oppressed victim of a cold and uncaring system that grinds the innocent in it’s cogs. In doing so, we are defining ourselves by our popularity and the way we’re seen by other people.
(We will pause to note the irony of a man whose job depends in no small part by getting people to like him writing about the perils of external validation…)
One problem with basing our self-worth on the need for the approval of others causes us to give up our locus of control. We’re outsourcing responsibility for our emotional well-being, even our own identity to other people because we want them to think well of us. We end up giving up who we are in order to conform to others ideas of how we should be. You see this incredibly frequently in the Pick-Up Artist community; there is an intense pressure to conform to a specific sort of man with a particular sort of values in order to raise one’s esteem within the group. Someone who pursues a monogamous, committed relationship is seen as “giving up” or becoming another AFC stuck with just one pussy for the rest of his life instead of banging as many 9s and 10s. You are expected to prioritize “hard to get” women (strippers, bartenders, shot girls, models) over others because you’re competing with your “brothers” and regularly sleeping with strippers is a status-symbol within the community. You are pressured to uphold a very particular lifestyle because it’s “more alpha”, regardless of whether that’s where your actual interests lie.
Of course, PUA culture isn’t the only place where you’ll find people who are overly-reliant on external validation. Nice Guys are just as reliant on external validation – they don’t believe that a woman is capable of liking them for themselves. They put up a persona instead of being who they really are, trying to back-door their way into a relationship that they feel they could never get if they were honest and up front.
Our culture puts a great deal of pressure on us to look a certain way, to follow these specific metrics for success, to live this particular lifestyle, to be as popular as possible. It’s all a way of getting dose after dose of the thrill that comes from people liking us and thinking we’re cool. But it comes at a cost. The thrill never lasts and inevitably leaves you feeling hollow and empty and each new dose is harder and harder to come by.
People who rely on external validation are compensating for a lack, a hole in their own lives. They have to consistently seek the approval of others because with out it… well, they don’t really have anything. There’s no sense of self to maintain them, no inner core of worth. It makes you expend the majority of your time and energy on what others think of them, making you needy and coming off as a try-hard – and thus even more unattractive and unlikable. Men who base their self-worth on the number of women they sleep with or the money they make or the things they own have a way of spiraling out of control; they flail about, chasing that feeling and trying to numb the emptiness in their lives that becomes harder and harder to ignore.
Relying on external validation is, ultimately, a recipe for misery. Without an internal source of worth, you are ultimately ensuring your own unhappiness; no matter how much you may achieve it simply won’t ever be enough.
Setting The Standard (And Then Exceeding It)
So having just rattled off all of the problems that come from relying on external validation, let’s talk about how you reshape your own world-view so become internally validating. And to start with, we have to understand what internal validation actually means. Internal validation means that ultimately, the source of esteem and satisfaction comes from within; it means that you believe in your own intrinsic value regardless of how others see you.
This can be difficult to achieve; many of us, especially if you’re not terribly socially skilled or good with women come from a place of self-loathing and disrespect. We find it hard to value ourselves because, well… we’re losers. We see our faults and our flaws so clearly that we find it hard to believe others can stand us at all.
Focusing on our flaws is actually an incredibly common mistake; it’s a matter of thinking that you have to be perfect or the best in order to be worth something in the first place. Being self-validating has nothing to do with perfection; in fact, being self-validating is often the motivation to strive and improve.
You see, the key to self-esteem and internal validation is about setting your own standards, not the standards that others set for you. You pick your a goal – say, getting better with women – and work towards it. But the thing to keep in mind is that the path to any goal isn’t about just about the end; there are milestones along the way, other smaller goals that mark the way there. Achieving these milestones is how you measure your progress; it becomes the way that you recognize that you’re growing and improving. When I was first working on my own transformation, I had a list of things that defined what “good with women” meant to me: being able to do cold approaches, learning how to flirt and so on. Each of those in turn was made up of smaller goals like being able to talk to women I was attracted to. It took time, effort and willpower and a willingness to test what I thought were my limits…. and it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. But every little achievement was another mark towards my self-worth: I was proving that I could do it.
