Cultivating Happiness: How to Feel Good About Yourself Without External Validation6 months, 2 weeks ago
Posted on Nov 17, 2022, 3 p.m.
Every one of us needs some external validation for our mental well-being. But there is such a thing as seeking and depending too much on it.
Relying on loved ones, such as friends and family, for support and encouragement is important. However, it’s not as important as cultivating happiness within, which comes down to feeling good about yourself without external validation—and this is sometimes easier said than done.
Why We Seek Validation From Others
According to Columbia University summa cum laude graduate and best-selling author Shahida Arabi, there are several reasons why we seek validation from other people.
One of those reasons is that we might have received too much or too little external validation when we were children. This can affect how we handle our attachment style, emotions, and personality. A 2016 study found that emotional validation from mothers during childhood may build emotional awareness.
However, if a child grows up feeling unvalued or doesn’t receive encouragement or praise from their parents or other adults who play an important role in their lives, they could find it difficult to regulate their emotions. This could lead to symptoms such as difficulty trusting other people, confusing or unpredictable behavior, fear of rejection, and high anxiety levels.
Receiving too much validation in childhood can also cause difficulties in adulthood. These difficulties may include a sense of entitlement, struggles with developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships, and narcissistic traits.
How Do I Know If I’m An Approval Seeker?
You might be seeking too much external validation if you do the following:
- Constantly comparing yourself to others and feel chronically lacking, without acknowledging your unique strengths
- You feel emotional distress if you’re not the center of attention, and you try frantically to recenter yourself
- You struggle to make difficult decisions without the input of others
- You move from one relationship to another without taking time to heal because you think you can’t cope if you’re alone
- You feel guilty when you set boundaries with other people
- You can’t challenge or disagree with others because you fear being abandoned or judged
- You push yourself to overachieve in the hope of being praised by other people
- You exaggerate or lie about your life circumstances in the hope of receiving sympathy from other people
- You punish yourself when you’re not acknowledged or chosen for roles or tasks at work, in school, or in friendships
- You agree to plans and tasks you would rather not do because you want to maintain others’ approval
How To Feel Good About Yourself With Internal Validation
If you are too dependent on external validation and your seeking of it causes you pain or interferes with how you function on a daily basis, there are ways you can manage this.
Try to Understand Your Need For External Validation
Understanding why you constantly seek external validation can make it easier to stop this behavior. Clinical psychologist Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D., recommends asking yourself what you think about the matter at hand and why you don’t trust your own opinion before seeking others’ approval.
You might realize that you desire their approval because you feel uncertain or because you want their acceptance and for them to like you. Understanding the motive behind your need for external validation is an important part of overcoming it.
Replace the Critical or Harsh Voice In Your Head
Licensed professional counselor and coach Cheri Timko, MS, LPC, said that people often are their own worst critic. However, if you constantly talk to yourself in a way that is critical, harsh, or judgmental, you will undermine your self-confidence.
Timko recommended that you pay attention to your inner monologue, taking note of how your self-criticism makes you feel. Acknowledge those thoughts and then remind yourself that you are capable and valuable. Work on replacing those negative thoughts with positive self-reflections that make you feel good about yourself.
Write Down 5 Accomplishments Every Day
Social psychologist Dr. Kinga Mnich recommended writing down five things you accomplished that day, regardless of how big or small those accomplishments were, before going to bed. Your accomplishments can include anything you checked off your to-do list.
According to Dr. Mnich, this daily exercise can help you shift your focus to things that work, rather than letting yourself focus on things that don’t work. The exercise can also help you to remind yourself that you’re doing well, even if you don’t always feel that way.
Self-Validate Through Self-Care
Arabi recommended replacing your external validation-seeking behaviors with self-care methods that work for you, such as yoga and meditation. According to a Harvard-led study, eight weeks of regular mindfulness meditation can increase gray matter in your brain’s areas which are related to decision-making, emotional regulation, and empathy. This may help improve your self-control when making decisions aligned with what you really desire and with setting boundaries.
In addition to practices such as meditation, try using empowering positive affirmations that relate to your specific needs, such as “I am enough” or “I am confident.”
If yoga and meditation are not for you, there are numerous other ways to practice self-care. Anything that positively affects your self perception or even your body image is a form of self care. So, wear clothes that make you feel good, get that nose piercing or tattoo without worrying about what others may think, or spend more time looking after your skin.
Practice Saying No
Seeking external validation through pleasing other people can be a difficult habit to break, especially if you are scared of being abandoned. A good idea is to practice saying no to smaller requests before you start saying no to larger requests that could leave you feeling fearful or worried. By doing this, you will get used to handling the discomfort of potentially disappointing people before you start refusing larger requests.
Don’t Compare Yourself With Others
Constantly comparing yourself with others such as coworkers, friends, or siblings can be confidence-shattering. Measuring yourself against carefully curated social media feeds filled with happy people (who you may not even know) doing amazing things is also a sure-fire way to make yourself feel inferior.
Instead of comparing yourself to others—known and unknown—try being OK with where you are at in life while thinking about what you would like to achieve.
Accepting yourself for who you are at this point in time and understanding that you can change, grow, and learn in positive ways is key to unlocking a new kind of happiness. Where you are today doesn't mean that’s where you’ll stay. But acceptance of you as you are right now without any comparisons to others is extremely healthy.
Internal validation doesn’t come naturally to most people who constantly seek external validation. Cultivating happiness takes time, but it is possible.
This article was written for WHN by Angelica Hoover, who is an avid blogger and health advocate. She is a wordsmith and editor extraordinaire who excels in journalism as a freelance writer and editor for health and family publications.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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