The Problem with External Validation

We all like to be liked, right? That seems obvious in today’s culture of social media where getting thumbs up and heart emoji’s can be the ultimate gratifying sign of acceptance. And who doesn’t want that? It’s great to be seen and validated. Unless… things start to go awry and the being seen part gets a little obscured as we present with more and more of what it takes to be noticed, because, let’s be honest – it can get a little addictive. 

It’s not that external validation is a bad thing in and of itself. But when it becomes the sole thing that provides a sense of happiness – something that might not always be achievable, or something that’s only achieved by compromising a part of yourself – then it might be helpful to take a step back and see what else is going on. 

Chasing after validation is not really the same as actually being seen and validated for who we are. The problem is that the more we run towards something that should feel good, we begin to lose touch with what actually resonates and supports us.

It’s about what guides you. Ask yourself – who or what might you be relying on to feel good about yourself? Friends? Acquaintances? People you don’t even know? A scale? The mirror? When we rely solely on these things to tell us about who we are, we begin to lose direction of our own feelings, possibly even our own morals and values. 

The more I do this work of therapy, the more I am amazed at the wealth of knowledge that can be uncovered simply by going within and listening to the wisdom of one’s body. This may present another challenge because sometimes it can seem like we are eager – even overly eager, to get away from our internal experiences – and sometimes with good reason when going within can feel like an unbearable place to be; times when we are trying to feel anything other than the way we do. But I promise you that there is still valuable information there and it’s pointing in the direction of how to get through it, rather than run away from it.  

When we ignore the somatic sensations that inform us how we feel about… a conversation, a person, an environment… we lose connection with what is important to us – with everything that makes us unique and individual and not merely one in the crowd. And while I get that there can be a certain safety in the anonymity of being just one in the crowd, the irony is that when we are better able to care for ourselves and our internal experiences, we are also able to be more available and receptive to the relationships that others have to offer.  My point is this: if you can find internal validation of your experiences by being open to what authentically resonates within, then this opens doors for the authentic external validation we may be craving. 

As usual, it comes down to balance. Both internal and external validation can be very valuable. And experiencing more of one than another can leave us feeling lopsided.

The more we are in relation with our experiences, the better position we are in to make wise decisions for ourselves – something that could potentially have positive impact on those around us as well. It’s about Self in relation to all of our parts within and in relation to the rest of the world.

The good news is that it’s never too late to get back to that inner compass. It might be tricky at first and you may need some help, but I believe that eventually you’ll find that going within has a  lot of benefit. You can trust that your inner wisdom remains intact. When your Self is at last ready to show up and be with all the parts of you that have been longing for attention – attention not just from others really, but from you. 

Copyright 2019 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC, LPC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in anxiety, depression and eating disorders.