Throughout our lives, we experience various feelings and adopt a series of identities and beliefs about ourselves and then seek validation to reinforce and prove those feelings, identities, and beliefs to ourselves and affirm that they are worthwhile and valid.
Considering this, we can define validation as the information or, to be more precise, the confirmation we receive about our feelings, beliefs, and identities, or who we are as a person.
Popular self-help often demonizes validation seeking, however, I disagree with the whole thing. Seeking validation is normal. We all do it from time to time, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it.
Validation, in general, comes in two flavors: external and internal.
External validation is the approval and admiration of others. It makes you feel like you’re on cloud nine for a moment, but that moment is only temporary. The high of it fizzles out as quickly as it ignited.
Take social media as an example. A viral Facebook post may all feel great, but that feeling of greatness is limited. It wears out, sooner or later. At some point, new comments stop rolling in, the engagement withers, and your audience goes off to find the next viral hit of dopamine, leaving your post to deteriorate and leaving you feeling empty inside.
Or consider recconciliation. Getting your ex back may make you feel exciting, especially when you get to brag to your friends about it. But then you start acting up again — damn those needy tendencies! — and they stop returning your calls, and now you feel like shit again.
Analogous to the popular psychological term self-esteem, internal validation is the approval and admiration of yourself. It requires defining meaningful values and goals for yourself and then following through on them. External results matter less than devotion to one’s own values and goals.
For example, when you commit to practicing writing each day with the goal of at some point getting a book deal, you’re building internal validation. The same applies when you decide that you will not go batshit crazy (even though you want to) when your ex hasn’t called you back for three days.
In both examples, you’re validating your own chosen feelings, beliefs, and identities and meeting your own approval and set of standards regardless of the external circumstances.
When seeking validation gets toxic
Most advice on the internet parades about how you should stop seeking validation. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s impossible. You can’t run away from seeking validation; it’s an inherent part of you. It always was, and it always will be.
The multi-millionaire Silicon-Valley entrepreneur who worked on his business for 20 years is still internally validating his adopted identity of being the multi-millionaire Silicon-Valley entrepreneur who dedicated his life to business.
The artistic prodigy selling his painting for 30 grand each is still internally validating his adopted identity of being a successful whiz-kid artist who creates and sells valuable paintings.
The writer who spent decades producing quality books and built a successful career in her field is still internally validating her adopted identity as a successful writer who spent decades honing her craft.
As you can see, seeking validation, in one form or the other, is inevitable. We all want people to like us. We all like to impress others. Besides, in most cases, our need for validation is entirely healthy.
However, the only exceptions are people with a lot of shame, avoidant tendencies, or those who endured a heavy emotional trauma in their life (or a series of lesser traumas. Hence, a lot of tiny traumas = One massive trauma)
These people will often have an unhealthy need for validation. They are the type who always need reassurance from others that they’re still cared for, loved, worthy, valuable, and appreciated. The reason they manifest this excessive need for validation is because they’re insecure about their identities. They often don’t trust, respect, or love themselves.
Also, this doesn’t only apply to external validation, as you may assume. An unhealthy need for internal validation can be just as common and just as damaging.
The Dark Side Of External Validation
As a result of an excessive need for external validation, people turn into drama queens. The kind that overcompensates for their flaws, tries to impress others, and seeks insufferable amounts of attention.
As long as others approve of them and make them feel superior, everything is fine. But as soon as the tides turn and they’re handed a shit-sandwich, they can’t handle it anymore.
Their ex not calling them back becomes a life crisis. Their Youtube video not going viral enough causes them to seek psychotherapy. Their friends calling them slurs on Facebook sends them into a tailspin of drinking and punching bathroom walls.
People who fixated on external validation generally have little to no internal validation. This is because the unpredictability of the external validation demands all of their time and attention to maintain.
The Dark Side Of Internal Validation
As a result of an excessive need for internal validation, people turn into narcissists. Surprisingly, these people tend to be far more successful and confident throughout their lives than those who need exorbitant amounts of external validation.
