val· i· da· tion | \ ,va-lə-ˈdā-shən \
: recognition, establishment, or illustration of the worthiness or legitimacy of something or someone
borrowed from Latin validus “in good health, robust, potent, having legal authority,” adjective derivative from the base of valēre “to have strength, be well”
Internal versus External Validation (Required Throwback for Energy Managers)
Hello, Gorgeous Soul.
Validation is recognition or acceptance that who you are, how you think, how you feel is worthy, legitimate, and acceptable. And so we take that to mean that we are worthy, legitimate, and deserving of our acceptance. That’s why validation, feeling valid, is such a big deal for all of us.
When I talk to clients about internal validation, we are talking about a deep, almost profound knowing that who you are, and the feelings, thoughts, and opinions you bring to the table, are valid and worthwhile — without needing to hear it from anybody else. That is internal or self-validation. By contrast, external validation is when that sense of legitimacy and worthiness comes from somewhere/someone/something outside of you — from another person, for instance.
Both sources of validation have remarkably positive and immediate effects on our mood because, to us humans and other pack animals, interpersonal acceptance and social legitimacy were factors crucial to our very survival. So, whether our ancestors carried themselves with true confidence or they sought kudos and pats on the back from their peers, the effects inside their brain would have felt equally good: The tribe thinks I am awesome and therefore, I am safe. However, only internal validation offers long-term, sustainable, positive effects on us psychologically and emotionally. Only internal validation serves our well-being over the long haul, and only internal validation builds and reinforces self-confidence.
Now, to be clear, I am not shitting on external validation. There is nothing wrong with feeling so good when you receive external validation. Often, when I’m working with a client on owning their worthiness and keeping it internal and intrinsic, they’ll come to a session and share something like, “So, I did this thing and I was feeling really intrinsically proud of myself, and I was feeling worthy, and all of the things. And then my boss complimented me and ruined it.” And I laugh because even though it’s a temporary buzz, external validation is a wonderful thing to have! Of course, it feels good when another human being says, “Hey, I see you. I think you’re pretty awesome.” That is a really great feeling. And I say, soak it up for what it is. Like anything we can become addicted to, external validation only becomes problematic when we become dependent on it, when we mistakenly attribute to it our sense of worthiness.
Validation by Indoctrination
From our youngest ages, those responsible for teaching us how to be an adult, how to be a human, how to be accepted into society are doing so through the convenience of external validation. We learn at a very young age that how we behave determines whether other people accept us, approve of us, or not. Maybe you learned that approval and validation were dependent upon your achievements, your hard work, your selflessness. You noticed that when you achieved beyond your parents’ or teachers’ expectations, you were recognized as a good person — someone who was worthy, someone to be praised, someone who mattered. Your achievements would have been like coupons that you could redeem with anyone in your pack, little certificates legally entitling the bearer to a lifetime of being recognizably awesome and therefore, a lifetime of being safe. And, man, that first A on your report card when mom and dad sang your praises? That’s a dopamine rush we never forget! So, we go to band class and we strive to be first chair. We go to gym class and we strive to be team captain. We look at the framed pictures of all the prior valedictorians lining the halls of our school and we think, “Gotta work harder!” And along the way, little by little, layer by layer, we develop this belief that the evidence of our worthiness — the validation of our selves — lies in the recognition, accolades, and praise of others.
Academics and “work ethic” are just one easy example of how some of us learned, as children, to rely on our dealer’s supply. There are countless other examples. Some of us learned that being quiet, or being polite, or not expressing emotion, was how a member of their pack earned acceptance. Don’t make a scene. Be invisible. Keep your emotions under control. It’s not okay to cry. Don’t be too sad. Don’t be too angry. Don’t be too happy. Just be quiet. You want to be part of the pack — and therefore, safe — these are the table stakes, the dues you pay in exchange for our acknowledgement of your worth.
