Validation: balancing the internal and external

Validation is a natural human need and stems from our evolutionary origins as social beings in groups – we needed acceptance from others in order to survive. Even though this is not so much the case today, our need for validation remains. We need to feel worthy and that our feelings, thoughts and needs are validated and affirmed. 

We can get this validation in one of two ways – externally or internally. 

What is external validation?

This is getting affirmation from outside of ourselves, from others. Social media is a big source of external validation where we can reach a lot of people with our photos, thoughts and musings and getting likes, retweets, follows etc can create a rush of validation that can become addictive. We can feel great after lots of people respond positively to something we post but this feeling is temporary and often the reaction from others is unpredictable. This is the problem with external validation if we rely on this alone to feel good – it is fleeting and we can quickly move from feeling validated by a positive response to deflated to negative or no response. It puts our self-worth in the hands of others with little control for ourselves. 

What is internal validation?

This is validation of one’s own self – our thoughts, feelings, appearance, place in the world, etc. Being internally validated is helpful for when things aren’t necessarily going your way; instead of blaming yourself and getting frustrated, it’s easier to accept the situation and say to yourself ‘you know there is nothing I can do here’ or ‘ I did the best I could at the time’. This removes some of the negative self-judgment that can happen when things don’t go the way we want them to. This unconditional self approval can be powerful.

Finding balance between the two

There is nothing wrong with external validation and much of what we strive for in life is related to this – exam results, job offers and promotions, amongst others. The key is to find balance with internal validation so that we build resilience to challenging situations. If we only have external validation, we have little control over how we feel. If we balance this with healthy internal validation, we are more empowered to feel we are worthy no matter what happens around us.

Building your internal validation

If you feel you rely too much or entirely on external validation, here are some ways of building the strength of your internal validation. Have a think about what you are looking for from others. If you’re posting a photo on Instagram, what are you wanting others to say in response? Do you want them to see that you’re successful or want them to tell you how good you look? Tell yourself this instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

Pay attention to your reactions. If you are feeling unworthy, notice this and name it. Having conscious awareness of where we feel gaps in our self esteem can help us to separate from it and work on it through mindfulness or self-compassion or we can take it to counselling which can help us process these feelings and find positive ways forward. 

This can be a bit of a journey to build on your internal validation but it becomes like a muscle – the more you practise it, the easier it becomes and the stronger you feel.

“When you stop living your life based on what others think of you, real life begins. At that moment you finally see the door to self acceptance open”

-Shannon L. Alder

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