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What’s Actually More Important: Confidence or Validation?

My whole life people have been telling me I need more “inner confidence.” It took me a long time to figure out what that actually means. Inner confidence means you’re happy with how you are. Regardless of your circumstances. There’s something overtly Buddhist about that. Like, everything fades. Time is moving. The only constant you have is you.

Be at peace.

I’m a rational person though. That’s one of the few and sometimes dubious perks of having Asperger’s. Objectively speaking, most people aren’t actually special. And despite a couple of people telling me I’ve got talent, I haven’t been in the appropriate mental state to make use of it. (Which describes a LOT of people I know with mental problems btw. I think people with mental illness are smarter on average, but the depressed creative geniuses who can step out of themselves long enough to produce something wonderful are few and far between.) The unfortunate fact of life is that most of us are going to live pretty unremarkable lives.

Which is fine. For mature people anyway.

But the thing is, we live in an ordered society. Everything we do is set to compare ourselves against others. What’s the first thing you ask people you meet? You ask “what do you ‘do?'” Which actually means something like “What do you contribute? Is it more or less, on average, than the other people on this bus?”

I know that’s a depressing way of looking at humanity. But from an evolutionary standpoint it makes sense. Producing new things or ideas that will elevate people is the best way in the world to help them. Social skills, unfortunately, is another. A lot of people use them to manipulate. But a person with stand-out social skills has the power to unite the tribe.

Mainstream media likes to justify autistic people’s existence by saying we’re good at tech. The proliferation of autistic kids in Silicon Valley shows truth in that. But that kind of thinking is a terrible way to build our confidence. Teachers tell smart kids they should be confident because of their potential. Once you’re an adult, you are what you do. That’s a lot of cognitive dissonance we grow up with right there.

“I am such a piece of shit,” I told an old boyfriend on a particularly bad day.

“You’re perfect,” he said.

“??!? !”

“So perfect you can lose weight, start working on your book, and start developing some inner peace if you decide to set your mind to it.”

That’s the healthiest way of looking at things. You can accomplish small things, for you, and not expect validation. I think you might be fighting the natural order of things more than shrinks will admit when you do that. But you have to. We have choices as humans. “Confidence” is a luxury that civilization and the ability to reason enabled us to afford.

And anyway, when do you feel the most zen? When you’re getting praised for something? No. When a crowd is paying attention to you? Probably not.

You probably feel most at-peace when you’re doing something you enjoy. Like reading a funny book. Or sitting with one or two friends who make you laugh. It’s not happiness, exactly. Not joy. It’s being perfectly in the moment. Which is the greatest feeling of all. And I’m pretty sure that’s why humans evolved to have sex for pleasure too.

At our core we’re an emotional species. Public life might be organized to see worthiness as a merit-based trait, but in reality most people are their best when they’re chasing fulfillment. Anyone can do that. And everyone does. Being fulfilled will give no philosophical answers. But it will give you confidence.


*Image by Henry Clive, 1940s commercial artist who worked w. hotties. From Tumblr.

What’s Actually More Important: Confidence or Validation?

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2016). What’s Actually More Important: Confidence or Validation?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 May 2016
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