Validation is a primary human craving. We all want to be understood. We want to feel that we matter and that our thoughts & emotions matter to other people, especially to those people we care about.
But there is no guarantee we'll get the validation we want and need from the people around us. Learning how to validate yourself is an essential tool for your emotional health toolkit.
Why is validation even a thing?
Relational interactions are crucial to us as humans. Our brains are wired to emphasize the importance of connection because our survival depends on socializing and getting along well with others. We innately know the importance of validation and approval from outsiders. This is why we rapidly feel a reaction bubbling up inside when someone tells us that our political perspective is wrong or they poke fun at our tearfulness during a heart-wrenching movie scene.
So, we are (and feel) very vulnerable when interactions with others do not go as we hope they will. This vulnerability leads the emotional areas of the brain to perceive a threat to safety and respond with fear or anger. In simplistic terms, we can quickly become terrified of rejection from our community if our thoughts, needs or emotions are invalidated. Or we can just as quickly get aggressive towards the person who invalidated us because we perceive they have threatened our very survival.
We crave validation for our safety and inclusion in society. It's normal. And also…there are a lot of people who are not skilled at validating. Most of us are living in daily deficit of external validation. This is especially challenging when the people close to us don’t know how to validate. Or even worse....when they are exceptionally skilled at being invalidating. I frequently hear clients share about the hurt and frustration they feel because people in their lives are not more supportive or validating to them.
The dangers of seeking validation from others.
Because validation is so crucial to our survival and feels so soothing to receive, we can tend to rely on it heavily. It’s easy to routinely seek external approval from our romantic partners, parents, friends, co-workers, bosses, online connections, even from strangers we don’t know ("will people think I’m ugly if I wear this?") We can feel unsure of ourselves unless someone outside of us gives that thumbs up or tells us that our emotions and decisions are okay or make sense.
But, needing or relying solely on external validation is a recipe for anxiety, depression, and plainly…disaster. External validation is never guaranteed, so if we rely on it, we are setting ourselves up for uncertainty. Uncertainty about our own okay-ness fosters a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Without a core sense of certainty that I am okay, I am acceptable, I am worthy, we’ve got real barriers to creating a daily life that feels good or desirable inside.
How to get validation.
When the people around us basically stink at validating, we have some options:
1. Help them learn how to validate.
My previous article on validation addresses how and why to validate others. Some folks have found the post handy to share with people in their lives so they have some tools and information to improve their skills in validating.
Usually when people realize that responding in supportive and validating ways makes the relationship connection stronger and less contentious, they are willing to give it a try.
You can also help others learn by instructing them in the actual moment of wanting some validation: "It would mean a lot to me right now if you could just tell me that my feelings make sense and that my thoughts about this have merit.”
Take note that we are all offenders of invalidating other people. None of us are mind readers. And because every one of us can be focused on ourselves or wanting our thoughts & feeling to be valued, we can end up saying and doing things that inadvertently invalidate other people, even if we care about them.
Consider starting with the assumption that people in your orbit are willing to try and be better validators if they know how.
2. Lower your expectations that they will respond in validating ways.
This one is challenging to do, but does offer us freedom. There's a saying that applies here: “expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” If we expect or hope that people will speak or act in a certain way and then they don’t, it swiftly makes us feel hurt and resentful.
An option is to simply accept other's deficits and try to stop hoping for them to react differently. In other words, quit trying to drink from a dry well or squeeze blood from a turnip and all those other colloquial sayings we have for a reason.
3. Leave or limit the relationship.
If certain people in your life are chronic invalidators, you can also consider leaving the relationship or limiting what you share with them. Chronic invalidation is extremely hurtful. It can make us lose certainty in ourselves and our reality.
If you have tried to communicate your needs for more validation and less invalidation but the other person is not willing to adjust, it's time to make some decisions for your own well-being. You can step away entirely or reduce your hurt by only minimally sharing your thoughts & emotions & needs with those people who struggle to offer the validation you desire.
4. Learn to self-validate and do it regularly.
This is the focus of the rest of the article and the most important one, because you have total control over this approach. When you regularly use self-validation, then the external validation from other sources is just icing on the cake… not something that is required for your sustenance.
