The need for external validation is at an all-time high. More than ever, people want to feel seen and heard and know their life matters. When you turn down the volume of everything going on in the world around you, these questions are probably on repeat in the back of your mind, too.
We all ask these questions of our parents, partners, friends, employers, and peers. It is a given that people crave validation. As Jay Shetty explains, one of the biggest myths we’re led to believe is that seeking validation is a bad thing.
“When we talk about validation in this way, that validation seeking is negative, we're often focused on the extremes, like the feeling of needing to be validated in everything you do, of having an intense fear of doing or saying something that will be judged harshly, or negatively by others,” Jay Shetty says. “That kind of validation seeking is unhealthy, because we're constantly changing ourselves in response to what we think others think so that they judge us more favorably.”
“Yet validation does have an important role in our lives,” he continues. “When people say we shouldn't want or need any validation from others, that's simply not realistic. It's not how we're wired. Our brains are highly attuned to react to both harmony and disagreement.”
When you look for validation, you're looking for recognition and reassurance that you matter and belong. So how can you resolve that craving for validation in a healthy way? In this article, Jay Shetty explores why people crave validation, what you can do to feel seen and heard, and which types of validation activities are helpful and which are harmful.
Social media has many benefits, but it can also have drawbacks. A built-in validation exists in the way that likes and views drive social media. Huffington Post writer Clarissa Silva conducted in-depth interviews with active social media users aged 28 to 73 and found that 60 percent of them said that social media has harmed their self-esteem.1
“When social media has this impact on us, when we get off a feed or an app feeling worse about ourselves or our lives, it's a strong indication that we're assigning at least some of our need for validation to social media,” Jay Shetty explains. “We're going there with the intention, usually a very unconscious intention, to check in and gauge how we should feel about ourselves about whether we're winning our life compared with what others share in their posts or how others rate our lives.”
Comparing your life to what you see on social media leads to a slippery slope of validation-seeking behavior. You create doubts in your life by questioning if your life stacks up to what you see from others. This type of validation is based on a skewed perception the other person creates.
Social media is about what other people want you to see. It is the glitz and glam of life, someone’s controlled narration of what they want you to believe to gain the attention they seek.
“It's not at all real life,” Jay Shetty explains. “It's only a slice of life. Even when sentiments and content are authentic, they're planned. So for the most part, you're only seeing a portion of someone's experience at a time when they want to share it with you. It doesn’t make sense to measure the quality or value of your life and experiences against someone else's curated videos or images.”
You want to show yourself in the best light, but you’re not even validating your authentic self when you ask for validation based on someone else’s life. Jay Shetty explains that isn’t a real measure of value. You’re seeking validation on a curated version of life. Sometimes you become so lost in the media version of yourself that you have difficulty recognizing who you are.
“We're, in effect, creating a double consciousness, where we can even start to prefer to communicate with people digitally, rather than in real life,” Clarissa Silver writes. “Because over digital means, like social media, emails, and texts, it's easier to manipulate our presentation of ourselves.”1
This method does not build self-esteem, authenticity, or deep connections, and without these things, says Jay Shetty, a person loses the sense of who they are. This drives the appetite for validation, an appetite that cannot be satisfied. When a person loses their sense of self, they look to others to tell them who they are.
How many times have you heard someone say, “Just don’t care what other people think!” But is that always the answer? What about people who are intensely rude or insensitive to others’ feelings? Should they not take into account other people’s feelings?
“There's a certain amount of behavior and fitting in that helps us to create a kinder, more cohesive society,” explains Jay Shetty. “If we say ‘I don't care what anyone thinks,’ it just isn't genuine. We aren't being truthful with ourselves. Our brains are really smart. When we tell ourselves, ‘It doesn't matter what other people think. I don't care.’ our brains know better.”
This does not mean we should try by whatever means necessary to fit in. We need to learn to manage our desire to belong and one way to do that is by self-affirmation. Self-affirmation is not simply thinking positive thoughts about yourself. It is identifying and listing aspects of yourself and the connection to your values that affirm who you are.
Jay Shetty explains that when you have a more grounded and supported sense of who you are, you are more likely to have an accurate understanding of yourself, and it's easier to learn and grow. When you have a strong sense of self, you are not overthrown by shame. When you make a mistake, you can simply correct it.
Using the example of Bruce Lee, Jay Shetty explained the importance of knowing who you are. As Shetty explains, Bruce Lee wanted to be anyone but himself. Early in his Hollywood career, he was filming the TV show The Green Hornet. At one point, he looked around and saw a room filled with other people and realized he was acting like a robot, trying to gain external validation by moving and speaking the expected way rather than the way he would normally choose. It was then he learned the importance of being yourself and not just trying to imitate others.
Connect with Your Values
How do you address your need for self-esteem and affirmation and use validation as a positive relationship-building tool? Jay Shetty says this is done by being connected to your values and holding a clear vision of what motivates you.
Values are something you can control. No one can take them from you, and you don’t need others’ approval of them. The important thing is that you determine what your values are.
“If you haven't identified and affirmed your own values, there's no way to tell how you’re doing,” explains Jay Shetty. “If you’re judging yourself by external factors, how you are doing is actually invalid, because other people can't set your values for you.”
A great exercise to help you align your values and focus on self-affirmation is to write down six to 10 values you hold in order of their importance to you. Take a few minutes to see which value is most important to you and what that role plays in your life.
Once you have done that, take time to figure out how you honor that value in your life daily. Be specific so you know the actions you take that help you stay loyal to this value. When you feel out of alignment, Jay Shetty suggests identifying those areas and making tweaks to grow and improve.
Know Your Worth
When unsettling situations arise, knowing your values and self-worth leads to a healthy ego and positive self-affirmation. This doesn't mean telling yourself you do everything right and that you are perfect, but rather affirming you are imperfect but still have lots to offer.
A great exercise for self-validation when you don’t believe you fit in is to ask yourself: what are the unique or unusual things I bring to this space?
“I promise you that for any way you are unlike others in your space, in your field, or in your job, there are powerful positive ways those differences can work to your benefit,” Jay Shetty shares.
If you struggle with comparing yourself to others in the search for validation for your life, Jay Shetty invites you to focus for 15 minutes a day for an entire week on working on these exercises to help improve your self-validation abilities and help you to calibrate your self-perception.
“Start with a list of all the things you're good at, as well as the areas where you could improve,” Jay Shetty explains. “This will help foster equanimity and balance in how you see yourself. Incidentally, this will also help you be less judgmental of others and help keep you from putting others on a pedestal, both of which can be easy to do when our own sense of self is imbalanced, or our self esteem is low.”
A beautiful quote by St. Augustine says, “The truth is like a lion; you don't have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
This is true about your worth as well. You don't have to defend who you are in this world. You are not responsible for what others think of you. Your responsibility is to live in a way that adheres to your values and priorities. You can use input from others to help calibrate your thoughts and actions, but do not rely on them for your sense of self. Live your truth. It will defend itself.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “4 Reasons We Crave External Validation” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.