No surprise, we learn how to be accepted, how to be approved of, how to gain love and attention, how to be seen as legitimate, by what our parents show us. And? It’s not our parents’ fault. You can’t share what you don’t have, and our parents and every generation before them also were not given the tools to build and maintain internal validation. So, they were shown how to get validation from others. They were handed the same damn manual for how to be worthy, how to get attention, how to get love. They mastered this craft, and they passed the tradition down to us. How it goes. And while this tradition began thousands upon thousands of years ago, and definitely served its evolutionary purpose, it’s time to break tradition and start a new one for ourselves and our future generations. Which is easier said than done because, while we are not hunter-gatherers anymore, we definitely still have that pack instinct. Our lifestyles may have changed by leaps and bounds since our time in the cave, but our underlying neurology hasn’t changed much over the last many thousands of years. Those traditions we learned to keep us safe are damn near programmed-in at the factory, and so they’re difficult to change.
Validation as a Drug
Once we understand how to be seen by our pack as legitimate and worthy of approval, love, and acceptance, the next thing we learn is to seek it out at any cost. Because whether it’s praise, accolades, approval, whatever, the moment you get that external validation you do experience this rush of chemicals. It feels amazing when people approve of us, or compliment us, or shower us with praise. But, as with any drug, these effects are temporary and yield diminishing returns. As soon as the effects of someone else’s validation wear off, you’re going to be out searching for your next high.
External validation is problematic because it is an unsustainable source of evidence for your self-worth. If you don’t have your own internal spring of validation, no amount of praise or recognition will ever feel like enough because underneath it, you don’t believe it. You think you have to get it from other people. You don’t think it’s something you can manufacture by yourself, for yourself.
And the truth is, you absolutely can.
A major problem with reliance on external validation is that it creates something I call fragile happiness. Fragile happiness is when you allow yourself to feel good, happy, calm, whatever, on the condition that everything else around you is good, happy, calm. People are being who you need them to be, so now you can be happy. Your kids are being good for their grandparents, so now you can feel like a good parent. Your partner is in a good mood, so now you can be, too. Everything’s going well at work, so yeah, you love your job right now. No one says anything that triggers you, so yeah, it was a great day! Not gonna lie, if my day amounted to everyone just doing what I wanted them to do, my husband walking around on sunshine, everything going perfectly at work, and not a single triggering word being uttered? I’d be happy as hell, too. But fragile happiness shatters the instant you hit any sort of bump. Your happiness is dependent on external circumstances. No bueno.
Your Power: The Price of External Validation
Relying on external validation leaves you feeling powerless and forces you into a victim mindset. Because when you are dependent on your external circumstances, when you believe that other people — your family, your friends, or random no-names out in the world — are responsible for your happiness and your worthiness, you truly are powerless. You are depending on other things outside of you to make you happy. And external factors are never under your control.
People assume, falsely, that they can control what’s happening outside of them. Well, if I just achieve more, if I just work harder, if I just make more money, if I just make my body better, all of these things, like maybe then I can control what other people’s thoughts are about me and my worthiness. Yeah, maybe it’ll have some influence on how other people perceive you, but it’s not actually controlling anything, and your results — however good — won’t stick.
Reliance on external validations negates all your power because your worthiness is never under your control when you seek it from outside sources. Think of it like the global supply-chain crisis that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you don’t own your supply, you are powerless to create anything on your terms. You are always at the mercy of external suppliers. If you’re a manufacturing company, it is a tremendous threat to your operations that would probably have to be disclosed in an SEC financial report. Because reliance on external factors directly impacts a company’s quality of business. But you’re a person, a living, breathing, feeling person, and so the threat is even more urgent to you because it directly affects your quality of life.
Another reason you hand over all your power to sources of external validation is because the cycle of seek-obtain-consume-feel worthy is never ending. If you don’t manufacture your own validation, you will always, always, always be hustling for your worth. Trying to figure out the next way that you can have people approve of you and think you matter so that you can think you matter. External validation is a bandaid. It’s a stop-gap. It’s a coffee when you need sleep. It’s a Snickers bar when you need a meal. You will never feel fulfilled by it. It will always be a temporary fix. No amount of external validation could be enough for you to feel enough.
