In an ideal world, it would be easy to remember how awesome and wonderful we are. We’d always feel strong and capable and worthy of love. We’d see ourselves for who we really are and we’d be able to accept who we are deeply and unconditionally.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world most of us inhabit. We struggle with self-acceptance and self-worth. Sometimes we can seek external validation, turning to the people we love and trust to remind us that we’re valuable, worthy, and loved.
Having people we can trust to provide us with validation can be an effective short-term fix, but it’s not a long-term solution. In this article, I’m going to explain why self-validation is an essential skill and how you can master it.
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It’s normal to want at least some validation from the people we care about. We’re social creatures and it’s reassuring to know that we can have approval and understanding from those with similar values and beliefs.1
If you feel like you always need validation from others, that’s a slightly different story. Having to rely on support from others, rather than being able to provide it for yourself, leaves you vulnerable and insecure.
There are several reasons that you might struggle with self-validation. The first is that you might have a deep insecurity about your abilities and your judgment. You look to others to evaluate and validate you because you don’t trust your own evaluation or validation.
Another possibility is that you might lack self-worth. If you don’t truly value yourself, it makes sense that you would struggle to see your own value. Asking others to provide that kind of validation allows you to temporarily overcome that lack of self-worth.
One of the problems with seeking external validation is that it doesn’t actually overcome those problems. It doesn’t make you feel more secure in your own abilities or reinforce your self-worth in the medium or long term.
Self-validation isn’t straightforward, so let’s break down what we’re really talking about. The terms “self-validation”, “self-love”, “self-worth”, and “self-compassion” are all often used almost interchangeably but there are important differences between them.
Self-validation actually has parts of the others included in it. It’s a little bit of self-love, a little bit of self-worth, and a little bit of self-compassion. The big difference with self-validation compared to all of the others is that it’s something you actively do, rather than a belief or feelings you simply experience.
Self-validation is a combination of being aware of your own thoughts and feelings and actively accepting them as genuine and important. Crucially, it doesn’t mean accepting that they’re true or accurate. It means that you’re accepting your own thoughts and feelings as present and real, but you’re also validating yourself as a worthwhile and valuable person.
For example, if you’re feeling worthless, your self-validation process would go through several stages. First, you’d become aware of your feelings. You’d notice that you’re feeling worthless and you’d start to notice other feelings associated with it. You might feel muscle tension or realize that your breathing has become really fast.
The next thing would be accepting that you feel this way. You might say to yourself “I’m feeling worthless right now, and it’s also giving me feelings of stress and anxiety. Those feelings are real right now and it sucks that I have to experience them.”
Once you accept that your current feelings are real, you might validate yourself by reminding yourself that you don’t really believe the thing you’re feeling right now and that this kind of feeling will go away soon.
It’s a lot like being your own best friend. If someone you love is struggling to feel as though they’re important and worthwhile as a person, you’d give them reassurance and validation. You’d tell them that it’s ok that they’re feeling this way and offer to help. Self-validation is doing that same process for yourself.
The first step in almost any personal development task is improving your own self-awareness and understanding exactly what’s going on. This is especially true for self-validation because self-validation means being closely aware of your own thoughts and feelings.
You can’t become comfortable with your own feelings and deal with them if you don’t know what they are and when you’re feeling them. Improving your self-awareness, especially ‘in the moment’, builds the foundation you need for great self-validation.
Journaling can be a great way to work on some really deep self-awareness. Taking some time each day to reflect on what has happened and how you feel about it. It can help you spot patterns in your feelings or thoughts that you hadn’t realized you had. It can also help you process those feelings.2
You might also want to work on how you can identify your thoughts and feelings at specific moments. Try to “check in” with yourself regularly throughout the day. Are you feeling relaxed or tense? Happy or sad? The more you get used to noticing these things, the better your self-awareness will become.
This is an extension of the work that we just talked about with being more self-aware. Make sure that you’re being as honest as you can be with yourself about your thoughts, feelings, and actions… even if it says something that you don’t entirely like about yourself.
Sometimes, you might find that you push away feelings that don’t fit with your personal values or self-perception. For example, if you like to think of yourself as a peacemaker, you might push away feelings of anger when someone says something rude or hurtful.
The trouble is that pushing these thoughts and feelings away doesn’t work. Instead, you get a rebound effect where they come back stronger than before.3 Being honest about your deeper feelings is going to be essential to being able to accept them and continuing to love yourself.
