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Confession: I’m a transformational life and relationship coach, and I coach people through their jealousy and dependency on external validation all the time. But, to be honest with y’all, I don’t think I fully understood what jealousy was until about 1.5 years ago, when I got into my relationship with my now fiancé.
I’ve never truly put all of my eggs in one relationship basket before (I’ve never been engaged before!).
Hell, I have eggs in this basket that I didn’t even previously know I had!
And because of that, I have never felt the need for validation—the need to know that I irrevocably belong and I am unshakably, unconditionally loved by someone—so strongly. So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and researching about validation.
The word comes from the Latin root “Wal,” which means to be strong. And validation, when sourced properly, does have the power to make us strong. But the relationship to validation that the vast majority of us have inherited is toxic.
Humans are interdependent by nature. Seeking validation—which is really just a desire for love and belonging—is not a bad thing. We’re social creatures—we need each other’s encouragement and feedback in order to survive!
But although humans are evolutionarily programmed to live in small tribes and only ever receive feedback from one or two dozen people, globalization has made it so that we intake feedback from hundreds of others every. single. day.
Validation is healing when it comes from a person who has the capacity to see, understand, and validate our whole self, not just the good-looking, high-performing parts. It is a small percentage of people who actually have the capacity, or the bandwidth, to do so.
So what’s left over is a constant stream of feedback from people who project their own wounds onto us and make ill-informed, superficial judgements about us. This feels like exclusion, which registers in the brain as physical injury.
Since our society does not teach us how to self-regulate and self-validate, we can become chemically addicted to the dopamine release we get when someone else validates us. When our nervous system becomes dysregulated (from repeated stressors), it’s this low-quality validation that we turn to, which is like eating pixie sticks to satiate desperate hunger.
Validation is a quest for love and belonging, but what we often end up doing instead is fitting in—modifying our true selves in order to fit others’ expectations of us—which, as Brené Brown says, is the opposite of belonging.
There is nothing wrong with wanting validation.
But are we seeking it out from aligned sources, or are we internalizing messages we receive from other people’s wounded parts as truth?
If you’re not entirely sure what the answer to that question is, here are eight signs that your relationship to validation is unhealthy:
1. You look for validation based on what you have rather than who you are.
I.e. you want to be validated for your money, your weight, your looks, your social media following, or your possessions, rather than for being, say, a kind, creative, and thoughtful person.
2. It comes disproportionately from the outside; you haven’t developed the capacity to validate yourself.
Humans need self-regulation (creating a sense of safety and belonging for ourselves) and co-regulation (allowing for others to create a sense of safety and belonging for us through their support)—that’s how our nervous systems are wired. So seeking for someone else to give you feedback and reassurance is healthy and normal. It only becomes unhealthy when it is not counterbalanced by consistent attempts to self-regulate and self-validate. Both are muscles that need to be worked in order to achieve balance.
3. You feel invisible or worthless without it.
Like, for example, if you walk into a party and you feel like you’re not even there unless someone hits on you. Or if you question your intelligence or worthiness if you don’t get praise from an authority figure about your work.
4. It’s more about fitting in (based on conforming to the expectations of others) than belonging (based on being appreciated for your authentic self).
Brené Brown says it best: “Fitting in is becoming who you think you need to be in order to be accepted; belonging is being your authentic self and knowing that no matter what happens, you belong to you.” Fitting in is the antithesis of belonging. In order to feel like we really belong, we need to feel loved and accepted for who we authentically are and what we truly value—which is not possible when we’re too busy trying to fit in.
5. You’re hyper-focused on getting one aspect of yourself validated (i.e. your appearance or intelligence) rather than your whole self.
Like, for example, if you’ve learned to compartmentalize, only allowing the “presenting” aspect of yourself—the part of yourself that you think is “good enough”—to be seen. Perhaps that’s the “funny guy/girl,” the “smart one,” the “pretty one,” or the “good girl/boy” aspect. We can never get our need for belonging met when we are hyper-focused on getting a part of ourselves–rather than our whole selves—seen and validated.
6. You look for validation from everyone, not just the people who really understand you, your intentions, and values.
There is no possible way that we can gain the respect, love, acceptance, admiration, and/or approval from everyone we encounter or know, nor should we try. If we are trying to please everyone, we are forced to abandon ourselves—our bodies, our desires, our needs, and our true commitments and values. Instead, we should practice discernment about whose validation really matters to us, for the right reasons—those whose values align with ours and who desire to invest their time and energy to truly understand us.
7. You hide certain parts of yourself to get it.
Like, when the parts of you that you deem “good enough” strive extra hard to perform and receive validation, and in doing so, suppress and mask the parts of you that you think are “not good enough.” We can never feel like we are truly worthy or like we truly belong as long as we are hiding aspects of ourselves. Belonging means knowing that although all parts of ourselves might not be loved by everyone, that all parts of ourselves are still inherently lovable and welcome. If this seems unattainable to you, I highly recommend the book No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz.
8. You’re willing to disrespect, harm, or objectify yourself to get it.
Our society has taught many, if not most, of us (especially women) to self-objectify. That means to relate to ourselves as objects to be acted upon, rather than the subjects that are doing the acting. We’ve been made to believe that the object that we are has finite value, to be deemed by an external party (the male gaze, mostly). This self-objectification is the precursor to self-inflicted violence because it makes it much easier for us to dis-embody, numb, and abandon ourselves and our needs in exchange for external validation.
So there you have it. The eight telltale signs that your relationship to validation is unhealthy. If you identify with any of those eight, don’t worry, you don’t have to stop wanting validation. Just work to diversify your sources of validation, be discerning about whose feedback you take to heart, and practice validating yourself for who you are and what you value.
Do parts work or work with a parts work therapist or coach to practice seeing yourself as a whole person rather than the sum of disembodied parts. (There is nothing wrong with paying someone who is trained to be able to validate your feelings and reflect back your commitments and values!)
Let’s stop shaming ourselves for our natural, normal desire for validation and simply start being more discerning about the feedback we take to heart.