Validation is the need to have your self-worth, opinions, and thoughts recognized as worthwhile. It’s the need to be seen, understood, and accepted. Validation falls into two major categories, with people normally gravitating toward one of these types of validation more naturally: Internal and External.
In our work at Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we help our clients recognize how they might rely on validation in both healthy and unhealthy ways. In this post, we examine the two main types of validation, why you might tend to use one over the other to affirm your self-worth, and how you can balance and manage both types to have a healthy perspective on life.
External validation is the tendency to look outward to gather evidence of your self-worth and value. Humans are social creatures and are hardwired to rely on social acceptance for self-worth. This behavior ties back to our survival instincts and our primal need to be part of a group that works together to gather food and protect our land.
In the present day, there are many sources of external feedback to draw validation from. From those in our immediate circles, such as a spouse, your family, school and work environment to outer circles of society, such as social media and cultural norms.
Those who depend on external validation are often highly sensitive to criticism and feedback, while needing more praise from others than average. You might even sense that they are desperate for positive feedback and will do anything they can to avoid social rejection. If you’ve heard that you are a “people pleaser” or are non-confrontational, you likely rely more on external validation. Another sign of this tendency is changing your opinions or beliefs about something to gain the approval of others. These behaviors are coping mechanisms to overcome the deep-seated need for external validation.
The need for a disproportionate amount of external validation is often rooted in childhood trauma. As a young child, you are 100% dependent on others for your survival. If your early caregivers were preoccupied or absent (either physically or emotionally), you may have not received the positive feedback you needed, to create healthy self-esteem. Sometimes these traumas lead to a distorted self-image as an adult, and an inordinate amount of external validation is needed for an individual to correct for early childhood rejection.
Even well-meaning parents can influence you to be more reliant on external validation. For example, parents who praise their child on the outcome, rather than their efforts or their achievements rather than the character they demonstrate, can unknowingly set their child up to look outwards for confirmation of how they feel about themselves.
Those who are more internally validated gain a sense of self-worth based on their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions of themselves. They honestly reflect on their life and opportunities to feel more self-fulfilled. Sometimes this requires a conscious choice and awareness on being less externally focused and more internally balanced.
While one type of validation isn’t necessarily better than the other, understanding your type and what that means to your own perception of self, can help you balance your need for validation and be less sensitive to and dependent on others’ thoughts and opinions.
If you tend to need more external validation, begin to journal about how you are unique, what you value about your own life/self, your strengths, and your accomplishments. At first, this practice will seem strange, but cultivating a mindset of high self-worth will help you feel more consistently valued, instead of relying on others to reinforce and praise you to feel seen, heard, and valued.
Another way to cultivate a sense of internal validation includes using affirmations or mantras to reinforce your sense of self-worth, such as:
I accept myself for who I am
I view myself with kindness and acceptance
I am enough
I am worthy
I treat myself with respect
My life is abundant and I have everything I need
A healthy amount of reliance on external validation is important as a means to gather feedback about your behaviors, but putting too much emphasis on the opinion of others or how you measure up to others on social media can leave you feeling empty and uncertain when you aren’t being affirmed regularly enough by those closest to you.
At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we work with clients to understand how their approach to validation influences their day-to-day happiness. We help them uncover patterns of self-talk and identify ways to change an unhealthy mindset as it pertains to self-worth, self-blame, and self-criticism. Our expert team also supports clients who want to dig deeper and understand where their need for an inordinate amount of external validation stems from and how healing can occur related to that trauma.