There is a strong correlation between what others say about you and how you feel. Others say you look beautiful? You start to feel beautiful! There is no one to tell you that you look magnificent? You consider yourself ugly. Therefore, a big part of our journey in life is finding a tribe. A group of people we can safely call friends. A comfortable social circle where like-minded others understand, praise, and support us. But the more you rely on external validation, the less internal validation you build for yourself.
Only odd birds like to live in isolation. When the pandemic shocked the world in 2020. Social media sites and meeting software surged because people wanted people.
Not that you cared that much about what your friends were up to. Not because you missed them – well, you did probably, kind of. But because you missed someone validating you as a person.
People are drawn to other people because – among other things – they want acceptance. They want to feel acknowledged. That they matter. They want external validation.
Essentially, external validation is like fuel. You get lonely and depressed about something you did, or because the romantic movie you just watched reminded you of how lonely your life is. Then, to escape these negative thoughts, you turn to your tribe for support. To find evidence that you do matter. That you are not that stupid – or that there are others who are also stupid as you, and this makes you feel less dumb.
But is this the ideal power supply that you should rely on to keep moving?
No, it’s not. You do need it to a certain extent (more about this later). But you also need a cleaner energy source. Alternative energy sources – coming from within – that can help you operate. Plainly, you need internal validation.
In this installment, we’re talking about what is internal validation. Why internal validation matters more than external validation – the difference between the two. Plus, how you can build internal validation.
What Is Internal Validation?
Internal validation is not necessarily needing other people’s opinions or acceptance to operate in the world. Internal validation is your ability to self-affirm your efforts. Feel good about how you look, about how you feel, without relying on someone else to tell you that you look good or let you feel good.
Internal validation is having an inner self-regenerating support system based on your skills, abilities, and your past efforts.
However, obtaining internal validation is not easy. Besides possessing strong self-esteem. You also need other factors to feel good about yourself, without always waiting for others to tell you to feel good.
For instance, if external validation is what guides you. Part of your bothers in life will be “what others think about me.” To overcome these worries, and change the opinion of the surrounding people from pity to “gosh, he/she is so undeniably amazing!” You’ll likely alter your appearance so you can manifest how untenably wealthy you are – even if you are not, in fact, that rich. This commonly involves buying expensive things you don’t genuinely need – and can’t truly afford – to externally showcase your awesomeness.1
Conversely, people who depend on internal validation won’t spend that much time juggling with the thought about the opinion of others. Their efforts are mostly directed toward the following: “what do I think about myself?” If the answer is, “I think I am an honest person who is trustworthy, hard-working, and honest. I’m doing my best to show this through my daily actions.” Well, then, you won’t necessarily need a wardrobe of designer clothes to step outside your front door.
What Is The Purpose of Internal Validation?
The purpose of internal validation is to help build the inner strength we need to face the challenges of our everyday life. This way, our self-worth is mainly determined by ourselves – our skills and experience. Thus, we don’t need others to constantly approve of us.
To illustrate this, consider applying for a job. If you get rejected, you can interpret this in the following (positive) way:
“The company looks really decent. I’m not really sure why they rejected me, but it’s probably for the best. I’ll surely find another great company to work for. I’m confident in my skills and in my ability to handle any job in this category.”
This positive interpretation is based on your conviction that you have what it takes to find a job in the field you are working on. But this is not simply a hollow conviction. You’ve taken the steps to – you have experience, you’ve taken courses for this particular position, you’ve read books on the topic. Besides, you acknowledge that there is much to learn, but your confidence in your capabilities helps you dust yourself off the rejection and move on.
But things can be different. A negative interpretation of the same event can be the following:
“Gosh, they rejected me. Why? My mom and my friends are always so supportive. They constantly tell me how great I am at what I do. Why did the HR person said that I’m not a good fit for the role? Did he mean I should abandon this field and try to find a job as a truck driver? I’ll never get hired…”
When you have internal validation, you start with the assumption that you can do it. That you have what it takes. Conversely, people relying on external validation are waiting for other people to tell them that they have what it takes.
Both are hard to do. Both are uncomfortable. But the difference is that with internal validation, you don’t wait for the permission of others to take action. You give yourself permission.
What Is The Difference Between External And Internal Validation?
For decades, philosophers ask themselves the following question: “If a tree falls in the forest but nobody hears it, has it, in fact, made a sound?”
Scientifically speaking, yes, it did. But what actually bothers philosophers is not whether the falling tree will make sound waves. But does something exist if no one witnessed its existence?
The question can be related to the difference between external and internal validation.
People who rely on external validation can’t operate without others acknowledging their existence and even more so, their personalities – efforts, looks, contributions, etc.
