As I’ve said before, I’m an actor. I was trained as an actor, I still perform as an actor and more importantly, I think like an actor. This can be beneficial in many ways. It makes me more sensitive to people’s emotional states for one.
But as with any career, there are downsides to being an actor as well, downsides that manifest themselves as bad habits that you might not even be aware.
Let’s talk about validation.
Validation is something people seek out when they feel unsure of themselves. “Do you love me?”, “Do I look fat in this dress?”, and “It’s not a bad thing that I only tipped 10% to the waiter, right? He was two minutes late with our drinks!” are a few minor ones we go through every day.
It always boils down to one question: am I worthy and is what I’m doing worthwhile? We’re unsure, we’re insecure, and so we turn to our family and friends to reassure us that all is well, that they do love us, that we look fabulous, that we’re not cheap jerks who just took away a poor waiter’s living. We ask them this because we can’t see the positive in ourselves.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing validation from time to time. After all, we are only human. When I am at the end of my rope, when I’m elbow deep in a project and I can see nothing but failure, I will turn to a friend if nothing else because they have an objective view of the situation and can probably see more than the word “DOOOOM” written all over it.
And they will reassure me that no, I’m not a failure of a human being and yes, I should continue because despite what I think, I do indeed have what it takes to make it work. And I will draw strength from that and tell myself to listen to their words and ignore cray cray Manda.
So why talk about it? Well, because there is such a thing as needing too much validation from other people, to become too dependent on their praise and reassurance.
Suddenly it’s not enough to hear it once. You need to hear it almost every day. And not in a cutesy “Do you wuv me?” way that you see new couples doing in public places.
No, I mean the manic, desperate, crazy-eyed way that has your friends smiling politely while they madly try to find the exit and run for the hills.
Of course it all goes back to confidence. If you have no faith in yourself, praise from others is the only way you’ll be able to validate your own existence. And if no one is praising you 24/7, you start to panic that maybe, just maybe, they were lying just to make you feel better and that in fact you are a puddle of failure that they only keep around out of habit.
To be truthful this is a difficult post to write. Because up until about a year ago I was confident that I was not one of those people who would constantly need to be reassured. Oh certainly I would have moments of weakness, but I considered myself strong enough to push through them with a little help from friends.
But then I stopped acting. I hate that it keeps coming back to that little fact. But it’s true. Since I took a break from acting there have been sudden issues and habits that I was not even aware I had become dependent on and it is forcing me to take a good hard look at myself.
As actors, without even realizing it, we are getting constant validation: from our audience. As soon as we hear laughter or applause, we know we have done a good job. If not our audience, it’s from our director and fellow actors who in the rehearsal process or after the show will reassure us that we are indeed fantastic. Have you ever been to a cast party of any sort? That might as well be called a validation party.
And again, there’s NOTHING wrong with a little enjoyment of the validation. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy an audience’s reaction, to experience the highs of a performance. Trust me, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.
But I think maybe I became a bit too dependent on it without even realizing it. Because suddenly without the instant validation of the audience, without that regular reassurance, I began to lose confidence in myself.
There are other factors at play, obviously. Talking with a friend the other day, I realized once again that those two years of severe bullying as a kid affected me more than I thought and that despite having a couple of very close friends, I’ve become extremely distrustful that anyone would want to stay my friend. Acting became a way to make new friends. People would see me act, they’d think I was cool, and I would make friends. The idea that someone would want to be my friend for reasons OTHER than the fact that I was a decent actor was, subconsciously at least, absurd.
Now here I am, exploring new ways to express myself creatively and I absolutely cannot trust that I will do a good job, or that anybody cares, or that I have any right to even attempt it, or, more importantly, that anyonewants to be involved. Even when they say they want to be involved and that they are excited, I find myself just waiting for the moment when they will realize what a screw-up I am, or how boring I’ve become, or that they have far more important things to do than my paltry project, and they will quit.
As a result I’ve found myself asking for validation a lot more. I couldn’t simply trust that I am an awesome and creative person or that my friends loved me for who I was. And it has become a vicious cycle. Last week, finally, it reached a bit of a crisis point. I caught myself and saw what I was doing and that the need for validation was actually probably hurting my friendships more than screwing up actually would.
I felt pretty ashamed. And embarrassed. Because normally? I’m much better than that.
BUT don’t worry, this isn’t going to dour and dark places that results in me sobbing into my keyboard. If there’s anything I have an abundance of, it’s self awareness. And good friends and family who are not afraid to smack some sense into me every once in a while. So I’ve been working on that whole confidence thing and that need for validation, and in my seemingly endless quest I’ve learned a few important things.
These aren’t proven by science. Or doctors. I haven’t got any sort of credentials or studies that show that this is good advice at all. For all I know, it’s terrible advice. But it’s also my experience, and one that has helped me so I thought I would share some of the steps I’ve taken to help get over my validation anxiety.
1. Admit it.
This one is hard. I mean, it’s really, REALLY hard. I stopped writing this post about five times because to continue, to finish it, would mean admitting that yes, I am having a tough time with my confidence and that might make me seem a bit weak. I hear my friends talk about their depressed and sad friends, I hear them sound tired from constantly trying to reassure them and I am always determined never to be lumped in as “that kind of friend”.
But the longer you ignore a problem the worse it becomes and you know what? It’s far weaker to let the problem persist and convince yourself you don’t need to face it and it’ll just go away (it doesn’t, ever) than it is to admit that maybe, just maybe, you might need a bit of help. Believe it or not, your friends won’t judge you for that. In fact, they will probably be happy that they didn’t have to convince you themselves. It’s not easy. As I’m typing this I’m still getting a twinge in my stomach at the thought that my friends will in fact judge me and will complain of how weak I am. But at the same time, it’s a lot more freeing now that I’ve said it and typed it.
