A healthy amount of external validation is needed for your mental well-being, but how much is too much?
Internal validation is the ability to honor and acknowledge your positive attributes, strengths, achievements, and emotions. External validation is the acknowledgment of your strengths and emotions from others.
We often rely on friends and loved ones for support and encouragement. A part of that includes external validation.
When we finally get that dream job, go on that perfect date, or get the promotion we’ve been waiting for, we can’t wait to tell those closest to us. We want them to validate our wins and help us celebrate.
Validation is a common need most of us experience.
But like any behavior, validation-seeking exists on a spectrum — from the less harmful habit of impressing someone or occasionally compromising with others to keep the peace to the more harmful one of ignoring our rights and enduring abuse to avoid abandonment.
You might seek too much validation as an adult if you received too little or too much external validation in childhood. This may affect how you manage your emotions, personality, and attachment style.
When a child grows up not feeling valued or receiving praise or encouragement, they may have trouble regulating their emotions.
This may also contribute to other symptoms such as:
- difficulty trusting others
- high levels of anxiety
- fear of rejection
- unpredictable or confusing behaviors
On the other hand, receiving excessive praise and overvaluation in childhood can also lead to interpersonal difficulties and a sense of entitlement.
A 2015 study suggests that narcissistic traits such as entitlement and requiring validation in adulthood may develop due to too much praise and overvaluation in childhood.
An excessive need for validation may also be a symptom of other mental health conditions, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).
These can include:
If you think you may be living with one of these conditions, consider reaching out to mental health professional for further evaluation.
Achieving a balance between internal and external validation is crucial to having healthy self-esteem.
You may be searching for too much external validation if you find yourself doing the following:
- feeling guilty about setting boundaries with others
- overachieving in an attempt to garner praise from others
- jumping from relationship to relationship without taking the time to heal because you feel you can’t be alone
- having difficulty making decisions on your own without someone else’s input
- saying yes to tasks and plans you’d prefer saying no to so that you can maintain approval from others
- inability to disagree with or challenge others due to fear of being judged or abandoned
- comparing yourself constantly to others and feeling a chronic sense of “lack” without acknowledging your unique strengths
- becoming emotionally distressed when you’re not the center of attention and frantic attempts to recenter yourself
- punishing yourself for not being “chosen” or acknowledged in contexts such as friendships, school, and at work
- fabricating or exaggerating life circumstances to gain sympathy from others
If you find yourself regularly seeking too much validation from others to the point where it begins to hurt you and interfere with your daily functioning, there are ways you can manage this behavior.
Consider trying the following strategies.
Examine your childhood experiences
Consider taking an inventory of the experiences of invalidation you may have experienced in your life throughout childhood and adulthood.
Ask yourself this question: Did I feel invisible or like I was deprived of healthy attention and praise as a child? If so, in what ways?
Then consider how you might give yourself the healthy praise and attention you never received.
For example, if you were routinely ignored as a child, are there ways you tend to yourself in a more nurturing way as an adult? This may include regularly telling yourself that you’re proud of yourself and that you believe in yourself.
If you need additional help, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. They can guide you as you examine childhood experiences and provide tools to help.
Use self-care to self-validate
Try replacing your excessive validation-seeking behaviors and thoughts with self-soothing methods that work for you, such as mindfulness meditation and yoga.
A 2011 study found that 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation could physically change the brain, increasing gray matter in areas of the brain related to decision-making, empathy, and emotional regulation.
Practicing meditation may help improve your self-control when setting boundaries and making decisions that align with what you authentically desire.
Using positive affirmations can also be used for self-validation. Try to tailor the affirmations to your specific needs.
For example, if you want to boost your self-confidence, affirmations you might try include: “I am confident” or “I am enough.”
Positive affirmations can help you replace negative self-talk with more mindfulness and empowerment.
Practice saying no
People-pleasing and seeking validation can be a hard habit to break, especially when you have a fear of abandonment.
You can start by practicing saying no to smaller requests before you move on to larger ones that may leave you feeling excessively fearful. This way, you’ll have plenty of practice handling the discomfort of potentially disappointing someone before refusing larger requests.
Surround yourself with nourishing support networks
Consider your current social networks, and ask yourself these questions:
- Are they encouraging, or are they emotionally depleting?
- Are there communities or professionals I can connect with that can provide me with emotional validation?
Support groups and mental health professionals specializing in boundary work can help build a supportive network.
Detach from invalidating people
When you find yourself seeking validation from others, ask yourself if the person you’re seeking validation from is a “safe” person who is emotionally nourishing or might exploit you during a vulnerable time.
Consider whether they have violated your personal boundaries in the past. If they have, you can try a friend who is more supportive instead, talk with a therapist, or take time alone for your self-care.
Rather than seeking validation from others, consider slowing down and asking yourself what you need and finding a way to give validation to yourself.
It’s crucial to practice harm reduction by not seeking validation from people who could potentially cause you more emotional distress.
Seeking validation exists on a spectrum. Whether you’re seeking validation as an occasional habit or a chronic way of life, you can adapt more helpful ways to empower yourself.
External validation may be needed for your well-being, but self-validation and instilling more positive and empowering beliefs can be important to cultivating and maintaining healthy self-esteem.
Engaging in self-care and healing modalities that best work for you and your needs can help you achieve this balance.
A mental health professional can also be a great resource to help you along this journey. If you’re looking for support but not sure where to start, you can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.
Shahida Arabi, MA, is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University and best-selling author of three books, including “Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare and Power.” Her new book, “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Toxic People,” published by New Harbinger Publications, is available in all major bookstores. Her viral articles have garnered over 18 million views and her work has been featured on Psychology Today, Salon, Bustle, Psych Central, The Huffington Post, Inc., Origin, Thought Catalog, VICE, and The New York Daily News. She’s currently a graduate student at Harvard University conducting research on romantic relationships with individuals with narcissistic and psychopathic traits.