Whereas people who rely on external validation are desperate for others to like them, those relying on internal validation couldn’t give a shit, as long they’re meeting their own personal goals and aims.
Think of the “get your ex back” guru who keeps exploiting the vulnerabilities of brokenhearted people to make a quick buck with his or her shoddy products. They’re not concerned about social feedback coming back to them. They only care about hitting that next income goal and becoming more successful.
To maintain their high demand for internal validation, those reliant on it often become exceptional at rationalizing away negative social feedback that threatens their self-perception.
For example, a person trying to get their ex back may continue to chase and pursue them despite their resistance, rejection, or ghosting attempts. They may even try to manipulate or persuade their ex into coming back. Why? Because this person needs to reinforce their view about their ex being the right partner for them.
These are the kind of people who believe that their ex doesn’t resist their advances because they don’t want them back but because they’re emotional, immature, uninformed, stubborn, or still hurting from the breakup.
But like the narcissists they are, when the person who relies on internal validation is met with undeniable evidence that contradicts their self-image, they explode with rage. The facade of their self-perception, which they spent so much time building and keeping up, comes crashing down. At that point, they’re back on square one, feeling just as worthless and miserable and empty as they did before.
How to form a healthy sense of validation (And what not to do)
For validation junkies, the line between internal and external validation is often blurry or non-existent.
Take the miserable dumpee obsessed with impressing her ex, for example. She starts posting all kinds of alluring Instagram posts, often with other attractive men, with the hopes that her ex sees them, becomes jealous, and calls them to get back together.
Or take a womanizer, for example. The womanizer who feels worthless if he’s not getting attention or affection from the women he’s dating will often develop warped misogynistic beliefs about them to continue reinforcing his self-perception and make him feel better about himself.
A lot of self-help material out there merely recommends people replace one form of validation with another. It either tells you to rid yourself of your need for external validation and validate yourself more often, or it tells you to validate yourself less and instead seek the approval of others more.
If you’re too emotionally attached to external things, then go sit in a room and stare at the wall and think about yourself for days on end until you start caring about what you think of yourself more than what others think of you. And, if you’re too emotionally attached to your self-conception, dedicate all your time and energy to other people and external signals of approval.
These classic examples do nothing but harm you. In most cases, they merely replace one unhealthy form of validation for the other.
Rearranging where one gets their validation doesn’t deal with the root problem: the excessive need for it. Until you deal with that underlying, you’ll continue being a validation junkie.
But because many people change by switching where they derive their excessive need for validation, they perceive themselves to have improved and changed in a positive way; nevertheless, this is usually just a false belief.
Sure, maybe people do like them more. Maybe they make more money now. Maybe they even got over their ex and once more live a happy-happy-hippo-life.
That’s all great, but when you look at the big picture, these people’s life satisfaction will not change in the long term by simply switching where they derive their validation. Sooner or later, there’s going to be something else that pops up and begins to worry them.
Other people try to get rid of their need for validation altogether instead of switching where they derive it. They try to unlatch themselves from every stimulus that hits their senses. (See: minimize-dopamine-culture).
Again, this is the wrong way to go about it.
Our need for validation is innate. This approach only suppresses that need for validation into our unconscious, where it can grow even more dangerous. Hence the adage, “what we repress, we feel and experience more off.”
We all want to be liked, to feel competent and cool or even superior at times. This is normal and healthy. As long as these needs are met in a way that doesn’t compromise your internal values or autonomy, then it’s okay.
We all want to like ourselves, to feel good about ourselves, to feel accomplished and able. Again, this is normal and healthy. As long as these needs in an honest way, without distorting our perceptions or manipulating others to achieve them, then it’s okay.
Ultimately, the key is achieving the right and healthy balance between the internal and external validation, with an excess of neither is to maintain awareness of our validation needs and then accept them. That’s all there is to it.
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