Or meditate. I can’t stress this enough. It’s going to seem fruffy. It’s going to seem ridiculous. You are going to hear such clichéd terms like “Breathe in the good, ease out the bad feelings, breathe into your heart” and you will raise one eyebrow and think “You’re full of cactus juice” but by gum, it works. It can work very well. The other night I woke up feeling awful and, just on a lark, I tried one of the exercises as I was falling asleep. I woke up again four hours later, anxiety free and feeling as though I’d slept for days. I didn’t even know I was sleeping badly, or what no anxiety felt like! That was scary actually, the sudden realization that I don’t know what it feels like not to be scared. It only lasted half an hour, but by gosh that was the best half hour I’ve felt in a while. So try it. In fact, here’s a website!
But that leads to…
3. Accept the fact that there will be relapses.
For about two weeks I was doing really well. I was doing the breathing exercises, I was trying new things and feeling good about myself, and suddenly without warning I was hit with terrible anxiety. And I mean TERRIBLE. I didn’t eat. I couldn’t concentrate on the simplest of tasks. I began to text my friends, horribly worried that they hated me and that I wasn’t living up to their expectations. It was as if those two weeks worth of anxiety had concentrated itself into 8 hours.
That’s going to happen. And it’s okay. It took a lot, and I mean A LOT of talking myself down to reassure myself that the anxiety and low confidence was misplaced. I’m quickly getting the sense that my brain and my body are starting to hate me for changing my usual routine of self loathing. As harmful as it is, it’s also a habit and gosh darn our brains love patterns and habit and will take any chance they can get to return to them. And it’s also very easy to believe it. But as important as it is not to believe these feelings…
4. Don’t ignore them.
Imagine your feelings are my friend Errol. Imagine you have said something that triggers the Errol to come up and start teasing you. The more you ignore him, the louder and more arm flaily he gets until there is absolutely no hope to avoid embarassment and you crawl into a fetal position.
Such is the case with anxiety. Don’t ignore the fact that it’s there or try to push it to a smaller part of your brain. Because it just gets louder. And more annoying. And the more you try to suppress it, the worse it will be when that dam finally breaks. And it’s bad. Oh, trust me, it’s bad when that happens. Just acknowledge that they’re there. It’s weirdly freeing and makes it easier to deal with. And doesn’t send you flying to the phone. On that note…
5. Have a support system.
For the most part, this is a solo job. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask your friends for support. There’s a difference between asking for validation and asking for support. Luckily, I have some amazing friends. Amazing friends who are willing to give me the hard truths I need to hear and also let me know that I’m doing just fine. Friends who just constantly cater to your need for validation? They aren’t doing you any favours.
But it’s also okay to vent too. Don’t overwhelm with the venting, but don’t be afraid to talk to a friend about it. Having friends who also have the same problems helps in a way. It’s easier to let each other know you’re being ridiculous than letting yourselves know.
Oh, and resist texting. Dear muffins, resist texting too much. It’s a one way ticket to toon town. Not the good kind either.
6. Accept your flaws.
Confidence is not being insanely good at something. It’s not being charismatic either. It’s being comfortable with who you are. And who you are? Is not perfect.
Here’s a secret I have yet to tell anyone: I almost called my entire webseries off because I considered myself too overweight to play the role I had written myself. Never mind the fact that my character’s arc involves becoming comfortable with who she is and living up to society’s expectations and that I could probably, oh, I don’t know, USE my own feelings to my advantage in portraying her.
I have a friend. She’s about the same size and build as me. Yet our personalities could not be more different. When she enters a room, all eyes are on her. She exudes pride and confidence in who she is and it makes her fantastically attractive.
She simply does not care what others think. Only what she thinks. And the results are amazing.
7. Depend on yourself for your confidence
Another very tough one. Guess what? No matter how much people praise and compliment you, unless you believe it at least a little bit it’s not going to count for a whole lot. You’ll end up seeking more and more validation from others for your quick fix of confidence and as a result probably drive your friends up the wall and away from you.
And no, it’s not a quick process. And yes, it will be insanely tough. I mean, I’m still working on it. And there are times, yes, when I think to myself “What on earth is the use or the point of having faith in myself?”
But when I think about it, when I think about people wanting to make friends with me after I perform, I realize it wasn’t because I was talented. It was because I displayed an insane amount of confidence. And well…confidence is attractive. There’s absolutely no denying that. But now I have to learn to have it in life as well as on stage. Which…is hard.
I don’t really have answers for this one, but I do try to think of one rule every day now: The first person that I should seek validation from is myself. Don’t do something because others want you to. Do it because you want to, because it makes you happy, because you’re having fun. Accept that others are not always going to like it. Accept that sometimes you WILL be judged, and it will be harsh. Accept and TRUST that your friends love you and that they don’t need to tell you that every day. Silence does not mean disinterest or hatred. If they have a problem, then they will let you know. Well, hopefully they will.
I’m writing this not just for myself but because I felt overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all and I thought it’d be good for others to know that there are ways to combat this insane insecurity. Obviously I’m still struggling. Obviously this is going to be an uphill battle. Obviously I’ve written things like this before. But if I have any hope of being successful with my work, I need to believe it myself.
And I will. Maybe…someday…if I don’t suck so much….
Progress is slow :D.