Do you ever wonder if you’re dependent on external validation? Or found yourself worried about how this dependency may affect you, your life, your relationships, and your career? Maybe you’ve tried to figure out if looking to others for approval has influenced your creativity or performance.

Let’s look at what it takes to detect and heal that over-reliance on external validation.

First, what is validation?

Can you recall a moment when you felt someone could really see and hear you, understand you, and respect your feelings? Can you think of a moment when you were allowed to truly have and inhabit your emotional space without being questioned, denied, or interfered with? This is validation.

Validation doesn’t mean someone is simply offering their approval of what you feel.  It’s not about whether they agree with you or not. It simply means: I hear you, I see you.  And I may not understand you, but I’m still respecting your feelings.

It also means: I am not judging, dismissing, or analyzing your feelings. I am not ignoring your emotions. I am not questioning why you feel what you feel. I am just acknowledging what you’re experiencing.

When someone validates you, it feels like an acknowledgment that your internal experience is real. 

 Why is validation important?

Validation allows you to be connected to your own inner world and to understand who you are. It gives you the space to see and feel your internal world.  When you’ve experienced true validation you have a better understanding of who you are, what makes you laugh or cry,  what sparks your motivation or interest, and what frustrates or disappoints you. You’re able to say, “This is me!” I know what I feel and what I believe. This is me!

Healthy experiences of validation help you find, connect with yourself, and develop your identity.

Your connection to yourself is the most important connection you’ll ever have. It is at the center of all your other connections and at the heart of all you want to express or accomplish.  It sets the stage for everything else you do or experience – from developing relationships to creating your life.

Validation gives you genuine, grounded confidence to put in your best effort and work toward what you want to accomplish. When you’ve experienced compassionate validation, you can say,  “I trust that I can take on the world. I may not know the end result, but I know where I stand in my journey now and make my best choices now.”

The need for external vs. internal validation is one of the most profound emotional needs we have. 

But maybe your needs for validation were never met when you were a child. 

Maybe you had a lack of validation in your early formative years. Perhaps your feelings were dismissed or criticized way too many times. You were left alone, lost in your feelings, with no one to support you, over and over again. Or perhaps expressing how you felt resulted in being punished, ridiculed, or not believed.

With such a childhood, you’re left with unmet validation needs – leaving you too dependent on outside validation because, on the inside, you’re full of self-consciousness, insecurity, and self-doubt.

What does dependency on external validation look like? Here are a few scenarios:

Somebody makes a comment about you. You find yourself emotionally charged and can’t let go. How could they think this of me? You’re completely preoccupied with what others may think of you.

– You go on to an audition or a presentation, and your focus is on whether people like you – instead of the purpose, the meaning, the quality of what you present.  In other words, you’re “self-conscious.”

– You come back from a social event, and rather than thinking that you met some interesting people and had a great time, you’re consumed by what other people think of you.

– You lose contact with your authentic self when you most need to be yourself: during a speech or audition. When you do this, you disconnect from your talents and skills. Your presentation or audition lacks authenticity, and you can’t connect to your audience.  You’re focused on impressing others rather than making a connection with your audience.

– You find it hard to push through the challenges of finishing your work – your novel, painting, art show, or a project. You’re stuck on what others will think of you or your work.

– When you get constructive feedback on your work or your performance, it triggers feelings of shame, anger, or anxiety. You can’t use the feedback to improve your skills.

– You often lose your confidence or sense of trust in yourself. You doubt that you have what it takes to succeed. Instead of putting your efforts into developing your talent and skills or focusing on your goals, you’re lost in insecurities and fears.

– You’re chasing compliments and applause, and you feel anxious when you don’t receive such approval.  Being on the stage, the center of attention, or hunting for likes on social media is your main motivation, rather than endeavoring to connect, to have purpose, or to bring value. 

How can EMDR therapy help you to stop relying on external validation?

Healing the wounds caused by a lack of healthy validation requires deep emotional work. You need the right emotional healing environment in which you can truly feel heard and seen. However, even in the most healing emotional space, you can – consciously or unconsciously – put up walls that prevent someone from seeing the real you. It’s hard to be vulnerable and reveal your feelings when you’ve learned that vulnerability takes you nowhere or only leads to pain.

