How my perspective shifted when I stopped needing people…
January 24, 2017
It is only recently that I began describing myself as an introvert. I think on some level I've always been this way. I think I'm "wired" this way but have only recently allowed myself to own that. If you'd have asked my parents twelve or six years ago, they'd swear to you that I'm an extrovert; they'd probably tell you I'm talkative, energetic, social and my teachers would have agreed. I frequently came home with notes on my report cards about being overly social during class time. While all of these things happened and those are certainly traits I've exhibited (and still exhibit, by the way. I love people. I love connection.), what they didn't see was the deep exhaustion that followed my extroverted actions. They didn't hear my internal dialogue and see my perception of the world around me. They also couldn't see that one of the biggest drivers of my extroverted behavior was actually hurting my ability to connect with people.
Until recent years, I operated as an extrovert in part to satisfy my need for validation and safety from others. For as long as I can remember, I needed people. We’re not just talking about needing my parents for guidance into the world or financial support, or needing friends for socialization. We're talking about a deep, fearful need; being alone was borderline suffocating. I needed to be validated because on my own, I felt anything but.
I got away with needing people my whole life as it was disguised as a normal social appetite, a healthy romantic life and the aforementioned extroverted personality. In reality, my deep dependency on others was straining (and eventually ending) those relationships and often leaving me vulnerable to toxic, one-sided friendships.
Oh – and then there’s the whole ignoring my own experience aspect.
When you depend on validation from others, you become disconnected from yourself....or worse, you never get to know yourself in the first place. You exist only in the reflections of yourself from those you depend on. While you're staring into the looking glass, the scenery in front of you starts to fades away. When you pay more attention to the reflection of yourself than the actual you that you embody, nothing ever fulfills you – because you’re attempting to fulfill a reflection and that is impossible.
In order for your life to feel full, you must be able to recognize its fullness. That can be pretty tough when you barely acknowledge its existence. While you're busy fitting yourself into the lives of others to satisfy your need for validation, your own life just sits there unacknowledged.
At least, mine did.
Here's what's confusing: other people’s lives might look good on you.
You might see yourself reflected in a beautiful scene full of comfort and perceived success – but it's still just a reflection and that reflection holds nothing for you. It doesn’t matter what others see in your life or you in theirs. Those people you’ve been craving and chasing? Their opinion, validation, admiration and disapproval holds no value for you. Needing them is not the same as loving them. Receiving affirmation is not the same as receiving love.
When you gradually let go of that stifling need (and yes it will be gradual) and allow yourself to feel present in your own moments, you start to experience your own life rather than look at it. You gain control over your happiness, your being and your situation. Your story is no longer shaped by the people you’re asking to validate it.
When you stop needing people. Ugh. Strike that.When I stopped needing people, I was finally in control. When I stopped needing people, I finally started to get to know myself. And when that started happening? My whole perspective shifted.
I no longer found myself in situations that made me unhappy just for the sake of being there. I stopped agreeing to social obligations that exhausted me rather than fill me with joy. I started reaching out to friends for dinner and coffee dates and hosting small get togethers. I started doing things that allowed me to interact with the world in the meaningful, connected way I truly craved. I stopped questioning my decisions to do something or be with someone because I now knew that it was, indeed, my decision made in my best interest.
I stopped resenting people when I didn't feel I was being made a priority. I stopped chasing after friendships that left me exhausted and empty. I started thanking the folks I did love and prioritizing them more.
When I stopped needing people, I was finally able to love them.
This doesn’t mean I never loved anyone up to this point. Of course I loved my family and my good friends but to some extent I’m not sure I was consciously aware of that love, or more specifically, of what that love meant.
The trick is to realize there are different interpretations of the word "need." We absolutely need people in our lives. Letting go of the need we're talking about isn't about cutting people from your life. I'm not advocating that we all pull an Alexander Supertramp-stlye, individualist escape. Quite the opposite, actually. People and relationships are important. I'd argue that human connection is one of the most important things you can have. This is why shifting my perspective was so profound: it finally allowed me to foster and value that human connection. The key is first fostering a relationship with yourself. We have to find the balance between individualist and collectivist.
When you need someone to validate your life, one some level you’re asking them to complete you – to complete your story. You’re depending on them and that means when they falter in their ability to validate you, your self worth falters. I think this is why breakups, arguments and rejection can hurt so deeply, even to a physical degree. It feels as if someone is ripping a piece of you right off your body. But they aren’t. They’re simply removing a trinket off the colorful, cluttered, eclectic shelf of your life.
When you want someone, you are inviting them onto that shelf. You are acknowledging that you, as a complete and valid existence, values something in another person's existence. You're telling yourself and that person that you’d like to add them to your experience. And that's damn special.