Over the last few months, I’ve been writing my next book. It’s about the inner critic and, as usual, I am learning a lot through parsing and consolidating my thoughts and ideas on this topic. There’s nothing like writing about something to make you think long and hard about how you’re living it in your own life! In one chapter, I talk about some of the most common stories our inner critic tells us, one of which is about external validation and people-pleasing. This is something I cover in my course, Be Your Own Hero, and it crops up in the book too.
Contrary to what we usually think, seeking validation or approval from others isn’t a problem. What causes trouble is depending on it. This is usually a sign of a deeper issue in our relationship with ourselves. Before we get on to that, though, let’s rewind and take a look at why people-pleasing doesn’t work.
The problem with people-pleasing
The big problem with people-pleasing is it doesn’t work, even when we get what we want. When we change or hide things about ourselves to get validation from other people, we don’t feel any better even if we get their validation. This is because we know deep down that the person they are validating is not us, it’s who we’re pretending to be.
This kind of validation seeking has a darker side too: it’s a form of controlling behaviour. We are trying to control what other people think of us and, to a lesser but still important degree, how they behave towards us. We people-please because we don’t want to experience rejecting behaviour and feel all the uncomfortable feelings that come up as a result. What other people think, feel, and do isn’t something we can control—and trying to do so isn’t respectful or fair to them. The only thing we can control is how we show up and how we behave.
Where true validation comes from
We are social beings, and it’s natural to care about what people think. However, we don’t want to apply this indiscriminately, because not everyone knows us, understands us, or shares our values. I care about what my husband thinks because his feelings and thoughts matter to me. Taking them into account is part of maintaining a good relationship. Ditto for my friends. I care about what my daughter thinks because her wellbeing and growth are my responsibility.
But my hairdresser, who thought my husband and I were crazy for renting instead of buying? He’s great at cutting hair, but I’m not concerned about what he thinks of my financial and lifestyle choices. We want to care about what the right people think. These are the people who have credibility, who we know are invested in our growth (and, with kiddos, to whom we have a responsibility).
When we seek validation from anyone and everyone, it’s because there’s a part of us that doesn’t accept ourselves. When our internal world lacks acceptance and understanding, it’s natural we turn to our external world to get it. Our job is to identify what that part is, what its problem is and negotiate with ourselves towards self-acceptance first.
- We can do this by noticing:
- When do I seek approval from other people?
- What am I seeking approval of?
- How do I want other people to see me?
- Where do I feel I need to alter or hide parts of myself in to win acceptance and approval?
- What does this tell me about what I’m not accepting in myself?
- What are the beliefs I have about why I don’t accept these aspects of myself?
- What do I know to be true about these aspects of myself? How would I like to feel about them?
- What would I like to believe about them?
If we’re validating ourselves, we don’t need validation from everyone around us. Will there be times when we need reassurance? Yes. Support? Absolutely. But we won’t depend on other people’s opinions to feel good about ourselves. When we are mindful to give ourselves the approval we are seeking from others, we have greater freedom to be who we truly are.
Where do you need to give yourself approval first? Where might you be looking to other people validate you instead?
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