Breaking the Addiction to External Validation


Even Jane Fonda struggled with self-validation


On an airplane recently, I watched the HBO biographical documentary on Jane Fonda: Jane Fonda In Five Acts. The film takes you through Fonda’s life from childhood through present day, a life spanning three husbands and many identities, from being Henry Fonda’s daughter to a model, sex icon, actress, activist, wife of a billionaire, and now, as she tells it, finally, herself.

It struck me throughout the film as Fonda searched for figuring out who she was, why she was here, and how to validate herself. She constantly sought out validation from others, and it was clear with each husband she completely changed who she was, even down to the clothes she wore and how she lived.

As she said in the film:

“A lot of other people were defining me, all of them men. I never felt real. I thought, I just have to get out from under my father’s shadow. . .  I was always in search of somebody who was real in there.”

It wasn’t until late in her life when she left then-husband Ted Turner, that she realized she did not need a man to be ok. It was then that she finally looked within herself for validation that she was good enough. “It was probably the most profound turning point of my whole life. I left this man and one part of me was so sad. And the other part of me said, ‘I’m gonna be okay. I don’t need a man to make me okay.’ That was it. And I’ve never looked back,” she said in the film.

Her needing validation through the eyes and words of men instead of herself really resonated with me. I struggled with this most of my life. And like with Fonda, I had to step away from a relationship and men for a while to realize it. For me, it started with needing validation from my father, who, as I talked about in an earlier blog, was an alcoholic, and was not able to give himself validation, let alone others. It then continued and only got worse, frankly, as I went through puberty and into teenage years.

In fact, I have distinct memories of thinking if I could just get “that boy” or “that man” to like me, then it must mean I’m actually pretty or smart or good enough. This is never the basis of a solid relationship because I went into every relationship with my foundation only being as good as the validation I received from the other person. Unfortunately, if you stop receiving the level of validation you think you need to feel beautiful or good enough from the person you are with, you look for it in someone else.

Not surprisingly, this led to having many relationships and not knowing how to develop strong bonds. Add to this the fact I moved thirteen times in eighteen years, it was easy to let relationships and friendships go because I knew I was eventually moving to another town and another school and needing to start all over again anyway.

For many women I meet, sex becomes the ultimate validation. If a man (or woman) finds you attractive enough to have sex with you, then you really must be more attractive and sexy than you think. The problem is sex then becomes a weapon you use on yourself and against others. And again, a relationship started on pure sexual attraction or manipulation is never the basis of solid grounding or, frankly, a loving relationship.

While I have read many books about reclaiming your sense of self and self-esteem, it was actually a book I read when my husband and I were going through marriage counseling that stuck with me. Dr. David Schnarch, a psychiatrist, marriage therapist and author of several books, teaches the idea of differentiation. Dr. Schnarch writes in his book Intimacy and Desire:

Differentiation is a scientific process that occurs in all species. For humans, it is about becoming more of a unique individual and a solid person through relationships with others.” 

Being differentiated is learning how to be grounded in yourself, and only needing validation from within YOU, not from outside and other people.

This book as well as other hard work my husband and I did, which included going to a marriage discovery workshop with Dr. Schnarch and his wife, helped me and us immensely. Notice he says becoming a solid person “through” relationships with others. In fact, his whole philosophy is you can’t even begin to have a healthy relationship or marriage if you are not solid in who you are, yourself. To be so, you need to achieve self-validation and self-love. Perhaps it sounds obvious, but for so many of us, this is extremely hard and a life’s journey. Dr. Schnarch declares:

“One of the most important things in life is becoming a solid individual.”

The way I internalize this is thinking about how it feels to be securely grounded to the earth, like a sturdy tree whose branches can move in the breeze but the wind cannot knock the tree over. Imagine yourself like that tree. Your feet are solidly planted in who you are and in your own validation, and other people’s opinions of you or input they give you might sway you slightly but they will not invalidate you or change who you are, and they will not, ever, knock you over.

What really hit me as I watched the Jane Fonda biography is that so much of this film talked directly about the themes we are discussing here on and in my presentations. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, famous or not, we all struggle with feelings of not being “good enough”, and we are all searching to figure out our own true “light”.

In fact, Fonda’s son Troy Garity spoke to this directly in the film when he said,

“It’s a line between fearlessness and stupidity,” he said. “My mom will get an instinct that resonates true within herself and she acts on itthis link opens in a new tab. If she thinks there’s an unjust war that will harm people she cares about it, she’ll throw her body into it to stop it.”

“If she feels that she has been betrayed by society’s values by inheriting a negative perception about what she looks like, she’s going to fix that by diving head first into fitness,” Garity added.

I know Fonda has collected many enemies over her life, but I am a fan. It takes amazing courage to stand up for what you believe in, and even more, the courage to keep working on self-discovery and to become differentiated, no matter how old you are or the history behind you.

Attend “An Evening with Jane Fonda,” Live in Dallas on Monday, July 8, 2019 at the Winspear Opera House.