As lockdown restrictions begin to lift in the UK, Stylist’s Lauren Geall explores why the sense of uncertainty around the “new normal” is leading her to seek the validation of others.
I have always been a people pleaser – needing people to like me is part of my DNA. The idea that someone might not like me, or, even worse, actively dislike me, is a lot for my brain to handle. For as long as I can remember, the approval and praise of others has been something I’ve craved. For me, reassurance that I am liked, respected or appreciated is one of the ultimate comforts.
I know that this intense need to be liked is not a good thing. We all have those things we dislike about our personality, and for me, it’s this intense need for external validation. As I’ve grown older, I’ve worked hard to try and depend less on the opinion of others to define my worth – I’ve put a lot time into developing a sense of self which doesn’t require other people to prop it up, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
But in moments when I’m feeling sad, anxious or low, that reliance on other people seems to creep back in.
It starts with an impulse to apologise – a quick “sorry I’ve been a bit of a rubbish friend lately!” here, an “apologies if that piece of work isn’t very good” there. After that, I’ll start to feel slightly on edge – as if there’s someone talking about me just out of earshot but I can’t quite decipher what they’re saying.
Its graduality is what makes it so insidious – one moment, I’m reminding myself that, just because my friends haven’t messaged me in a day, doesn’t mean they don’t like me anymore. The next? I’m a friendless nobody unliked by everyone I meet. It sounds funny when you write it down, but this circumstance is not far from the dramatic dialogue which plays in my head from time to time.
As soon as lockdown hit, I was sure I’d feel that need for external validation creeping in – after all, what situation could be more upsetting and anxiety-inducing than a worldwide pandemic? But to my surprise, I’ve been coping surprisingly well, dealing with any negative thoughts with relative ease. What has come as a surprise, however, is that, as lockdown has begun to lift, my need for external validation has finally begun to rear its ugly head.
Why? I think it’s got something to do with the process of acceptance I’ve been going through over the last couple of weeks. While I’ve understood the severity of the situation throughout the lockdown period, I think it’s only just hit me how long it might take before normal life actually resumes. Facing so much uncertainty is taking its toll on my mental health, in small ways I’m only just starting to understand. The sense of insecurity this uncertainty has created has triggered a need to cling on to the people around me – to try and “prove” my worth in a world where everything else feels so out of control.
As lockdown eases and people begin to rebuild their own versions of “normal,” I’m also worried about being ‘left behind’ because I haven’t got a million socially distanced meetups planned over the next week. Having moved home to spend lockdown with my parents, I’ve found myself isolated from most of my friends – and the idea I might not see many of them for a while is making me worry that I won’t have any friends to meet up with when life does go back to normal. I know it’s silly – most of my friends aren’t living near each other right now and there’s definitely no expectation to travel to see them – but seeing people on social media going on socially distanced walks and drinking with their friends in the park is giving me serious FOMO.
If you’re struggling to cope with the feeling of uncertainty that’s dominating most of our lives right now, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Our minds deal with these kinds of situations in unique and often surprising ways – while my mind may deal with uncertainty by seeking reassurance and validation, others may find themselves needing to sleep more often or even wanting to spend more time alone.
Whatever you’re going through at the moment (and I include myself in this) we need to be kind to ourselves. This is, as we’ve heard time and time again, an unprecedented situation, and while being kind to yourself might not seem like the most ground-breaking thing, it can make a massive difference.
Coping with uncertainty
If you’re struggling to deal with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis, you’re not alone. We’re facing a situation none of us have ever dealt with before, so it’s completely normal to feel uneasy or worried about what’s coming next. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, here are three articles that might help.
- Everything you need to know about seeking mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic
- Free online therapy and wellbeing resources you can access during the coronavirus outbreak
- The unexpected secret to feeling happier in times of uncertainty
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