A part of you craves to come out, while a part of you still needs to hide behind your protective emotional walls. So how can you pull down the walls that keep you from being fully seen and heard when you feel so conflicted about showing up? 

This is where Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing comes in.  EMDR therapy is a very efficient way to overcome layers and layers of defenses so you can show up and heal.

A good EMDR therapist will gently and compassionately offer you the safe and supportive emotional environment you need to release your old defenses and learn how to find validation in yourself.  In this process, you can reveal the hidden parts of yourself that are hard to show but need so desperately to be seen.

While some psychotherapy forms don’t work with your walls of defense and offer only temporary and superficial symptom relief, there are approaches to therapy that are specifically designed to dismantle those walls in order to create long-term, stable healing.

In my practice, I combine EMDR with neuropsychology and a psychodynamic approach to therapy that enables my clients to move through their defenses, layer after layer. In time, those defenses fall away, and we find ourselves on a powerful, lasting healing journey.

In therapy, as validation injuries are healed, you start taking in healthy validation moments. You emotionally learn what it’s like to be recognized and accepted for who you are. In time, this helps you build your own sense of self-validation so you can feel OK in yourself, regardless of how others seem to perceive you. 

Sometimes, when clients come to my office (or, in the age of the Coronavirus, an online session), they are so accustomed to external validation that they have no idea what it feels like to be genuinely seen, heard, and understood. They can’t even imagine a life in which they connect, create, and achieve their goals with access to healthy forms of validation, and they don’t know what self-validation looks or feels like. They have no clue how to stop relying on external validation.

As we move through their psychotherapy journey together, the client starts to understand what it means to truly feel heard and seen. They experience the kind of compassionate witnessing and validation that they may have never experienced in childhood or at any time in life. I can see how feeling validated, not because they performed well but simply because they showed up as their full selves, shifts their internal world from self-consciousness to self-awareness. They move away from an insatiable hunger for external validation as they move toward a sense of inner, grounded validation.

As they begin to rely on themselves, not on other people’s approval, I notice how they connect to their own inner world, their wisdom, or “gut feelings” with a sense of joyful surprise and acceptance.  I witness how they start feeling their feelings. Feeling validated just for being who you are is a powerful emotional experience.

And then, they go out in the world, guided by their renewed connection to themselves, and come back to report things like:

“It’s not that I didn’t care about what other people like me or not. It just didn’t seem important. I just wanted to have fun and enjoy being with people.”

“I felt at home with myself during my audition. I felt connected to my art, my acting, my way of telling the story. At the end, I could see I’d  had an impact.”

“My performance felt real. I felt like I was at one with my talents and skills, I didn’t have to think about it, I just performed.  It got tears in my eyes, the beauty of feeling so connected to what I do.”

“I was so passionate about what I wanted to say, the meaning, and my willingness to be helpful that people in the audience believed and trusted my expertise. I think because I trusted that I knew that I bring value. I did not have to convince anyone.”  

These are the changes I see happening in an EMDR psychotherapy journey – people move from emotional injuries caused by a lack of loving validation to a more grounded and healthy sense of internal validation that transforms what they feel they need from others.

The goal is to create a healthy relationship with your need for validation 

When you’ve healed the validation wounds of your past, you can accept validation from others and feel the emotional sense of wholeness and connection without a sense of dependency.  You can recognize the feeling of being invalidated and move on without being emotionally stuck or overwhelmed.  You stay connected to your own truth, grounded in your reality.

You can become your own instrument of validation, soothing and supporting yourself from within when the external environment fails.

When you’re intimately in touch with who you are and what you need, there’s no limit to your ability to connect, create, and achieve. 

If you are interested in EMDR therapy and would like to know if it is appropriate for you, please contact me for your free 15-20-minute phone consultation. I can help you understand the need for external validation after years of childhood trauma.

I am Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Doctor in Clinical Psychology. I help creatives and performers with their life struggles, depression, anxiety, performance anxiety, creativity, relationships and love, PTSD, and addictions – to become their own best version. You can read more about Therapy for Creatives here.

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