We all want to be acknowledged and appreciated — it’s natural to seek validation from others.
But when the craving for affirmation becomes constant, it can disrupt your happiness and self-confidence.
As someone who has been there, I understand how draining it can be to always seek approval.
But did you know that science can shed light on why some of us find ourselves trapped in this cycle?
In this article, we’ll explore three scientifically-backed reasons behind the perpetual need for validation, and how understanding these factors can help you break free and find authentic self-worth.
1) You have low self-esteem
Low self-esteem can be a significant driver for the constant need for validation. It often stems from a lack of self-worth and self-love.
When we struggle with these feelings, seeking approval from others becomes a way to momentarily fill that void.
Psychiatrist Timothy Jeider at Nevada Mental Health explains:
“We use approval to bolster our value. That approval validates us. When our internal sense of worth fails, whether from not ever properly being built, mental illness sabotaging it, or just having a bad day of doubting ourselves, that’s when we turn to approval.”
The roots of low self-esteem are usually deep-seated and may trace back to traumatic events, childhood abuse, insecure attachment styles, or other emotional challenges resulting from adverse experiences.
These experiences can make it difficult for someone to develop a healthy sense of self-worth, and they may turn to external validation as a means to compensate for this inner lack.
While it may provide temporary relief, it’s not a long-term solution. Instead, understanding the origin of this need for validation can help you start to address your low self-esteem and cultivate authentic self-worth.
2) You had difficult childhood experiences
Childhood is a critical time in our lives when we form our beliefs about the world and ourselves.
And so, experiencing difficult situations as a child can lead to a lifetime of struggling with low self-esteem and insecurity.
As a result, some adults may find it challenging to validate themselves and may turn to others for validation, engaging in people-pleasing behaviors.
Shana Feibel, a psychiatrist at The Lindner Center of Hope and the University of Cincinnati, confirms the profound impact that childhood experiences can have on our tendency to seek approval.
She points out that bullying and any form of abuse in childhood can lead adupts to seek constant validation from others.
Understanding how your past experiences have shaped your behaviors can be a powerful step towards healing and self-acceptance.
It allows you to recognize that your need for validation is rooted in your past, and you can work on creating a healthier self-concept and breaking free from people-pleasing patterns.
3) You were emotionally neglected growing up
In addition to difficult experiences, emotional neglect is another part of childhood that can shape our adult outlook — and our need for validation from others.
Timothy Jeider, a psychiatrist at Nevada Mental Health, explains:
“Successfully going through childhood development typically imparts a solidified sense of self-worth and value.”
Children who are consistently validated and approved of by their caregivers develop a strong sense of value. As they grow, they become confident in their ability to self-validate and no longer depend on external sources for approval.
Jeider goes on to say:
“Repeated approval over reinforces and builds validation. Criticism undermines validation.”
So when a child grows up in an environment where they are emotionally neglected or dismissed by their parents, they may struggle with self-validation and often seek approval from others.
Emotional neglect in childhood can have long-lasting effects on your sense of self-worth, but understanding this connection can empower you to break the cycle of seeking external validation.
You can learn to validate yourself and cultivate self-worth from within, no longer relying on others for approval.
Overcoming the need to constantly seek validation from others
Now that you understand the science behind why you may seek external validation, you may ask “What now?”
Well, this knowledge helps you get to the root of the issue, and find a better coping mechanism.
It will vary from person to person, depending on the exact reason you have and your context.
However, here are 3 solid tips that will help you stop relying on other people for assurance.
1) Practice self-compassion
One of the most effective ways to overcome the need for external validation is by practicing self-compassion. This means treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and patience, just as you would treat a dear friend who is struggling.
By being kind to yourself, especially when you make mistakes or experience setbacks, you learn to become less critical of yourself and stop getting caught up in negative thought patterns.
Instead, you will be more understanding and forgiving of your own flaws and imperfections.
To practice self-compassion, try the following exercise:
- Think of a recent situation where you felt inadequate or like you made a mistake.
- Write a letter to yourself, as if you were writing to a close friend who is going through the same situation.
- Offer understanding, empathy, and reassurance to your “friend” (yourself), reminding them that they are not alone, and that it’s okay to be imperfect.
- Reflect on the kind words you wrote and try to internalize them.
By practicing self-compassion, you’ll find that you become less reliant on others for validation and approval. Instead, you’ll be able to provide it for yourself, fostering a sense of inner peace and self-acceptance.
2) Set personal boundaries
Learning to set personal boundaries is a powerful way to reduce your need for external validation.
At the beginning, it may feel like a restriction to you. But in the long run, it will help you prioritize your needs, feelings, and well-being, and be less likely to rely on others for approval.
Start by recognizing situations where you tend to seek validation, such as in relationships or when making decisions. Pay attention to how you feel in these situations and identify any patterns.
Next, practice asserting yourself by communicating your needs, values, and limits. For example, if you find yourself always agreeing with others to gain their approval, practice saying “no” when you disagree or when something doesn’t align with your values.
It’s essential to remember that setting boundaries is a continuous process, and it’s okay to adjust them as you learn more about yourself and your needs.
By setting and maintaining personal boundaries, you’ll become more confident in your choices and learn to validate yourself without seeking external approval.
3) Spend time with yourself and learn to enjoy solitude
Spending time alone is an essential step in understanding and accepting yourself, and it can significantly reduce your need for external validation.
By embracing solitude, you can connect with your inner thoughts, feelings, and desires, allowing you to understand your true needs and motivations.
During these moments with yourself, take the time to engage in activities that make you happy and fulfilled — whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, practicing mindfulness, or simply sitting quietly and reflecting on your day.
The important thing is that you’re fully present with yourself, just as you would be with a friend or a partner.
As you become more comfortable with solitude and develop your relationship with yourself, you’ll begin to realize that you don’t need others’ approval to feel content and fulfilled. You’ll learn to appreciate your own company and validate your own feelings and experiences.
On the journey to greater self-assurance
Now you know 3 reasons why you might constantly seek validation from others, according to science.
And you also have 3 great tips to help you start letting go of this behavior.
I hope this article has shed some clarity on the topic for you, and armed you with knowledge to help make your life and your wellbeing better.
If it’s something you struggle with a great deal, make sure to reach out to a mental health expert who can help you with your particular situation and challenges.
Remember, it’s never a weakness to ask for help — rather, it shows great courage, self-awareness, and commitment to your own personal growth.