The best thing you can do is master the chaos in you. You are not thrown into the fire, you are the fire.Mama Indigo
5 MONTHS ON THE ALIEN PLANET.
5 months since DC schools shut their doors on March 13. 5 Months since Corona turned the U.S. upside down.
Can you believe it?
Part of me feels like I’ve been cheated of half a year of my life–it can’t be August, yet–I didn’t get to properly finish my school year off with my 4th grade kiddos (The Zoom date goodbye party didn’t feel official enough). I haven’t been to my grad school campus since March (I miss you, Foggy Bottom!). I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting my neighborhood pool at all this summer (Maybe next year, Banneker???). I haven’t nursed a latte at local coffee shop whilst doing homework in months. And visits to the grocery store now include 5 minutes of nearly non-stop hyperventilation as I dutifully, though not happily, cover my face (because, yes, mask anxiety is still real) What is this? What a crap year of missed opportunities and anxiety inducing safety measures. THANKS CORONA.
Yet, another part of me feels exceptionally grateful that my life has been at an abrupt standstill for nearly half a year. While the one part of me still grumbles at missed opportunities and the fact that, in 2020, the awfulness that is the face mask (and its obnoxious politicization in the U.S.) is still the best virus prevention out there (In Marty McFly’s 2020, face masks would be obsolete due to the invention of something that is much more user friendly, I’m telling you (and, for the record, you can believe the science, follow the rules, and still detest face masks…it’s a beautiful think called nuance, which is seemingly dead in 2020 America)), the other, deep, intuitive side of me knows I needed this time to regroup and reset. And that, in all honestly, I think the world needed this time, too. A global wake up call has been needed for a long time, and I really hope people are waking up due to COVID-19. While there are so many losses due to COVID-19–the loss of life, the loss of work for many, and the academic losses many of our children are facing to name a few–I truly do believe that challenging times are an opportunity for people to reflect, regroup, and hopefully come out better on the other end. They say we’re transitioning into the Age of Aquarius, after all–basically we’re all supposed to awaken anyway, right?
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At the end of the day, as much as I might want to grumble about the external factors affecting my world right now, the wise words of Mama Indigo remind me that, regardless of what’s going on around me in the world, I am in charge of how I show up in the world. Even during a global pandemic, my response to the world is my choice and largely dependent on how well I’ve mastered the chaos inside myself.
With that in mind, I’ve been taking these last five months to delve deep into myself. I’ve been in therapy for the past three months, which has led to some amazing realizations. After finishing up a six week grad school summer course at the end of June, I decided to take time in July to intentionally step back from life to reset and regroup–partially, because I have a 13 credit graduate semester starting up at the end of August that will, effectively, cancel out the very definition of free time. Also, though, this rest time felt crucial to me as I discovered and processed some really useful, therapeutic realizations about myself.
Chief among these realization is that I have a habit of looking for validation outside of myself. As someone who considers herself to be exceptionally independent, this was a bit of a strange realization to have: why would I look for others to validate me when I hate even an inkling of neediness in both myself and others?
If you think about it, though, an independent mindset, when taken to the extreme, is disconnection at its finest. Additionally, looking for validation in others is the perfect way to stay disconnected from others–people can often tell when you’re looking for validation rather than a genuine connection, even if you yourself are not aware of that, which can push them away. If you don’t have the tools to validate yourself, what tools will you have to build healthy relationships? After all, the ability to have healthy relationships requires the self-validating confidence that you deserve healthy relationships. Self-validation relies upon a strong sense of identity and core beliefs–e.g., I can validate my thoughts and feelings, because I know this is what I think about and believe. Up until recently, I didn’t have a core sense of my identity (even though I thought I did). Thus, it was easier to search for validation in others and retreat into myself than do the work to be vulnerable with myself, find my identity, validate my feelings, and then have the strength to be truly vulnerable with others. I’ve spent the first four years of my life in DC feeling self-conscious about having no close friends here (which is an honest to god truth, as depressing as it sounds) only to realize that all this time there has a part of me that felt I didn’t deserve close friends here. Sure, I kept in contact with friends and family in Minnesota, the place I come from but know with certainty that I don’t want to return to to live–but finding happiness in DC, a place I love and want to call home for the long term? There was this deep sense that I was unworthy of accomplishing that. Thus, it was easier to seek out validation from others without truly getting to know them. All this time, I’ve called myself independent–but really, I’ve been feeling lost, lonely, and unworthy, and I’ve been nursing those wounds by looking to others instead of looking inward and finding myself.
This realization–that a lack of identity and sense of unworthiness have lead me to search for validation from others–goes hand in hand with the Enneagram Type 4, which I identify most strongly with. For those of you who don’t know, the Enneagram is a typing system much like Myers-Briggs or The Big Five. However, it’s much deeper than these other typing systems in that it offers a path of personal growth through your type. I’ve loved exploring the Enneagram while in therapy–it’s been so useful to come to these realizations about myself in therapy and see those realizations mirrored in the Type 4. The Enneagram Type 4’s basic fear is that they have no identity or significance–thus, they often latch on to ideas and look for validation outside of themselves to numb that fear. It’s creepy how accurate the description of the type 4 is for me. When I look back at all the struggles I’ve had in my life and all the messes I’ve gotten myself into, they all go back to this basic fear that I have of having no identity or significance. In fact, there are key moments in my life that I can look back on and think, “yup, I had no idea who I was then. I had no core identity. I genuinely did not think I had significance”.
There’s an incredibly strong connection between a lack of identity and a need for external validation. And it’s been really empowering for me to see that connection and actively work to develop my core values and what I believe in to become more secure in my identity and, thus, my ability to self validate.
I still have a long way to go in working on my self validation–perhaps it will be a lifelong journey. It likely will be. That’s okay, though. I’m aware now of my need for validation, and I’ve gotten into the habit of checking myself when I find myself falling into old, unhealthy patterns. I’ve gotten better at validating myself. I feel like I’m on the right path.
These last few, Corona-filled months have been challenging, scary–and, as a white person in the wake of George Floyd’s death–eye opening and educational. It also seems there’s no end in sight–the U.S. is, after all, still knee deep in Corona cases and racial inequity.
Yet, I still can’t help but feel hopeful. Charles Eisenstein calls authentic hope “a premonition, a glimpse of a future that’s actually possible.” When I work on eradicating the basic fears within me, when I work to rise above them, I feel so hopeful for my own future–and then I think, if I can feel such hope at a personal level, why shouldn’t I feel it at a national and global level, too? The more I learn to validate myself, the more I believe that, not only will I rise above my current circumstances, but that all of humanity can and will rise above our current circumstances, too. At this point, there is no going back to “normal”. We need to, and I think we will, create a new normal–something better to replace all that wasn’t working before. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. But, I do believe it will be worth it.
I think true self-validation comes from being able to look squarely in the mirror, seeing both one’s positive and negative aspects, and still believing in one’s worthiness and core identity amidst that. I’ve been doing a lot of that in the last few months–though it hasn’t always been pretty, it’s been worthwhile, and I feel I’m a stronger and more capable human because of that. I believe the same is true at a global level–we, as a society, need to look in the mirror, question what we want to be as a global humanity, and be honest about both what’s working and what’s not working in order to keep moving forward. It won’t be easy, but it’s a challenge I hope we take.
 Eisenstein, Charles. “The Origin of Wrongness in the World”. Political Hope with Charles Eisenstein. Online Course. Commune, 2020. https://www.onecommune.com/products/political-hope-with-charles-eisenstein-free-from-aug-3-12/categories/3266278/posts/10903499