Self-validation is very much like learning to be your own best friend. A best friend is someone who knows your strengths and your weaknesses and loves you for who you are. It might not always feel natural to give yourself that love, but learning to do it can be deeply empowering.
Think about things that you would do for your best friend. Would you buy her a bunch of her favorite flowers to cheer her up? Would you remind her to take breaks from work when she’s stressed? Would you tell her that she deserves better when someone treats her badly? Try doing those things for yourself.
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One powerful tool to help you be your own best friend, and improve your self-validation in general, is to really focus on how you speak to yourself in your own mind. Lots of us are incredibly critical when we speak to ourselves but this often isn’t fair or helpful.4
Listen to your internal monologue objectively. What are you saying to yourself? Is it kind and supportive, or is it harsh and critical?
Sometimes, we defend a harsh and critical inner voice by telling ourselves that “It’s just being honest.” That’s not entirely true. You can be honest with a friend without being cruel and mean. Try to adjust your self-talk to be more supportive and kind. Ask yourself whether you would speak to someone you loved like that. If not, try to rephrase what you’re saying.
It’s helpful to rephrase your self-talk, rather than just pushing it away because of the rebound effect I mentioned earlier.
Try saying “That wasn’t a kind way of phrasing it. What would I say to a friend? I’d probably tell them that they are a bit forgetful at the moment but that they’ve got a lot on their plate and remind them that it’s no big deal. That’s a kind way to approach it.”
Part of self-validation is developing a deep understanding that you matter and that your needs are important. It’s not enough just to tell yourself that you deserve to have your needs met. You need to be able to go the extra step and actually meet them.
This provides you with tangible evidence that you really do believe that your needs are important. This builds your self-confidence and helps you feel more balanced and secure in yourself.
One way to understand your emotional needs is to start by looking at your feelings. If you’re having strong negative emotions, try asking yourself what you need right now. For example, if you’re feeling sad or scared, you might realize that what you really want is a hug. You can then look for ways to meet that emotional need.
It’s sometimes possible to fulfill your emotional need for a hug without asking for external validation, but not all of them will work for everyone. If you have a pet, stroking them can give you a lot of the same emotional boost as a hug.5 You might find that wearing something soft and cuddling up under a blanket meets your need.
Even if you do ask someone else to give you a hug, that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed at your efforts toward self-validation. You recognized that your need for a hug was important and so you went and asked someone for it.
In that example, you took responsibility for getting yourself what you needed, and you weren’t relying on someone else to tell you that you matter or you’re important. You asked for their arms, not their validation. If you ask someone for specific needs, rather than overall validation, that’s something to be proud of.
One of the most common ways that people try to improve their own self-image and reduce their need for external validation is to use affirmations. These are positive statements about yourself that you repeat to yourself regularly.
These work really well for some people, but they’re certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, they can make some people feel worse. This is often because they’re repeating things to themselves that they don’t actually believe.6
If you are going to use affirmations as one part of your approach to improving your self-validation, try to make sure that the words and phrases you use really reflect your deeply held beliefs.
Telling yourself “I’m perfect in every way” isn’t going to help you if you automatically feel yourself following up with “except when I forget things, and I don’t fit into my jeans anymore, and I failed that test…”
Try things like “This is how I feel right now and that’s ok” or “I make mistakes but so does everyone. What’s important is that I’m trying to learn from them.”
One of the ways that we can start to change how we treat ourselves is by also focusing on how we treat others. If you’re trying to get better at being kind to yourself, why not try focusing on being as kind as you can be toward others?
The things that we do can easily become habits, but so can the things that we say and even the things we think. Focusing on being kind, saying kind things, and thinking kind thoughts creates a habit of being kind.
When you make being kind to everyone around you your default setting, you start to notice opportunities to be kind to yourself. It might also feel more natural to be kind to yourself because it’s a simple extension of your normal, everyday self with other people.
Being kind to people around you also makes the difference between your thoughts about others and any harsh self-talk really clear. You might notice that your internal voice has a tone or phrases that you would never use with anyone else. You might even start telling yourself “that wasn’t nice” reflexively before remembering that you’re talking to yourself.
Although we’re aiming to learn to get better at self-validation, that doesn’t mean that we need to avoid or reject validation from the people we love and care about entirely.
Think about when you want external validation and what it means to you. If you’re going through a difficult time, it’s ok to turn to others a little more. You can also turn to others for an objective opinion as long as it doesn’t impact your worth as a person.