So, let’s look at how to self-validate.
When others cannot understand or validate us, it does not mean our thoughts, experiences, and the things we feel or want are not valid. A first step towards self-validation is simply acknowledging how difficult and painful it is to be invalidated by another person, especially someone you count on.
Other ways to validate yourself:
Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and needs – don’t ignore them.
Let yourself experience emotions without judging yourself for having them.
Describe your own experience, perspective, emotion, or action in a matter-of-fact way without making any judgments about it. Judgments of self just lead to feeling ashamed, which is quite invalidating.
Respect your values and the things that matter to you – don’t minimize or downplay them.
Accept your experience in any moment as real and true to you.
Respond to yourself in a way that takes your needs seriously.
Provide yourself support and nurturing.
Normalize your reactions: “Given that ______ happened, it makes sense that I feel/think/want _______.”
What types of things should I self-validate?
Your emotions or feelings.
Ex: “It’s understandable that I am feeling disappointed about not getting invited to the game even though I hate football.”
Ex: "It’s okay that I feel nervous about going into the grocery store alone.”
Your thoughts, beliefs, opinions about something.
Ex: “It makes perfect sense that I believe Christmas is a stressful and over-rated holiday even though most people disagree.”
Ex: "It’s totally valid for me to think that driving is a really dangerous activity."
The legitimacy in you wanting or needing something.
Ex: “It’s totally reasonable for me to need to practice what I’ll say on this phone call 3 times before I make the call.”
Ex: “I’m allowed to want my friend to call me more often even though I know that's not her style.”
Your personal values and your valued things.
Ex: “It’s okay that I don’t want to leave the house without hugging my partner because I value that connection ritual.”
Ex: “It’s my right to keep this old t-shirt because I value the memories it carries.”
How difficult or challenging a task is for you.
Ex: “Of course this project is hard for me, I have never done it before.”
The effort you are making.
Ex. “I’m really sticking with this even though it would be so easy to give up.”
How hard you are trying to accomplish something.
Ex. “I am being so diligent with chipping away at this task even though I have to take smaller steps than I would like."
Actions you are taking that are working for you.
Ex. “It’s a valid choice for me to fill my gas tank before it every gets to 1/2 full because that keeps me from getting anxious.”
Ex. "It works for me to start the morning strong by setting my next day's clothes out at night even though my parter thinks it's silly."
Things you are choosing to do for another person or living thing.
Ex. “I’m absolutely allowed to choose to do all the cooking and house chores for my partner & myself because it makes me happy.”
Ex. "I choose to buy my dog special bakery treats every month because I like seeing him so excited."
How else can I validate myself?
When you struggle to validate yourself, think of someone else you respect & care about. Imagine they are feeling/ thinking/ wanting the same thing as you in that moment … how would you respond to them?
Then try to respond this way to yourself. This strategy helps increase self-compassion, which is a way to regularly validate your innate worthiness to receive care and kindness.
When someone disagrees with what you think, feel, or want, remind yourself that differences can be present without needing to find one person right and one person wrong. Both can be true to each person. Simple disagreement does not mean invalidation.
Recognize the difference between feeling/ thinking/ wanting something and actually acting on something. Sometimes we invalidate ourselves because we fuse our thought about something with the action that could go with it. It can be entirely valid to WANT to punch someone but NOT valid to ACTUALLY hit someone. You are allowed to have urges that you know are not healthy to act on. Practice not invalidating your human urges!
Remember that feelings, thoughts, opinions, wants and needs are not right or wrong. They simply are. Your task is to validate that they are happening inside you and that it is understandable. That's all.
You can still consider whether these are ideal to act on, but that is a separate issue. Validation is not about approval or condoning something. Self-validation focuses on your internal experience and acknowledging that it makes sense (whatever the reasons) for it to be there inside of you.
Reflect on your reactions to what you have read here. What seems easy to do? What feels confusing? What seems challenging to do? What self-validation strategies seem like options you can start making an effort to do? Give it a try!
If high anxiety and other intense emotions are getting in the way of loving yourself well, take a look at my 8-week online emotion regulation course to see if it's a fit for you.