People who are confident on the surface but secretly crave validation usually display these 4 behaviors

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Confidence. It’s a trait most of us admire and aspire to possess. At least, I admire it and strive to maintain a healthy level of it. 

But to do this, many of us follow that mantra of “Fake it till you make it.” 

It’s no surprise then, when it comes to confidence, often, all is not as it seems. Sometimes, under a polished exterior of self-belief lies an undercurrent of self-doubt and a craving for validation. 

This can be hard to spot, however. Even those who seem the most confident might be fighting inner battles that we know nothing about. How can we tell?

Well, that’s what we get into today: four behaviors these people tend to display. Who knows—you might even discover something about yourself along the way.

Let’s dive in. 

1) They’re perfectionists

Picture this: You’re working on a project with a colleague who is known for their confidence. They seem to have everything under control, always delivering top-notch work. 

However, when working closely with them you notice they spend an enormous amount of time reviewing their work, tweaking little details, and fretting over minor imperfections that no one else even notices.

While it might sound a bit counterintuitive, this sort of perfectionism can often be a sign of someone who is outwardly confident but secretly craves validation.

As noted by Psychotherapist Richard B. Joelson, “Perfectionists are motivated by self-doubt and fears of disapproval, ridicule, and rejection.” 

The folks at Psychology Today echo this, noting that “Perfectionism is driven primarily by internal pressures, such as the desire to avoid failure or harsh judgment.”

Basically, perfectionism can sometimes be motivated to prove worth and gain approval from others.The need to get everything perfect may stem from a fear of being judged or criticized. By ensuring every detail is spotless, they hope to avoid any negative feedback that could potentially shake their confidence.

So, if you come across someone who seems to be confident but is a stickler for perfection, it might be wise to read between the lines. 

They may well be trying to shield themselves against criticism and as a tool for seeking validation…especially if they also show this next behavior. 

2) They always need others’ opinions before making a decision

Have you ever noticed someone who seems to have it all together, yet they frequently ask for your opinion or approval? 

As you might have guessed, this is actually a subtle but common sign of self-doubt.

Research by Psyhc Tests backs this up. Among people who were considered “self-doubters,” 54% needed others to approve their decisions before they felt comfortable. On the flip side, only 7% of people who were categorized as “self-believers” felt this need. 

It could be about their work, their decisions, or even their appearance. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we all need a little reassurance sometimes. But when it becomes a persistent pattern, it might point to a deeper need for validation.

3) They don’t take criticism well

During my time as an academic manager at a language school, I had the privilege of working with many talented educators. 

One teacher, in particular, stood out for his confidence and enthusiasm in the classroom—a quality that’s indispensable in teaching. His ability to engage and inspire his students was remarkable, and his classes were always among the most popular.

However, when it came time for performance reviews, a different side of him emerged. 

His reviews were predominantly positive, reflecting his dedication and skill. But we always included a “things to work on” section in our evaluations; we did this with everyone. This wasn’t about nitpicking but fostering growth; after all, isn’t it valuable to learn from a perspective other than our own?

Anyway, despite the overwhelmingly positive feedback, he fixated on the constructive criticism. His usual confidence seemed to vanish, replaced by defensiveness. He would often justify his methods, finding reasons why the feedback didn’t apply. Sometimes, he’d become unusually quiet, his usual vibrant demeanor dampened.

It was a stark contrast to the dynamic teacher we all knew. 

Reflecting on this, I realized it wasn’t unique to him. Many who struggle to accept criticism do so not necessarily because they believe they’re above improvement but because they’re secretly afraid that any criticism might confirm their hidden fears of not being good enough. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but as it turns out, the experts would agree. 

Marriage and family therapist Neil Rosenthal, for example, has noted that “If someone has very low self-esteem, they’re going to be extremely sensitive to any form of critique, correction, criticism or admonishment –even if what you say is meant constructively, and even if it’s 100 percent true.”  

4) They’re constantly posting on social media

We all need a little tap on the back from time to time. 

However, some seemingly confident people have an unhealthy craving for it. And if they want to remain appearing confident, they can’t be asking for validation from all the people around them.  This would be too obvious. So where do they turn?

To perhaps the perfect validation vehicle we have ever had; social media. 

I don’t know about you, but social media seems to have normalized rather unhealthy validation-seeking behaviors

Imagine a young version of your grandma, meticulously staging a photo of herself, then developing and mailing copies of that photo to all her friends with a note attached, “Do you like it? Please let me know!” 

Sounds crazy, right? Yet, that’s essentially what many do today in the digital realm. 

Anyway, particularly for individuals who secretly crave validation, social media can become a platform for seeking approval. They might post frequently about their successes, their adventures, or even their everyday happenings, hoping to garner likes, comments, and shares. 

However, as noted by psychologist Bonnie Zucker, this can “ feed into excessive reassurance-seeking behaviors and unhealthy attempts at getting validation from others” and “Excessive reassurance-seeking does not effectively address problems” as it is all about external validation. 

This has also been backed up by research, with study after study indicating a link between excessive social media use and low self-esteem. 

The point is if you know someone who is constantly posting on social media, it might be more than just sharing – it could be their way of seeking validation.

The bottom line 

That just about wraps it up for today, folks. 

It’s okay to seek validation – we all do it to some extent. The key is to recognize it and ensure it doesn’t overrule our sense of self-worth.

If you happen to see these signs in someone, it might be time to read between the lines.

As always, I hope you found some value in this post. 

Until next time. 

Mal James

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business.

As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys.

In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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