That’s why there are millions of people obsessively sharing pictures online. When you are not that sure whether you look good or if what you do is trendy. You can easily get feedback by posting a photo of yourself online. If there are not enough people cheering on your new outfit, you’ll get a new one and repeat the process until you reach the desired likes and share count – or go bankrupt.
Furthermore, when you want external validation. It’s not enough to travel. You want others to know, too. Which, if you think about it, can question your motives for traveling. Are you going to a different country every 3 months because you want to see the world and because you enjoy traveling? Or, are you doing it to get the attention of others and to present yourself a certain way?
If it’s the former, you won’t need to post every single detail of your trip on all major social media networks. After all, you know you went there. There is still sand from Egypt in your backpack. Why the hell then, you don’t shut up about your trip on social media?
Ah yes, you do it because you want to be heard and seen. You want more and more people to acknowledge your existence because this is the only way you feel alive.
In this sense, the main difference between external and internal validation is that…
Internal validation is about doing it for yourself – for you. Not for anyone else. You exercise, learn, work, and love because you want to be better. Fulfillment comes from within. External validation is doing these same things to make others like you. In this case, fulfillment comes from others.
External validation means that the thing that motivates you is receiving praise from other people. Your self-worth is determined by others. Conversely, internal validation means that your level of self-worth relies purely on your own opinion about yourself.
Here’s a table that further showcases the difference between external and internal validation:
|External Validation:||Internal Validation:|
|Want to be seen.||Want to create.|
|Want to be accepted.||Want self-acceptance.|
|Want only praise.||Want constructive feedback|
|Want everybody to like them.||Want a handful of people to like them.|
|Fear disappointing other people.||Fear disappointing themselves.|
|Fear of rejection.||Rejection motivates them to do better.|
Internal Validation Examples
For me, at least, internal validation is having a set of things that act like a safety net that catches and catapults me back to the field when I’m feeling down.
This set is a combination of things. Some are beliefs about myself, while others are material possessions.
For example, occasionally, someone will email me mentioning how uninteresting my content is. While this initially might crush my enthusiasm. It’s just a temporary state. I quickly remind myself about the praise I receive from readers that is (thankfully) more frequent than any negative comments I get. Actually, the ratio is something like 500 to 1. Meaning that I receive 1 negative email for every 500 positive ones. Thanks to all the positive comments, I’m unmoved by hate speech about my work. I know that my content is good. But I also know that not everybody will like it. And that’s totally fine. I don’t try to please everyone. To be honest, my strategy is the opposite – don’t try to sound like everybody else, I try to offer a fresh perspective.
Another example is in relation to money and social status. A few years ago, a friend mentioned that he bought a new car. I clearly saw how others in the conversation got nervous. This was further supported by their latter actions. A few months after the conversation, one of my other friends also bought a new car. Was he planning to do it regardless of the initial chit-chat? I can’t be sure. But knowing him, I’m sure it definitely influenced him in some way.
Actually, I’ve witnessed the above scenario in similar conversations but about different possessions – phones, furniture, and other gadgets. Someone mentions that he bought something and after some time, another person who was present in the conversation usually gets the same (or more expressive) thing.
Not that I’m immune to feeling envious or wanting to receive praise for getting something luxurious. I am surely not.
But when I sit down with these feelings. I quickly remove them from my system.
Well, I am far from calling myself rich or anything. But I know that I have enough money in the bank to not try to prove myself to anyone.
I realize that I don’t have to spend most of my savings on a new vehicle that I will have to replace after 2 or 3 years if I want to externally showcase my self-worth – again.
In this case, I know that I have the means to get something new. But I also know that there is no point in doing it. The comments you get when you purchase something are so quickly fading that the process should be repeated again.
Besides, I prefer to be praised for other things – being a good father, and husband. Plus, doing interesting work.
How to Build Internal Validation?
We came to a point where the question becomes: How?
How can you build internal validation in a world where everyone is fighting for validation? A world where seemingly everyone owns this-year car model and looks always dazzling?
Well, here’s how:
1. Get In The Habit of Asking Yourself, “What do I actually want?”
When you’re about to purchase a new car. Quite often, your car doesn’t need replacement. It’s a perfectly fine architectural marvel that still runs and doesn’t cost a lot of money to maintain. The underlying concept pushing you to the dealer shop is your desire to receive recognition from your group of friends – your tribe.
Understanding this hidden motive will help you (hopefully) spot that, if you do subscribe to the notion that others like you for what you can buy. Inevitably, your life will become a grim and expensive loop consisting of purchasing new things in order to renew the recognition you receive from your peers.
What you actually want is someone to tell you that you matter. That you are a good friend. That you are good-looking. That you have good taste.
Interestingly, you don’t need to spend X amount of money just to get these comments. What you can do is talk with a friend. Explain the situation. Tell them how you feel. What you are thinking. If this person is, indeed, a good friend. You will get what you want without getting into debt.
