Today, I’m tackling one of the topics on my “Things I Want to Write About” list: relationships and validation. This post isn’t about how great it feels to be told I’m right or consistently needing my ego stroked. It’s about recognizing the power of and my appreciation for the friends in my life.
Months ago, I wrote the following important (to me) sentences:
“Relationships are among the many tools in your toolbox. They serve a purpose and they’re necessary to build your complete self”
That’s where I’ll start. This past year, I’ve learned a lot about relationships. I’ve learned to let people get to know me and I’ve started to understand and truly appreciate the necessity of reciprocity in friendships. I’ve allowed myself to be just vulnerable enough that I can accept others investment in me. Rather than pushing them away or putting up high walls, I’ve shared pieces of myself to add to the foundation of our relationship. Together we built something wonderful and soon I was able to feel how influential these investments were. In a year, I learned the meaning of true friendship and I’ve found my “people” (because why shouldn’t we reference Grey’s Anatomy wherever we can?!). I gained friends who likely know me better than I know myself and somehow, they always know the right thing to say to make everything better (or at least manageable for a moment).
Twice recently, I’ve had friends thank me for allowing them the space to “get enraged”. That’s the reciprocal part! That’s when I realized again that validation, active listening more precisely, is an essential aspect of friendship. I didn’t have to have the answers. I just needed to listen, acknowledge, and then ask what they needed from me. That shift from trying to “fix” the problem to simply supporting a friend has meant so much to me. It means that we can admit that sometimes the solutions are hard. We can respect and acknowledge each individual’s needs. Sometimes “I hear you. That sucks.” and saying or hearing nothing more is more powerful than whatever advice you could spew or pretend to listen to in the moment. Other times, our friends are our first line of defense where we can leverage our networks and share experiences and resources (when they are asked for of course. Consent is important!).
An interesting element about validation that I don’t think I initially realized is that in order to be validated, you have to share parts of yourself – introduce people to the “real you”. That means, you must have the tough conversations and sometimes let down walls or cross boundaries. You have to move past small talk. The benefit is, when you let the right person “in” you can experience the beauty of feeling truly cared for and important to someone. And, that’s all we can ask for some days. All we can hope for, all we can expect, is that we are important enough to someone and that our relationships are dynamic enough and salient enough to weather the storm and anything we might encounter.
This year, I’ve learned to love and rely on these relationships. The first time I realized how influential these friendships are was when a mentor, advisor, teacher, and now friend said to me “I hope you get everything you want”. That was one of the first times I felt genuinely supported without any external expectations. After I heard that, I smiled and felt like I could do exactly what I wanted without letting anyone down. I can’t explain why that interaction touched me so significantly but, (at the risk of sounding cliché) it changed my life. So, since then I’ve been seeking out more meaningful moments like that. I’ve been searching for the spaces where I am heard. I’ve been wanting more friendships that change my life and warm my heart.
So, yes, validation feels good. It reminds me that relationships are necessary and that I’m not alone. It reminds me I CAN ask for help and, I don’t have to put up a front or appear to always be “okay”. Together we can share the true privilege of supporting each other – a privilege I like to call friendship.