For example, it’s normal to want to know from your boss whether they’re happy with the work you’ve just completed. They’re the ones who know what they want and it’s great to know from them that you did a good job. As long as you’re looking for validation that you achieved a standard, rather than validation of your personal worth or value, that’s fine.
Lots of people prize modesty as a quality, especially when it comes to talking about your own abilities and achievements. Although it might be socially expected, it’s rarely helpful when you’re trying to learn how to self-validate.
Rather than trying to be modest, be honest about the things that you know you’re great at. Try not to push away those feelings of pride and accomplishment for fear of sounding conceited or vain.
Even if you don’t dare say “yes, I am an awesome employee. I’m super hard-working and reliable and I get more done than anyone else on my team” out loud, it’s important to be able to acknowledge and accept that in the privacy of your own mind.
Understanding your own limitations is less fun than highlighting the ways in which you’re incredible, but it’s often much easier. We see our own flaws in vivid technicolor. The tricky part is evaluating those limitations accurately and accepting them without believing that they make you a bad person.
Practice telling yourself “Yup. That’s something that I want to get better at. It’s a work in progress and that’s ok.”
When we’re having strong feelings, it can be difficult to understand that they don’t always represent reality, or that they’re going to change soon. Learning that your feelings are real but also that they’re only going to last for a relatively short period of time can be really valuable.
For example, if a friend accidentally told someone else something that you wanted to be kept private, it’s totally understandable that you feel betrayed. That doesn’t actually mean that you were betrayed. Your friend let you down, but she made a mistake rather than deliberately betraying you.
It can take practice to balance accepting that your feelings (such as betrayal) are entirely real whilst also recognizing that you weren’t actually betrayed. This is also more difficult as your emotions become more intense.
It can also help to remind yourself that emotions change over time. After a breakup, you’ll often feel as though you’ll never be happy again, and that’s completely normal. It feels true, but you can probably point to times in the past when you felt the same way and then it passed.
Lots of the things we do aren’t perfect, but they also don’t take place in an ideal situation without anything else going on in our lives and influencing our decisions. We’re constrained and influenced by the context we’re in when we say, do, or even think something.
For example, when most parents fall pregnant for the first time, they tell themselves that they’re not going to yell at their kids. That’s great, and it’s absolutely a wonderful thing to aim for. They might even manage it most of the time.
But life isn’t perfect and sometimes they’re going to be sleep-deprived and hungry and have to spend 30 minutes trying to convince a toddler that having to put pants on to go outside isn’t actually a good reason to scream at the top of their lungs. They’re becoming later and later for a doctor’s appointment and so they just yell.
Self-validation means taking into account everything that you’ve gone through that day or week or month to understand your actions in context. It’s not the same as making excuses. It’s about trying to offer yourself compassion and understanding.
Getting better at self-validation can have several different effects on your relationship. The most important thing is that you’re building a strong relationship with yourself. You’re being your own best friend and trying to be kind and supportive to yourself.
This will often make it much easier for you to be vulnerable and authentic in your relationships. You’re able to open up to others about all of yourself because you don’t feel the need to hide the “bad” bits. You can validate yourself so you’re not trying to conform to the things that they’re willing to validate.
This makes healthy relationships stronger. A supportive partner will be glad that you’re learning and growing in this way.
Unfortunately, it can often create conflict and stress within your relationship, especially if you used to be a people-pleaser. People who have become used to you going along with the things that they want because you’re seeking their validation might not like this new, independent you.
It might be painful, but this is often a good thing for you in the long term. Some people will change how they see you and start treating you with more respect. Others will decide that they don’t like these changes and move out of your life, making space for healthier, more supportive relationships to develop.
External validation is an easy fix for when you’re struggling, but it shouldn’t be the foundation of your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Learning to self-validate gives you core confidence that’s much more secure and long-lasting than kind words from others.
The most important thing when you’re learning self-validation is to be kind to yourself. Self-validation is about compassionate self-awareness and acceptance, so focus on self-compassion above all else.
Self-validation is difficult, especially if you’re used to relying on praise and validation from others. You might not have learned to value your own judgment, or to evaluate yourself according to your values and principles. You might also worry about losing external validation when you start focusing on yourself.
Self-validation is harder to achieve than asking for external validation, but it’s an essential skill to be a strong, confident person. Every step you take towards self-validation is improving your relationship with yourself and with the other important people in your life.
I hope this has helped you to overcome your struggles with self-validation. If it has, share these ideas (and this article) with someone else who might need it. And let me know what you think in the comments below.
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