Success breeds success; each milestone I achieved improved my self-esteem and moved me closer towards my end goal. It made me more confident in myself; the more confident I felt in my own achievements, the less I looked to external validation for my self worth. The esteem wasn’t coming from the fact I was getting better with women but that with every step I was coming closer to being the man I wanted to be but never thought I could.
Keep in mind: those goals don’t mean that you need to achieve perfection; in fact, focusing on being perfect is often going to be a hinderance. If you love cosplay, you don’t have to be the best costumer, you just have to get better. Make the goal to put together, say, your version of Commander Shepard. The focus is as much on your improvement as it is on your end goal. Perfection is found in the pursuit, not in the accomplishment; in fact, the more you improve at something, the more you’ll find that you have further to go than you ever realized… and that’s a good thing.
Those goals and standards can be anything: working towards a degree, mastering a skill, earning money to buy a car… anything as long as it is something that is about you and not what other people think. Which can be trickier than you realize…
Practice Radical Self-Honesty
My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what?
My dad didn’t know, so he said get a job.
When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what? My dad didn’t know, so he said, get married.
I’m a thirty-year-old boy, and I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer I need.
Here’s the thing about setting goals and standards: you have to be sure that they’re what you want. There may very well be overlap with others’ standards – just because somebody else holds a certain standard doesn’t mean that it’s inherently a bad one – but you want to be sure that they’re ones that have meaning for you. Just because something is “the way things are” doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re universal or even correct. They should be something that you think will actually improve your life even if nobody else notices or cares. If you’re trying to get in shape, is it because you like how you feel or is it because you’re trying to impress other people with your new physique?
You have to examine your motivation and that can be difficult. You have to be willing to be brutally honest with yourself and we are very good at convincing ourselves that what we’re doing is for all the right reasons. This is one of the reasons why I recommend mindfulness meditation; it’s a way of learning how to understand your own thought patterns and emotions. The more you are in tune with why you do things, the better able you are to examine your own life.
Part of examining your motivations will also help you realize that sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you actually want. Part of what lead me to leave the PUA scene was the realization that I wasn’t happy with the pick-up lifestyle. I enjoyed the thrill of flirting with new people and – of course – the sex, but I didn’t want my life to revolve around trying to get laid to the exclusion of almost everything else. I still wanted to get better with women, but the way I had been going about it was simply not me. I’d gotten too caught up in trying to impress my friends rather than chasing after the women I really liked. Once I understood, I was better able to shape my goals accordingly and pursue my goal in a way that was more authentically me.
One thing to keep in mind is that an important aspect of that radical self-honesty is about knowing yourself as you actually are, not just as you’ve always pictured yourself. It doesn’t mean focusing on your flaws or denigrating yourself when you realize that you’re chasing a goal because you’re hoping to impress others. It also means accepting the good in you too.
Part of why we fall prey to external validation is because we find it so hard to believe in ourselves; we need other people to tell us that we’re actually worthwhile. It’s easier to be negative after all; when you’re cynical, you tell yourself you’re being a realist, seeing the world as it really is. In reality however, this is just as much of a lie as the ones you think you’re seeing through. The difference is that you’re letting confirmation bias cloud your judgement and provide “proof” to what you already believe in. You have to be willing to admit that perhaps you are wrong about the way you see yourself – that you’re not as worthless, ugly or unlovable as you keep telling yourself you are. Internal validation is just as much about accepting that your good qualities as it is about confidence in your ability to achieve.
Find The Balance
It’s important to remember that external validation is not a bad thing by definition. Caring about what others think is a part of social intelligence and part of how we operate in society after all. The key is to not let your self-worth be dependent on their judgement. There will be people who’s validation you should seek – people who you care about and who care about you, people whose opinions you value. Someone who is solely internally validated isn’t an inherently better person, they’re a narcissist.
Moreover, you will often find that your motivation for doing things will be a mixture of wanting to because you feel like it will improve your life as well as how others will respond to it and that’s ok. Hell, part of why I wanted to get better with women was because I wanted to throw it in the faces of everyone who knew me when I was the One Who Wasn’t Good With Girls; I wanted them to marvel at how much I’d changed and validate me as a ladies’ man. You just need to make sure that you’re choosing the goals and standards you pursue because they’ll change your life for the better, rather than because you think that they’ll impress others. Let that be the byproduct of your improvement rather than the goal.