Stop Hating on External Validation As Though You Don’t Love It, Too

Everybody likes hearing they’re right or that they’ve done a good job. Don’t act like you’re an exception.

External validation gets a bad reputation. Ideally, we wouldn’t need it. 

Like it, or not, we are a primitive species that requires socialization and acceptance.

Hunger and thirst are automatic. They cause pain to ensure we force ourselves to find food and water to keep surviving. However, we can feel so disconnected from the pack that our loneliness overrides our thirst and hunger to a point that we starve ourselves to death. This is because loneliness and hunger share a home in the brain.

What Does This Have To Do With External Validation?

We’re getting to it. But, I have to bring up self-esteem. All of these things play together.

The most watered down way to explain how our self-esteem forms in childhood is this:

  • We do a thing, either well or poorly;
  • Someone observes us do this thing;
  • That someone compliments or critiques us;
  • By 5 or 6, our self-esteem aligns with what our external feedback has shown. If we were told we performed poorly, the esteem is low; opposite for the inverse. (This is why some kids can excel at something but think they don’t, while other kids can suck at something but think they are the best.)

Makes sense, right?

You swing the bat, hit the ball, everyone cheers, you feel good, self-esteem increases.

You swing the bat, miss the ball, everyone boos, you feel bad, self-esteem decreases.

Not rocket science.

Speaking of Science…

Hey, not rocket. | Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

Here’s where things get more sticky. Many people struggle with self-esteem because their talents do not lie in something that’s easy to measure — such as the arts.

With things such as athletics, it can be easy to gauge a child’s talent. A child can either hit the easy pitch or can’t; they can catch well or they can’t. You don’t need much feedback unless you’re looking to do something differently.

Kids playing sports have no shortage of immediate feedback from adults as most of the adults love spending time with kids playing sports.

The Creative Kids, However…

Art is subjective. Be it visual, music, performance — nothing is as solid. Some people think Picasso was brilliant, some think he’s overrated. Hell, most everyone can agree that Celine Dion can make all seven notes her personal bitches, but many of those people still don’t like her music.

You can have the talent for real, yet still not be considered great because you’re not great at what the other person likes. Using myself as an example of the critic — I don’t care how great a chef is, I’m not eating snails ever again. I don’t enjoy them. But, my inability to enjoy snails is no reflection of how well a chef prepares them. 

It’s more difficult for the kids who are not cookie cutter to be recognized for their talents unless they have exceptional adults to recognize this. That’s why the most gifted artists often cite their English or another art teacher as their favorite. English and art teachers are often the creative child’s first exposure to someone who appreciates their talents and interests.

This Takes a Toll

That’ll be $1.50 and a piece of your self-worth. | Photo by Red John on Unsplash

We are so hardwired to be social that isolation can result in our own brain turning off our survival mechanisms, such as hunger. We NEED acceptance. This is tricky for people who don’t fit the mold to find and near impossible to find for people who are born into awful family situations.

I grew up hearing how odd I was for not liking common sports. How did I hear it? People — full-grown adults — would say “What’s wrong with you? All boys like basketball.” Because I didn’t share an interest, they made it evident that there was a “fault” and that it was with me. It wasn’t a simple “Some people like some things, others don’t.” that it should have been, but a direct, personal attack on me.

I excelled in school, frequently helping older friends with their homework. I got my black belt in two years, amassing several trophies and medals along the way. But, I was still viewed, and thus treated, as broken because I didn’t like football, basketball, or baseball.

I’ll never forget that. Nobody forgets being told they’re broken by their loved ones.

External Validation Saves Lives

I tried killing myself at 12. 12! What stopped a follow-up attempt? My Tae Kwon Do sponsor and mentor worked with the state to place me with the family that went on to adopt me. It took outside voices taking an interest in my interests and going “There’s nothing wrong with that.” It took other people telling me that I was good enough until I was able to believe it on my own.

I’ve been on the phone with people who were ready to end it. In one case, literally on an edge. (Each of these people are still with us and doing much better.) A little bit of letting them know that they aren’t alone and that what they bring to the table is valued convinced them to keep going.

Is it really so damn hard to give someone an “Attaboy” when they do a good job? Especially, if they are still learning or doing something new?

Yes, it can be annoying to reassure a skinny woman that she’s not fat. Sure, she may be fishing for a compliment. But, she may also be debating on whether or not to purge and your tiny compliment could be what convinces her that she can hold on to her lunch.

Yes, people need to learn not to need external validation to achieve full happiness. But, it’s akin to learning to ride a bike during an earthquake.

Understand why someone might need external validation. That’s how you help relieve people from it. Hating on someone’s need for external validation is no more productive than hating on a child for being hungry.

Many thanks and Best Blessings,

Neth W.

