Back in the mid 80’s there was a movie called “Desperately Seeking Susan” about a bored suburban housewife seeking to escape from her life. She suffers amnesia after an accident, wakes up and is mistaken for a free-spirited New York City drifter named Susan (played by the singer, Madonna).
The housewife is fascinated by the life of this free-spirit and desperately wants to find her and know her better. Her boring life seems to pale in comparison to this other woman. She thinks that by being more like the drifter and being validated by how people see this woman, she can then have a better life.
The movie seems like a silly premise but let’s be honest – aren’t we all desperately seeking to be validated by others in one way or another? We believe there is something lacking in us so we look to others for approval.
The issue isn’t that you feel good when you are paid a compliment from others; the issue is when you desperately need other people’s positive opinions to create your own self-confidence. You want other people to compliment, approve of or validate you because you haven’t been able to provide it for yourself.
This week I’m going to discuss why you may be seeking validation and how to create self-confidence so you can have your own back.
Why you seek validation
Psychologist Abraham Maslow documented the hierarchy of human needs. He provided a simple triangular diagram with esteem, love and belonging smack dab in the middle. Abraham would say that it’s completely human to want to hang out with people who have similar tastes and who agree with you because you want to feel loved.
But like most young girls you were probably taught to look or act a certain way in order to please others. You were most likely taught to seek approval from outside yourself. You may have gotten the message early on that you aren’t as smart or capable as boys (or other girls) so you grew up feeling that you needed validation to assure you that you are ok and that you matter.
As you get older this desire for validation can show up in many areas like romantic relationships, at work and with your parents just to name a few. An example of today’s validation-seeking is the obsession with Facebook. Getting a “like” on a photo or status update can fill you with validation or it can make you feel invisible.
It’s fine to feel good when a bunch of friends and family “like” the photo of your child’s latest achievement. The issue is that when you strongly seek validation, you can develop a fundamental lack of self-confidence. This can mean you don’t believe you are good enough, smart enough or talented enough or sometimes that you aren’t lovable.
You may try to fix this lack of self-confidence by trying to get a promotion, losing weight, getting married, etc. Yet even after your achievement you still feel the same because external accomplishments do not create confidence.
If you’ve been telling yourself that you aren’t smart enough or you don’t work hard enough and then you actually get a promotion, you still won’t feel confident. You will probably believe it was just luck or that you tricked everyone into believing you were capable.
If your lack of confidence and need for validation is high, no amount of outside approval is going to change the underlying cause of the insecurity. You may ask your partner if you look pretty today and when he says “Yes” you tell yourself “He’s just saying that because I asked” or “He doesn’t really mean it”.
Another trap you can fall into is manipulating someone for validation. You may confess your insecurity about being a good mom to another friend hoping that they’ll tell you that you are silly. However, when they pay you a compliment, you dismiss it in your mind because you know you were trying to get them to say what they said. It can become a vicious cycle of need, manipulation and disbelief.
As soon as I became a mother I was plagued with insecurity. My belief was that I was book smart and not common sense smart which meant I wouldn’t be a great mom like my mother was. She was an incredible mother and I have often joked that I was raised by Mary Poppins…practically perfect in every way.
I would tell her how I handled something with the kids hoping for her approval but when she would give me the validation I thought I wanted, my thoughts would be “She’s just saying that to make me feel better” or “I wonder what she’s really thinking?”
When my mom suddenly passed away a few years ago, I was devastated. The interesting thing that came up for me during my time of disbelief and grief was the thought “Who’s going to tell me how wonderful I am?” I remember telling my husband that I needed him to take on that role from now on.
Once some time had passed and I worked with the Manage Your Mind Model, I could see my life long pattern of desperately seeking validation from my mother. Once I spent some time coaching myself, that need for validation was no longer necessary.
The major key was when I realized for the first time that when you are trying to get validation from other people you are basically asking them to offer you a thought that you can think. For a few minutes you believe that thought because someone else said it so you feel better. But if you haven’t changed your underlying thoughts about yourself, validation won’t matter.
So how can you stop desperately seeking validation and create self-confidence instead? There are a few things I can offer that will help you build your confidence muscle.
How to create self-confidence
The issue with creating the feeling of self-confidence is that most people look for evidence to create it. If you haven’t done something or achieved something in a certain area of your life then you feel that you are lacking in some way.
Let’s say that you don’t feel confident at work and are desperately seeking validation from your boss that you are doing a good job. The first step I suggest in creating self-confidence is to review the things you’ve already accomplished in your life that have nothing to do with your job. Things like:
- Studied different subjects and graduated different levels of schooling
- Learned accounting theory and possibly passed the CPA exam
- Learned what it takes to raise a child
- Decided to follow the rules of the road to keep you and your children safe
- Decided to learn technology rather than resist it
The key to producing confidence is the awareness that you are already in possession of the qualities you need. You may not have the knowledge, skills or experience yet but you have the ability to believe in your capability to get there.
It’s super important that you understand that self-confidence has to come from your thoughts. It cannot come from other people or external achievements because in order to do new things you will always be trying to do something you’ve never done before. Being aware of the challenges you’ve faced every step along your life and how you persevered is necessary in order to create new beliefs about your capabilities, drive and determination.
Take a look at the places that were hard, where you grew and the places that took strength. Thoughts about those things will create a true feeling of confidence. Maybe you had a difficult childhood or you went through a divorce. Don’t underestimate your courage to do hard things even though you may be in a better place now.
Another thing I suggest you can do when you are desperately seeking validation is to list the things you think someone should say to you. Things like:
- My boss should tell me I did a great job on that project
- My husband should tell me I look pretty in my outfit
- My kids should tell me that I’m such a great mom after I help them with their homework
- My mother should tell me how impressed she is with how I’m able to balance it all
Once you’ve made a list of the things you think other people should be saying and doing, turn it all around to you. You now have a list of powerful thoughts that can create the feeling of confidence that you had been seeking from them:
- I did a great job on that project
- I look really pretty in this outfit
- I’m such a great mom
- I’m so impressed with how I’m able to balance it all
Remember that when you are seeking validation from other people you are asking them to offer you a thought that you can think. After you’ve done this exercise you will have some great thoughts that you can use without anyone needing to say, do or be any different than they are.
It’s great when people pay you a compliment or acknowledge something you’ve done but that can be just the icing on the cake rather than the whole cake. Start believing you can do hard things by looking at the places that were hard and you pushed through.
I would give anything to talk to my mom on the phone one more time and hear her tell me how amazing I am. But now that I’ve learned how to manage my mind, I can give myself that same validation and actually believe it.
So let me give you a new thought that you can practice believing this week “I am capable and I’m learning to always have my own back”.
- You want other people to compliment, approve of or validate you because you haven’t been able to provide it for yourself.
- You may have gotten the message early on that you aren’t as smart or capable as boys (or other girls) so you grew up feeling that you needed validation to assure you that you are ok or that you matter.
- If your lack of confidence and need for validation is high, no amount of outside approval is going to change the underlying cause of the insecurity
- The major key was when I realized for the first time that when you are trying to get validation from other people you are basically asking them to offer you a thought that you can think.
- You may not have the knowledge, skills or experience yet but you have the ability to believe in your capability to get there.
- Being aware of the challenges you’ve faced every step along your life and how you persevered is very effective in creating new beliefs about your capabilities, drive and determination.
- It’s great when people pay you a compliment or acknowledge something you’ve done but that can be just the icing on the cake rather than the whole cake..
If you’d like some help overcoming your need for validation, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.