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Stop Relying on External Validation

Personal Perspective: What is it like when we can finally validate ourselves?

© Pasuwan | Shutterstock
Source: © Pasuwan | Shutterstock

One of the ongoing issues I worked on with my former psychiatrist, Dr. Lev, was my constant need for external validation. Whether the feedback came from weighing myself 10 times a day in the case of my anorexia, or seeking positive reinforcement from my supervisor at work, I lived for praise from others. When I didn’t get it regularly, my anxiety would skyrocket and I felt as though I had done something wrong, even when I knew I hadn’t.

Part of the reason was that I never got what I needed from my father in terms of validation and praise. When I was in sixth grade I recall telling him I wanted to be a veterinarian and without saying it directly, he told me I wasn’t smart enough.

One study led by Univeristy of Houston researchers found that “the relationship between need for approval from others and anxiety is also well-rooted in past literature. For those with high need for approval, their self-esteem is correlated with how positively they believe others perceive them.”

Dr. Lev and I worked hard on peeling back the layers of my need for external validation. We spent hours eradicating my father’s voice from my mind, cementing the concept that I am good enough. It was really only after he died and I realized I was now chasing approval from a ghost that I was able to start believing I was good enough.

What also helped was that around the same time that my father passed away, I'd been able to leave the job where I'd been during my most recent suicide attempt nine years ago. I was able to obtain a coveted job at a large organization with a substantial raise in pay. That I had interviewed well and received validation in that way was significant in me being able to tell myself I was able to perform well when it counted. I was on my way, but not there yet.

Even at my new job, I still reveled in praise and validation from my managers. I didn’t seek it out quite as often but when it came my way, I ate it up.

In a Psychology Today blog post, author Elizabeth Thornton wrote, "The good news is that the neuroplasticity of the brain affords us the opportunity to literally rewire our neural net with new ways of thinking that will increase our overall success and happiness. The key to transforming the External Validation Mental Model is the recognition and acceptance that we have all been socialized to value ourselves through the eyes of other people and the understanding that we can learn to value ourselves.”

I find it ironic the more I’m able to validate myself internally, the more external validation tends to come my way. In the last two weeks, I've received inquiries from three organizations interested in working with me due to my writing and mental-health advocacy. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been confident enough to put myself out there, regardless of validation.

We all enjoy praise and external validation. But the mainstay of our contentment needs to come from within. It may be hard to shed the mindset of looking for validation from others. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it. The idea is progress, not perfection. This is hard work.

Thanks for reading.

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