Related Journaling Prompts: Is how I feel about myself rooted in reality or the words others have used? Were those critics reliable sources or did they lack the capacity to know the subject?


6 thoughts on “Stop Hating on External Validation As Though You Don’t Love It, Too

  1. This may come as a total surprise to some, but I’m different from everyone I know. Being different is something special that makes one stand out from the rest of the crowd, and it is something to be proud of!

    When I was born, I was assigned a box to check on my birth certificate: male or female. In my case, the doctors didn’t check either box, as I was born hermaphrodite. The doctors simply left the box unchecked, when ideally, they should have simply documented me as being female.

    Over the course of my life, I put my heart and soul into everything I did, so long as I believed that the task was worthwhile. And yet, no matter what I did, I never received any acknowledgements for anything I did in school. The combination of my drive, high intelligence, and perseverance were written off as a behavior problem that needed remediation.

    At age 12, my father had a doctor inject me with testosterone because he wanted a son, and I had already started going through a female puberty. It was painful and I realized at the time that I would never be the person my family wanted me to be, and I tried to kill myself. My father did everything he could to try and make me his son, though he was unsuccessful as I lived my entire life as a girl regardless.

    Later on in adulthood, I applied the same drive to my career, only to move up the corporate ladder quickly, yet without any acknowledgement or external validation of my efforts or achievements. Eventually I walked away from work entirely and retired at 40, having saved and invested enough money to retire. I also don’t have children as I’m lesbian and my wife and I have no interest in having children.

    The greatest lesson I learned in my life is that I needed to be self-reliant and not depend on others for validation, as in my life, I am unlikely to ever receive it, irregardless of whether or not I am deserving of it. I appreciate your post, as it serves as a reminder that I am not alone.


    1. Wow. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share this story.

      Growing up in a rural area in the 80s, I thought that I was born the wrong gender. Not because I really believed that I was a girl, but 100% because of how “certain” everyone was that boys like this and girls like that. I didn’t like most boy things. I didn’t know that I was just a boy who didn’t like those things and that this was OK. So, that left me thinking there was a mistake somewhere.

      I enlisted in the service during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because I was so desperate to get out of there. Best thing I ever did.

      Children aren’t for everyone, especially people like your father who can’t accept that children come as they are, not how you want.

      I’m glad to hear that things turned out so great for you! 🙂 Thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have known about my condition since I was 6 years old. My pediatrician was consulted at that time because I announced to my friends and family that I was a girl.

        The pediatrician suggested that my parents simply raise me according to how I identify and that when I was of age, I could pursue whatever care I needed. It was the early 1980’s, and this thinking was far ahead of its time, even though I was living in New York City at the time. I wish they had allowed me to have hormones at age 18, when I needed them, as I suffered through my condition, which caused major hormonal imbalances.

        Growing up, I had only one male friend, the rest of my friends were all women. It’s still this way; my best friend is a male whom worked with me for over a decade in the fire department, all my other friends are female.

        By the way, the medical doctors who were tasked with my care during my 22 year career kept my condition a secret, so as far as the people at work were concerned, I was an effeminate male.

        I was finally able to obtain hormone replacement after age 40, and despite everyone telling me that they wouldn’t have any effect, it was my experience that after being on hormones for 2 years, people don’t believe my story of being born completely female with external male genitalia.

        I have identified as female, and have lived my entire life accordingly. I even dated women exclusively my entire life, and they were all obviously aware of my condition, and were completely accepting. My wife, Amelia, was confused at first, but she has been absolutely amazing and supportive.

        I am not surprised to learn that you questioned your gender during your life. I suspected that might have been the case after reading your blog; it’s something that I noticed in the way you write. I’m obviously totally accepting of whatever gender you identify as, regardless.

        I have written extensively of my experience on my blog, and am open to questions, so long as they are appropriate. Also, I’m here anytime you need someone to talk to, who is open-minded and understanding.

        Thomas (She/Her) 🙂


      2. Thank you for sharing this and for your offer.

        I’m fortunate that I’m pretty simple…the 80s cornfolk just weren’t ready for a gay boy who is kind of feminine.

        Oh, well. Once I left, I was able to start seeing guys. I never got along with them where I’m from, so it was awkward at first. Once I realized that being gay didn’t mean being a helpless queen like you saw on TV back then, I stopped rejecting it. Being around guys, even butch gays, helped me stop being so uncomfortable with masculinity. Now, I can cook AND do my own home and auto repair lol.

        Thank you for the link. Would you mind if I share it on my social media?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was told by my family that I was weird and something was wrong with me my whole life. It took until my 40’s to believe there was nothing wrong with me and being different was ok. I wish they could have accepted me for the unique person I am. Maybe my depression and anxiety would not have taken over my whole life. People, please see your children for the special people they are and tell them you love them for it! Maybe we would have less suicides and better relationships in the world today.
    Chris Noel


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