Most of us know that constantly seeking validation from others can be toxic to our lives because self-help experts won’t let us hear the end of it.
“You don’t need to be validated by other people!” these life coaches scream. “You’re the only person who needs to accept YOU!”
And like sheep, all the jaded, hurt, angry, guilty, shamed, sad, and resentful people-pleasers follow this shitty one-sided advice. These newly enlightened people throw off their validation shackles and set off on a journey of self-discovery. They dance in their underwear to C & C Music Factory in their living rooms and post the video on Instagram, telling the world, “I don’t care what anyone thinks, this makes me happy so I’m doing it!”
And as much as I support people grooving to Gonna Make You Sweat in their undies, not EVER seeking validation from others isn’t the right answer. We’re social creatures. We yearn for a sense of community. We want to feel like we’re part of a tribe—wanted, accepted, loved.
Sure, it’s NOT healthy to seek validation from other people for everything you do. But it’s equally harmful to retreat so far into yourself that you become an island, totally cut-off from the rest of the world.
As always, the key is to find a balance.
But how do we find the right balance between external and internal validation?
Here are five things to consider…
1. Know what lights you up
Remember those “choose your own adventure” books when you were a child? You turn a page and get a choice of two directions to take. Your next step dictates how your story unfolds.
Your life is the same. Every day you’re given choices and it’s your job to pick the ones that you think will create the story you want to live.
When you take control of your life and do the things that make you happy, you live a story that is purposeful and gives you confidence. When you live life like that, other people will take notice and be attracted to you for the right reasons. People will see the light coming out of you and they’ll want to be close to you.
When people validate you because you’re living according to your values and bringing light into the world, it’s healthy. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of validation because it’s secondary. You’re already living a life that makes you happy instead of trying to live according to what you think will make other people happy.
2. Don’t sacrifice your values for anyone
Sometimes we put our values to the side to make other people happy, including friends and family.
For example, we choose to stay in the career we hate because we’re afraid of being judged for following a different path.
We seek love from the wrong people because we’re afraid others won’t accept the type of lover we really want to be with.
We silence our true opinions and beliefs because we think other people won’t agree with us.
But when we sacrifice our values for the sake of others we’re seeking validation in the wrong way. Sometimes staying strong around our values will be painful and difficult. The road to happiness is often paved with struggle. Still, at the end of the day, when you stay firm on your values you’ll attract like-minded people who will validate your choices in a positive way.
Sure, it might take time for other people to come around (if they ever do) but at least you haven’t given up on the things that make you who you are.
3. Be comfortable saying “NO”
I’m going to sound like a broken record on this one, but it’s worth repeating. Every week I talk to someone who tells me they said “YES” to someone or something that they regret. Saying “YES” to things that we’d rather say “NO” to in order to prevent offending or hurting another person is a form of validation.
If you know what you value and what’s important to you, then you’ll know when you should say “NO.” You might feel it in your body—maybe it’s a tightness in your shoulders or a twisting of your stomach. Your body is trying to tell you to say “NO.” Listen to it.
You have to remember that when you choose “NOs” over “YESes” you might hurt some people’s feelings. But you aren’t responsible for the way other people react. If you communicate your true intentions and say “NO” with confidence and compassion, people will understand.
4. Understand that not everyone will like you
I was speaking with a friend last week. She told me that when she was 8 years old her father gave her a piece of advice she’s never forgotten. He said, “Honey, not everyone is going to like you throughout your life.”
Potent advice for an 8-year-old, no doubt, but it stuck with her. Today she’s confident, true to herself, and successful.
Although you’re an adult and it’s tougher to teach an “old dog new tricks” you can find a better validation balance if you accept that not everyone you come into contact with in your life will like you.
The same can be said for friends and family who don’t always agree with the choices we make. Friends and family can be healthy sources of validation, but sometimes the same people won’t accept our choices.
Does that mean you should stop what you’re doing? No, it doesn’t. The sooner you accept that not everyone is always going to like you, the sooner you can free yourself from toxic external validation.
5. Accept that you will always be a work in progress
The same friend who got the strong advice from her dad when she was 8 years old told me that just because she appears to be confident and successful right now, it doesn’t mean that she’s not constantly working at it.
Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Just because last year you believed one thing doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind today. It doesn’t make you a hypocrite; it makes you human.
Confidence and success are moving targets. And you have to be willing to dance in the moment with everything that life throws at you.
When we change and grow, sometimes it means shedding old friends and acquaintances who no longer align with our values. We have to go out and find new people who validate our choices in healthy ways.
Change is inevitable. You can choose to look at it as scary and something to be avoided or you can choose to see it as exciting, fresh, and challenging.
I know what I choose.
Finding the balance in life is always a challenge.
But you have to remember that when you live at the extremes, you’re not going to have a healthy, well-rounded life. If you’re a people-pleaser who constantly seeks validation from the wrong people, you won’t be happy. And if you isolate yourself as a lone-wolf who needs no validation from anyone, you won’t be happy, either.
Moderation and balance are keys to life.
Know what lights you up and choose a path that brings out the best in you.
Don’t sacrifice your values for anyone.
Say “NO” with confidence.
Understand that not everyone will like you and accept that you are a work-in-progress.
If you follow this advice it’ll be easier to strike a balance between internal and external validation.
Remember, nothing is perfect. You will stumble and you will fall.
Life is a trip. Enjoy it. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to be the best version of yourself possible and your relationship around validation will improve.