It’s very common to daydream about success. It can show up in different ways; we might daydream about being the natural leader of our friendship group, making a breakthrough that wins us a prestigious award, rescuing someone from certain death, or saving the world from some impending crisis. Whatever the plot, what we’re really looking for is recognition, admiration, and a sense that the world wants us to be a part of it. And what often underlies that desire is a need for validation.
Validation is the recognition and acceptance of someone else’s experience. The desire to feel validated is a basic part of being human; everyone needs to feel validated on a regular basis. When we feel validated, we feel seen, accepted and understood. We feel as though we matter.
Dependence on external validation
Sometimes, however, we can find ourselves in situations where the people around us are not validating us. Daydreamers may be particularly prone to this. For someone to validate us, they have to see us, and many daydreamers keep an important part of themselves (their daydreaming) a secret. If you have to constantly hide something about yourself from the people around you, it’s that much harder for those people to see the real you and therefore it’s harder for them to validate your experience.
But it can work the other way too. When we aren’t being validated by the people around us, we can look for validation in our daydreams, and that’s what makes us daydream about achieving success and recognition. We’re desperately trying to satisfy our need for validation in our daydreams because it isn’t being satisfied in the real world.
However, this can be a dangerous negative spiral. The more we seek validation in our daydreams, the more we withdraw, and the fewer opportunities we give people to validate us in real life, so the less validation we get and the more we have to daydream to make up for it. It’s one of the factors that can lead to the development of maladaptive daydreaming disorder. So, is there a healthier way to make up for a lack of validation from the people around us?
Learning to validate ourselves
The solution is to learn to validate ourselves. It’s called self-validation, or internal validation, as opposed to the external validation that we get from other people. Learning to validate yourself is difficult, particularly if you don’t like yourself very much and are prone to self-criticism or self-judgement. But it’s worth working on, because once you can satisfy your need for validation in a healthy way, your happiness becomes much less dependent on other people’s actions. You start to care a lot less what other people think. And you begin to have more confidence in your own opinions and choices.
A good description of how to validate yourself can be found here. But if you find it difficult to validate yourself, you can use your abilities as a daydreamer to make it a little easier. Our characters are that half-way house between external validation and internal validation. We interact with them as though they are other people, outside of ourselves, but at the same time we’re well aware that they exist only in our minds and we can control their responses.
I’ve developed a practice of checking in with one of my characters every day. I tell him what’s going on in my real life, describing in detail what’s happened and how I feel about it. Most of the time he just listens, but if he notices me being self-critical or judgemental, he’ll jump in and say something positive that helps me see the situation objectively. If I’m doubting myself, he’ll ask me what my alter ego would do. That’s the equivalent of asking me what someone more confident, capable and self-assured would do, which helps me to see past my own limitations. Having a conversation with my character also helps me put the situation into context; I’m better able to see how my own beliefs, values and previous experiences affect how I see the situation. Often the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else; likewise, I find the best way to get clear on how I feel about something is to talk it over with one of my characters.
Over time, getting my character’s perspective on things in this way has helped me to have a more positive view of myself and to understand what I want from life. As I become more aware of my values and desires, I’m less reliant on the opinions of others, and therefore I’m able to be more authentically me without worrying about whether I’ll be liked. This means I’m getting to know myself better, and I’m better able to make my own decisions, and so the progress builds on itself.
When my therapist told me I was too dependent on external validation, I didn’t really know what that meant, let alone have any idea how I might go about changing it. But by seeking validation from my characters, I’ve found that my dependence on real-world external validation has fallen away without any great effort on my part. These days, I’m a lot less worried about what other people think of me, because finally, after a lot of hard work, I really do like myself.