2. Take Responsibility For Everything You Do
One thing I wish I had learned earlier in life is that practically no one cares about you.
Sure, you have your family and friends that do care. But your family and friends can’t be by your side everywhere you go. You can’t bring your momma with you to the office to help with a difficult conversation with a co-worker. You can’t expect your friends to live in your house and support you when you fight with your spouse.
At some point, you are all by yourself in life and the people around you are genuinely uninterested in you. Like everyone else, they care about themselves.
This means that you should take responsibility.
Eventually, I figured it out. I realized that I was doing all possible to avoid taking charge of my life. I was complaining about a lot of things, but that’s the only thing I was doing – complaining.
I was not only bad company to whoever wanted to listen. But I was also a dysfunctional person. Totally unprepared for adult life.
At some point it hit me. Thanks to the books I’ve read. I changed my mental models, and I finally realized that no one owns me anything. A company doesn’t owe me a spot in their ranks just because I applied. I have to earn that spot.
3. Engage In Painful and Discomforting Activities
Avoiding pain and discomfort, as strange as it might sound at first, can lead you to a nasty place. Or, prevent you from exiting a nasty place you are already in.
As I wrote in great things never came from comfort zones, you can’t expect to achieve meaningful things if you mostly live in a safety zone.
As you can’t gain strength if you don’t progressively lift heavier weights. You also can’t enhance your intellectual fortitude if you simply scroll through the hazardous mountain tops of infinite social media posts.
Getting from here to there – where here is a place of sameness and round body figure and there is a place of a fit body. Always involves a step outside the know through the vast dark forests where pain and struggle are waiting to beat you up.
Yeah, it sounds harsh, but that’s the truth.
The good thing about dealing with discomforting activities is that they not only help you gain experience. Not only help you become a functional adult. But they boost your inner validation.
At your low points, you can simply bring to memory the time you run a marathon. Or the time you donated money to a campaign even when you weren’t doing so well financially.
4. Acknowledge Your Progress And Strengths
One thing I recently started doing is to record my achievements and the praise I receive from others in an online journal.
The entries are quite random at times, but the idea is to add things I was uncomfortable doing at first and when I hit a milestone on a long-term project. Plus, nice comments I receive about my work.
Soon enough, you have a folder that acts like a warm hug every time you open it. If you feel down for whatever reason. If you did a stupid mistake or if the project you are working on is not going as you expected. You can remind yourself that you have it. You’ve done it before. That you’ve achieved a lot of things in the past. By doing this, you realize that surely you can proceed. It is only a matter of time before you get the desired result.
Good comments and achievements are quickly forgotten. If you are generally negative toward yourself – and I do know a lot of people who are. If you often fall into self-criticism, even if you don’t deserve it. Reminding yourself of what you’ve accomplished in the past can get you out of the pit of self-pity.
5. Spend Time for Self-Observation
We all feel good when we are praised. We love it when others affirm our feelings. When others say that we did a good job.
These wants are a normal part of our operating system. We are social animals. We are designed to operate in a group and feel accepted by the people in the group.
But if we completely outsource the need for approval. If validation reaches an unhealthy level. We will forever doubt our abilities and constantly wait for others to tell us that we look good to feel good.
The question here is why? Why do we rely on others to feel worthy?
The practice of self-observation is a helpful guide in such cases. I’ve picked it up from the great short book called How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry.
It’s all about uncovering our hidden feelings, so we can stop self-sabotaging habits.
So, instead of becoming needy and asking for others to comment on our newest post. We can take a few minutes to acknowledge what is missing in our lives. Why don’t we feel enough? Why do we need others to tell us that we did a good job?
Once you spot how you feel. And how you think. You can ask yourself the following question to re-direct yourself to a better place:
What do I want for myself in this new moment?
Do you want to spend the next four hours thinking about how you can optimize your next Instagram post for more likes? Or, you can use that time to optimize the life you have outside social media. Do something that will improve your self-esteem and make you proud of yourself without needing others to tell you that you doing good.
Some Closing Thoughts
What does this all mean?
Do I need only internal validation to operate in the world?
No. Confidence and self-esteem require both. Besides, if you only depend on internal validation. If you don’t need others to tell you that you are good. This will potentially lead you to another darker place – becoming egoistic and narcissistic.
It’s unhealthy to rely only on internal validation or only on external validation. You need both.
Ideally, when the two affirmations are present. You will be appreciated by the people around you, plus you will value yourself for yourself.
Both of these will help you move forward in life.
Where do you go from here?
There are certain books that can help you with internal validation and self-esteem in general.
If you are interested in exploring the topic further. I recommend the following pieces:
- Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman [Actionable Summary]
- Games People Play by Eric Berne [Actionable Summary]
- Grit by Angela Duckworth [Actionable Summary]
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Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- For more on the topic, check the following: We Buy Things We Don’t Need.