I can say, with almost 100% certainty, that every single one of us in the Anthro fandom has heard the term "validation" before. I can also say, however, that there are very few other single words that all of us cling to so dearly. Being validated for who we are, what we do, and how we go through life has become a cornerstone of our existence, especially in the online age. This concept though, just like many other things in life, is subject to the following mantra: Too much of a good thing can quickly turn bad. In today's article, we are going to take a look at validation as both a word and a concept. What does it mean to seek validation and how can it be harmful? Is it possible to live without it? At what point does it become problematic? Let's explore.
Validation: The Word
From a dictionary standpoint, validation can be defined a few different ways, so let's look at each of them in detail.
The first, and likely original definition of validation is simply the process of making something officially or legally acceptable. For instance, to validate your purchase, you get a receipt. Or if you need to file documents in the legal arena, they usually undergo validation by a notary public.
Believe it or not, the second definition is even simpler than the first. Validation is simply proof that something is correct. This is accomplished through documentation, recordings, all sorts of things. For example, if your neighbor steals a package off your front porch, and you catch them on camera, you can validate their identity, and the theft, with the camera footage.
With all of that being said, the last, most modern, and most important definition to most of us, goes like this:
Validation is the feeling that other people approve of and accept you.
Straight away, I'm sure the last definition is what most people thought of when thinking of the word. That's what validation means to most of the Anthro community and it seems to be the most common use of the word today in social spaces. Feeling valid is incredibly important to, well, everyone! I'm sure that anyone who reads this can think of at least one occasion where they wish they could have had just a little validation, literally from anyone, when they had a new idea or began pursing a new passion.
Maybe you were working on a new 3D model that was super exciting, but when you shared on social media it didn't get a single like. Or you just finished an epic commission but it seems like nobody cared at all. Perhaps it took you a whole week to create those new paw socks, but all they have done is sit in your shop, unsold, for two months now. Feeling valid, not only during our creative pursuits but in life as a whole, is one of the biggest cornerstones of our community. We are a massive group that transcends boundaries and politics to create and enjoy Anthro art; but without any validation for what we do, what's the point? Well, this is where we find the concept of validation itself.
Validation: The Concept
When you get right down to it, validation means something a little different to every person out there and it's far more than just doing things that make you feel good inside. We are social creatures by nature and that need to belong is very difficult to escape. Just think about some of your favorite films for a moment. How many of them have a character who is struggling to fit in? Or takes on an epic quest to find something they need, just to be a member of the larger group? Validation is not only a part of life, but a common theme in so many things that we create and consume. If you don't believe me, take it from these creators who where kind enough to share their words with me:
I think the ultimate validation is when you talk to an artist you admire, or have known for a long time, and they not only talk back, but compliment your work. I'm talking like, you followed them on DA when you were just starting out, spent years admiring their work, and suddenly they recognize your stuff. Or better yet when you work super hard on a certain aspect of something and that one single part gets recognition. That's validation to me, being recognized by those I look up to, and it fuels me to keep on improving.
I'd say watching that subscriber count go up every month is a clear indicator I'm doing something right, which is a source of validation in itself. I admit, however, sometimes I kinda forget why I started doing art in the first place. If I'm being honest, a lot of it started with me as a kid wanting to see cartoon characters doing horny [stuff]. I remember when I first started, I would do a lot of fanart for the artists that I looked up to, and it felt really good just when they noticed me. Now I can see other's doing that with me, and really, it's just part of the game.
As you can see, validation comes from many different sources and means something different to each and every one of us. It's something that we all need at some point or another, and when it comes in from external sources it triggers all sorts of emotions. Lacking validation only pushes us to crave it more, and once it finally arrives it becomes a high. This cycle of constantly seeking validation to feel like you are worth something has a name all of it's own: Addictive Praise.
Have you ever felt like there is just this void in your life that is only ever filled when someone is paying attention to you? Maybe you sit online at night, scrolling through servers and chat sites, wishing someone would strike up a conversation or compliment your character; anything to break the silence. And yet, even when someone finally does give you the compliments you wanted, the satisfaction only lasts for a bit and you are left wanting more.
Before we get any further into this though, I want to take a moment to pause and tell you that there is nothing wrong with you, at all. What you are experiencing is absolutely normal and it's something we all go through. I can say that because I speak from personal experience~ I can tell you exactly what it's like to be addicted to praise and just what kind of monster it is. The first step though, is just becoming aware of it in the first place.
"Addictive Praise" isn't very commonly talked about. To me, it exists somewhere within the same realm of toxic positivity. We all know it's out there and exactly what it feels like, but it's not something that we readily acknowledge when we are experiencing it. It exists, but is very hard to see because, unlike vampires, it usually only appears in the mirror. Take it from me, nobody likes looking in the mirror. If you feel like you are chasing praise and validation with your hobbies or work, then it might be time to step back and reevaluate what this may be doing to your mental health.
Finding validation and ending an addiction to praise isn't as difficult as you may think, but it all starts with that dreaded, reflective surface. If you're reading this, then I want you to look into that mirror for a second and ask yourself some questions:
What kind of validation are you truly seeking? Do you want more attention on social media, do you want to have someone confirm that you are part of the group, or do you want to feel like you are accomplishing something worthwhile?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, then it may be time to take a step forward and stare a little harder in the mirror. Rather than seeking validation from others, try taking a social media break and just creating for yourself. Do something on your own, for yourself, that no one else will ever see. I know some of you are already going: "But Mariah, if no one else will ever see it, what's the point??"
My point is this: You are the only person out there who can truly validate your work. You should seek validation from yourself, for a job well done, first and always. As they say, opinions are like - well, you know - and everybody's got one. No one's opinion should ever influence the fact that you are creating because you enjoy it. Take a break from social media, and just go back to the beginning. Not to reveal my age, but I know tons of you who, like me, began creating before the internet even existed. (My first novel was a Legends of Dragoon fanfic that I wrote using the computers in the school library. Not even joking, I saved it on a floppy disk.) Take a week, get back to those roots, and remember what it was like to just create for yourself.
Another thing to consider is the fact that you should always be mindful of your motivation. Are you doing this to impress someone? To boost your social media follower count? To better market your work? Be honest with yourself and really lay out what is driving your creative process. Now this isn't to say that creating something for marketing purposes is a bad thing, but I am saying that creating just to please other people can quickly turn into an addiction to external validation and praise.
The last bit of advice I can offer is a little on the nose, but it's something that I feel should be said. Don't ask for validation from other people.
If you have ever felt like you need to outright ask people if you are good enough, then you are exactly who this article is for. I've said it in my articles before, and I'm going to say it again here. No matter who you are, where you are in life, or what your creative pursuits include, you are valid. You think, you feel, you understand, and you have the power to separate fact from opinion. Ending your addiction to praise and the endless search for external validation is just the first step to seeing just how valid you really are. You do belong and no one can ever take that away from you.
In closing, I want to say that I really hope this article provides a new perspective on what drives us creatively. There is more to the Anthro world than constantly seeking praise and validation from those around us. Of course it's fun to share your passions with your friends and share in the joy of creating; but when praise takes the place of that joy, that's when you'll find yourself in trouble. Could be something as simple as burnout, to losing all interest in your creative passions. If you're constantly asking, "if no body cares, why do I do this?" The answer is closer than you think.
Just look in the mirror.