Plants Don’t Have Shit Moods
A person seeking external validation is like a plant giving up photosynthesis (assuming it could) in exchange for a steady diet of Miracle-Gro. You could pot the plant in nothing but food and it would quickly die — no blooms, not fruit, just a wilted, wasted plant. Similary, let’s say you could somehow pot yourself in nothing but external validation. I’m talking, hourly high fives from everyone you love, hugs from every puppy you ever met, millions of dollars in your bank account, and a major promotion every month. Even then, you will not draw any real strength or sense of legitimacy as a person from any of it, unless you believe you are worthy of it all, unless you believe you are legitimate. Even if we could line up every human being in the world and have them say, “Hi, hello. Yes. I think you’re great.” Even if that happened, your brain still would not adopt a mindset of, “Hey, I’m great!” unless you believed it about yourself. No approval, acceptance, validation, or celebration of you matters — truly matters — if it’s not manufactured by you. Your intrinsic faith in your own worth and worthiness is your favorite donut. The good things people say about you? Those are the sprinkles. They’re optional. They enhance the donut, you could take them or leave them. But without the donut, all those sprinkles just fall to the floor. They’re nice to look at, but they’re useless.
Nothing creates the result of you believing you are enough, except you believing you are enough. Get it?
How to Build a Better Habit of Validation
So, how to move away from, “I need you to validate me, thankssomuch,” to, “I truly don’t care what you think of me”?
Well, the first step towards self-validation may trigger some of you because you’ve only heard it stated in a really gross, shame-y way. And I promise, I don’t mean it this way. I’m just trying to be real direct so, here it is: You need to be a grownup.
Here’s what I mean.
Remember I told you how you used external validation to learn how to be an adult, to learn how to be safe, to learn how to not be rejected by your pack. You needed that. You needed that when you were young, but you’re an adult now and it’s time to own your shit. It’s time to release other people from the responsibility of your worthiness. It is time to take it back. Do it yourself, for yourself.
Sometimes it means going back and imagining your younger self, who has convinced herself that I am not worthy unless other people are telling me I’m good. And you need to tell her a different story. You need to acknowledge the fact that you did rely on external validation because that’s what you needed to do in order to feel safe. But you’re a grownup now. You need to have compassion for that younger you, who believed that in order to feel loved, you needed to be validated by other people.
You need to tell that younger self what no one else taught them. That you are worthy right now. You don’t have to do a damn thing to prove it. You don’t need anyone’s approval. You don’t need anyone’s external validation. You can just believe it now. It’s time to take the power back from other people — the people you habitually give it to. Your job on Earth is not to morph yourself into the human you think someone else needs you to be so that you can feel accepted. This is why everyone’s walking around exhausted all the time. That might have worked when you were a child — to get the approval or love from a parent — but it’s not working for you anymore. Being dependent on external validation might feel good for a moment, but it’s actually making things worse. Again, it is like a drug. It’s like booze to the alcoholic: something within reach that you grab to soothe yourself. It might help you to feel lighter in the moment, but it’s creating more problems you don’t want. It’s making the feelings of unworthiness stronger.
Flattery Will Get You Nowhere
That compliment feels good but how long does it last before you are overthinking it? I know you. I know your brain. And I know that if external validation is your drug, then the antidote is radical ownership of your validation. Radical ownership is when you understand that you are responsible for your feelings, you are responsible for believing you’re worthy, and nothing outside of you can give you that. It has to come from you.
Taking ownership over how you feel, rather than depending on external validation, will require you to manage your thoughts. Why? Because it is your thoughts that make you believe you aren’t worthy unless other people agree. It’s your thoughts about yourself that make you feel unworthy, that lead you to hustling for your worth, morphing yourself to try and get other people’s approval. When you take radical ownership of your thoughts and feelings in life, you will feel free — a freedom like you have never felt.
And here’s why.
When you understand that you can’t actually control other people’s thoughts and opinions about you — no matter how successful you are, no matter how much money you make, no matter how beautiful or thin you are, no matter how backwards you bend to make sure other people are taken care of, no matter how much you work to make sure other people know how hard you work, your clean house, doesn’t matter what it is — when you understand that none of these things can control other people’s thoughts and opinions about you, then you can finally stop trying. Imagine it! When you understand the only thoughts and feelings you can control are your own, and those are the things that matter anyway, then the external validation will be the sprinkles on the donut, the icing on the cake, the confetti. Because what you think about you matters the most and you have full control over that.
If you want to feel worthy, if you want to get that you matter, if you want to feel free of trying to be what you think other people will approve of, it must come from you. Because you can keep striving and achieving and seeking approval, but it will never be enough. Choose you. Choose to believe that you are worthy because you are right now.
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