Where Do You Get Your Validation?
If you’re familiar with self help then you may have heard the term “validation” thrown around.
Validation is the information we receive about our identities or who we are as a person. We all adopt identities and beliefs about ourselves and then we seek validation to reinforce and prove those identities and beliefs to ourselves. We all do it. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it.
I often conceptualize that there are two different kinds of social validation:
- External Validation – The approval and admiration of others. The pursuit of external validation or the need for external validation is often classified in self help as “the ego” or “ego gratification” or being “egocentric.” It’s worth noting that this definition of ego has little to do with Freud’s original definition.
External validation is unpredictable and temporary. Buying that new car feels amazing, but within a few weeks you get used to it and you don’t feel so special anymore. Meeting that pretty girl on the train was exciting, especially when you got to brag to your friends about it, but she doesn’t call you back and now you feel like crap.
- Internal Validation – The approval and admiration of yourself. Analogous to the popular psychological term self esteem. Developing internal validation requires defining values and goals for oneself and then following through on them. External results matter less than fidelity to one’s own values can perceptions.
For instance, “I’m not going to go crazy about girls who don’t call me back anymore,” and then sticking to that builds internal validation. Or deciding, “I’m going to practice guitar every day and then join a band,” and then doing it also builds internal validation. These things validate your chosen identity. You are meeting your own standards and approval regardless of the external circumstances.
You often see advice that tells you to “stop seeking validation” but the fact is that it’s impossible to not seek validation. Even the monk in the cave in the mountains for nine years is internally validating his adopted identity of being the monk who went to the cave in the mountains to meditate.
Validation is inevitable and in most cases it’s completely healthy.
But, people with a lot of shame or people who have dealt with emotional traumas in their past can have an inordinate need for validation. They’re insecure about their identities; therefore need to constantly reinforce their value and worthiness.
What most people don’t realize is that an excessive need for validation is the symptom of a deeper problem, not the problem itself. Most people also don’t realize that excessive internal validation can be just as destructive and miserable as excessive external validation.
An excessive need for external validation makes you a drama queen. You know the type. People who are constantly trying to impress others, who always want to be the center of attention, who are always bragging about something while trying to look like they’re not bragging.
Being dependent on external validation also means these people are emotionally unstable and have a tendency to create drama. When people are approving them or making them feel superior, everything is great. But as soon as the tides turn and they’re handed a shit-sandwich, they can’t handle it. The girl not calling them back becomes a life crisis. Being yelled at by their boss sends them into a tailspin of drinking and punching bathroom walls.
People who become fixated on external validation from others generally have little internal validation. This is because the unpredictability of the external validation demands all of their time and attention to maintain. This is also because they likely come from a background or from parents who based their lives around the approval of others, so they’ve never learned how to approve or satisfy their own needs.
It also doesn’t help that consumer culture markets to people’s desire for external validation. See: every beer commercial ever made.
An excessive need for internal validation makes you narcissistic. Some people fall on the other end of the spectrum. Interestingly, these people tend to be far more successful and confident throughout their lives.
Whereas external validation junkies are desperate for others to like them, internal validation junkies couldn’t give a shit, as long as they’re meeting their own personal goals and aims. Think the bank executive who floods the market with bogus credit default swaps to hit his desired bonuses or the advertiser who lies to people to make more sales. They’re unconcerned with the social feedback coming back to them as long as they hit their internal values and goals of making more money, being more clever, being more successful.
To maintain their high demand for internal validation, internal validation junkies often become experts at rationalizing away negative social feedback that may possibly threaten their self-perception. A man may continue pursuing a woman despite her resistance and rejections, trying to manipulate her and cajole her into sleeping with him, only to reinforce his view of himself as a man who is attractive and gets laid. He starts believe that women don’t resist his advances because they don’t like them, but because women in general are irrational and bitchy.
But like the narcissists they are, when the internal validation junkie is met with undeniable evidence that contradicts his self image, he explodes with anger. The facade of his self-perception he’s spent so much time keeping up comes crashing down and he feels just as worthless and miserable as he did before.
Shuffling the Chairs On the Deck of the Titanic
For validation junkies, the line between internal and external is often blurry, or just non-existent. The heartless executive obsessed with his own power may turn around and buy himself 15 cars and a yacht to make his employees jealous. The womanizer who feels worthless if he’s not getting attention or affection from women will often develop warped misogynistic beliefs to continue reinforcing his self-perceptions and make him feel better about himself.
A lot of self help and personal growth material out there merely recommends people replace one form of validation with another. You see it in almost every strand of self improvement: emotional, spiritual, even financial. They are all telling you to either get rid of your need for external validation and validate yourself more instead; or they’re telling you to validate yourself less and instead seek the approval of others more.
- Too emotionally attached to all of your possessions and what people think of you? Then “kill your ego”, understand that your own perceptions shape reality, that you can “manifest” reality simply by willing it hard enough. Go sit in a room and stare at a 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.
- A lot of religions or spiritually-motivated advice advises people to get rid of their own self-conception and instead dedicate all of their time and energy to other people and external signals of approval.
- T at The Rawness wrote a brilliant break down about how pick up advice basically advises men with codependency issues (excessive need for external validation) to develop narcissistic tendencies (excessive need for internal validation).
- A lot of business or make money advice teaches that everyone is responsible for themselves and that you deserve whatever you make by being more creative or industrious (think Dan Kennedy).
Rearranging where one gets their validation doesn’t deal with the root problem: the excessive need for it. Until the underlying self-acceptance and insecurity is dealt with, these people will continue to be validation junkies.
But because many people change by switching where they derive their excessive need for validation, they perceive themselves to have improved and changed. Likely their external life situation has changed as well. Maybe people like them more or they make more money, or they get laid now. But their ultimate life satisfaction will not change in the long-term. It will soon just be something else that is bothering them.
Other people try to get rid of their need for validation altogether. They try to be desire-less or completely at ease with all stimuli that hits their senses. But our need for validation is innate. This approach suppresses our need for validation into our unconscious, where it can be even more dangerous.
We all want to be liked, to feel smart and cool and superior at times. This is normal and healthy. As long as it’s met in such a way that doesn’t compromise your internal values or autonomy, then it’s OK.
We all want to like ourselves, to feel good about ourselves, to feel accomplished and capable. As long as we meet this in an honest way, without distorting our perceptions or manipulating others to achieve it, then it’s OK.
The key is achieving a healthy balance between the two, with an excess of neither. Then maintain awareness of your validation needs and then accept them. That’s all.
Get your dating life handled. Become an attractive man once and for all, without faking it or pretending to be someone you’re not.
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