Is your need for validation keeping you stuck?

need for validation
Photo: Peter Conlan

Seeking validation is something that many of us do—often without realizing it. Case in point: while you’re getting ready to go out with friends, you may turn to them and ask, “Does this outfit look okay?” in hopes they’ll reassure you. Or maybe you call a former colleague to bounce your idea of leaving your job off of them, looking for someone to validate your decision. Or perhaps you’re glued to your phone each time you post on social media looking for “likes” and comments.

This type of behavior is relatively common, but there’s a big difference between the need for occasional validation and frequently seeking reassurance and encouragement from those around you. According to therapist Jordan Vyas-Lee, this behavior can arise in early childhood due to a range of reasons—such as a new step-parent or sibling, parents separating, or a parent moving away and not returning.

In almost all cases, a young person will develop a sense of abandonment and self-defectiveness as a result of inconsistent or disappearing affection,” explains Vyas-Lee, a CBT and EMDR therapist and co-founder of London-based Vyas-Lee Practice. “[This] feeling internalizes and gets carried into later adult relationships, which can manifest in all manner of behaviorally insecure ways if left unchecked and untreated.” 

How the need for validation shows up in your dating life

In an MTV survey involving 800 people ages 18-29, 61 percent said what they enjoy most about online dating is finding people who consider them attractive. 54 percent said they prefer online dating more than going on dates in real life. This indicates a wider issue of many people using dating apps to boost their self-esteem and to feel desirable to others.

It’s natural to desire compliments, but when does it start to become a problem? The answer depends on how much you rely on these interactions to make you feel good about yourself. 

If you need the person you’re dating to affirm you frequently and validate your feelings, it’s often a sign of a lack of trust in yourself. When you’re unsure of your own feelings and emotions, you turn to others to tell you what you need to hear instead. Unfortunately, this can cause problems even in the early dating stages, as this need for validation can put undue pressure and expectations on your partner.

Additionally, putting your self-esteem in someone else’s hands creates an uneven power dynamic in which they have the upper hand. They may be able to make you feel good sometimes, but they can just as easily make you feel bad about yourself.

How this dynamic can continue into relationships

If you exhibit the need for validation during the dating stage, it’s likely to carry through into your relationship if it goes unaddressed. Even if you believe you are in a secure and healthy relationship, these self-esteem issues can still rise to the surface. 

The demanding need for validation and affection can be stifling to most partners and often results in significant relationship ruptures over time,” says Vyas-Lee.

When you consistently doubt yourself, you’ll experience a range of emotions such as confusion, anger, sadness, and even jealousy. Often, these feelings can be internalized and cause distress, or they may erupt during an argument. Both of these scenarios can take a toll on your mental health and cause your partner to become more distant out of self-preservation. It can be draining spending time with someone who expects so much, especially when you know that you can’t give them exactly what they need. 

Curbing the need for validation

Whether your need for validation stems from low self-esteem or trauma, the important piece is that you don’t ignore it. While it can be daunting to admit and accept that you’re not okay, asking for help is a necessary step in the right direction. Here are four suggestions for changing course:

Practicing self-validation

If you are frequently doubting yourself and putting yourself down, learning the art of self-validation can be a game-changer. Put simply, self-validation means accepting your thoughts and feelings rather than second-guessing them.  

This starts with accepting that sometimes you will experience thoughts and emotions that are unlike you. Instead, you recognize that they likely stem from trauma or anger, often linked to past experiences or toxic relationships. Instead of feeling shame around your feelings, accept them for what they are. Recognize that your feelings are valid, but they don’t always reflect you as a person.

Complimenting yourself

Instead of waiting for others to give you praise, fill up your own cup! Your date or your partner can make you feel good for a moment, but only you can make yourself feel truly good inside and out. The reason for this is simple—no number of compliments will ever make you feel good if you don’t believe it yourself.  

A good exercise to practice is to give yourself three compliments in the mirror each day—whether about your appearance, personality, strength, or anything you choose. Giving yourself this moment to reflect on who you are as a person and appreciate those qualities will help you to build a better relationship with yourself. And in doing that, it will strengthen your other relationships, too.

Having honest discussions

It may feel easier to keep your feelings buried deep inside, but doing so can create a relationship rift, as your partner will sense that you’re hiding your true self from them. Maintaining a strong, healthy relationship begins with having those difficult conversations and working on your problems together.

A couple might be able to work through persistent validation-seeking by talking openly, constructively, and non-judgmentally,” says Vyas-Lee. “Clear communication, well-established boundaries, and building trust slowly can help a struggling individual to feel more secure over time.”

Seeking therapy

Vyas-Lee recommends “psychotherapy with an attachment focus” for those seeking to overcome the need for validation—particularly Attachment-Focused EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which cues individuals to relieve early relationships through rich imagery. “A therapist will help their client to update their feelings around the ruptured relationships by viewing the experiences through more adaptive adult perspectives,” explains Vyas-Lee.

Most people can benefit from going to therapy—it allows you to truly open up and dig deeper into those buried emotions tied to past experiences. By drilling down to the root cause of your validation-seeking, you can prevent it from becoming a vicious cycle.

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