‘For the longest time, I haven’t known how I feel about myself’

External validation becomes dangerous when we solely rely on other people to determine our self-worth

I can drum up so many experiences in my mind where I did something I felt I should be proud of, but stopped myself from enjoying it because I didn’t have “proof”.

This proof I speak of is like a seal of approval from a friend, family member, or colleague. I couldn’t allow myself to dive in to it or enjoy it without knowing an external source thought it was good too. This extends to everything, from the work I do, to how I am as a person, how I look, and more.

When I think of my mental health, I consider myself quite resilient today and in a relatively good place. In saying that, there are still some habits I’ve developed from the traumatic events I’ve experienced. Sometimes, it feels like these habits are weighing me down, implicating my ability to move on and set myself free. One of those habits is always chasing external validation and never looking for it from within.

The traumatic events I encountered during my childhood and teen years have certainly left some scars. They have strongly impacted my self-esteem and confidence. It’s not a fun thing to admit, but, for the longest time, I haven’t known how I feel about myself. On some occasions, I can recognise things I have done well, but then other times when I’ve made a mistake, I’m the first person to jump down my own throat about it.


This lack of knowing how I feel about myself has resulted in a strong need for validation to affirm my self-worth. For the longest time, I thought it was relatively normal to look to others to build me up. I never realised I could fulfil that role for myself if I had better self-esteem and an overall stronger sense of self. While I did think this was the normal route to self-love, I can’t help but look back now and see the many issues with it.

For instance, how could squeezing words from others improve how I view myself? Self-love through other people’s affirmations just doesn’t make sense. After all, self-esteem is by definition how one feels about themselves. I suppose this explains why it never truly worked. It would last momentarily, but quickly vanish and I’d be relentlessly looking for my next person to give me a full review. This validation chasing gave off a similar feeling to making an impulse purchase. Not only that but it is also important to recognise the pressure of playing a role as a validator.

The people I requested these kind words from always knew exactly what I was up to.

With this in mind, they were anxious about saying the wrong thing and potentially setting me off in the opposite direction. Beyond the questionable effectiveness of this strategy towards self-love and acceptance, looking for external validation can be a problematic road for other reasons. True growth and healing should derive from internal sources of validation and building a greater sense of self-worth that is not primarily dependent on other people.

Recognising the harm in only looking for validation from external sources, I’ve become increasingly frustrated. This reliance on other people’s opinions and seals of approval diminished my already low self-esteem. It made me feel I couldn’t trust myself, losing sight of my own value and strength. In times when I was unable to obtain validation from other people, either because I was alone or they became tired of having to constantly build me up, I became more insecure and anxious. This way of being only led to me becoming more judgmental and critical of myself.

Beyond that, it is a draining and exhausting process. Constantly trying to get approval from others around me only resulted in exhaustion and burnout. I put so much energy and time into pleasing people and overworking just to get approval. This burnout, exhaustion, and frustration have manifested into me longing so hard for validation from myself but not knowing where to begin. Validation is something we all seek out. However, like any behaviour, there is a spectrum in terms of how harmful or beneficial it is.

For some, they may feel a need to get validation from external sources by impressing someone or through compromising to keep peace. These examples are not overly harmful and many people reading this can probably relate to them. External validation becomes dangerous when we solely rely on other people to determine our self-worth. For so long, I’ve felt like a slave to external validation. Achieving a balance between external and internal validation is critical to having good self-esteem.

If you’re someone who also seeks external validation, know that it is okay as an occasional habit. There is a place for external validation in terms of our well-being. However, self-validation is just as vital to creating and maintaining good self-esteem which is key to thriving. For those on the other end, validating others, I know it is a tough job and at times it can be exhausting for you too but know that this isn’t the intention of the person; they just need reassurance that they are worthy and unfortunately, this is their way of getting that validation right now.

All we can do is try to learn how to get this validation from within to feel truly powerful but this all takes time as any learned skill does.