If you grew up in an environment where you felt a sense of unconditional love, you probably developed strong self-worth and confidence by default. And you're probably not reading this. But if you felt early on that love was tied to acceptance and approval from other people, you may have developed a bad habit of seeking approval from other people as a way of feeling good about yourself.
The problem with seeking validation externally from other people is that our self-worth ends up at the mercy of their moods and on what we imagine other people are thinking of us. This leads to insecurity rather than self-confidence. We feel good when we get approval, but we feel terrible when we don't; or even just if we think we don't. Seeking external validation can become an addiction that causes an endless cycle of highs and lows and leaves us feeling overly self-conscious.
I know first hand what this is like, and it's not where you want to be. The solution is to learn to become self-validating, so you're not reliant on other people's approval to feel good. Learn to make choices that are best for you while considering the consequences for yourself and other people. Stop worrying what other people will think all the time. Ironically, the more approval you give yourself, the more you end up getting it from other people; and when you don't, you won't care so much.
So here's how to become self-validating:
Decide To Do It
Learning to become self-validating doesn't happen overnight, and requires some commitment. The first step is to make the decision to do it. Don't be put off if there are still times when you find yourself seeking approval from other people or trying to avoid embarrassment; just remind yourself that being true to yourself is what is most important and get back to validating yourself again.
Give Yourself Permission
When we lack confidence, we often sit on our impulses because we're worried what other people think if we do something socially inappropriate. We wait for someone else to give us permission to do what we want to do, or for someone else to go first and blaze the trail so that we know it's safe. But we tend to draw the line much too conservatively.
Rather than waiting for others, start giving yourself permission to act on your impulses. Don't be so cautious to act. Going first is a natural leadership attribute, and the way to learn is by being the first to take action when you have the opportunity. Doing an improv acting course is a great way to train yourself to stop hesitating and start acting on your impulses.
Do What Is Right For You
Start doing what is right for you, rather than what you think other people would approve of. Are you heavily influenced by what your parents or anyone else want in your choice of career, friends, hobbies, and other activities? Take every opportunity to replace the thought “What will other people think?” with “What is best for me?” or “What do I really want?”
Doing what is right for you will, of course, include consideration of the consequences for both yourself and other people. But if you've been in the habit of seeking external validation, you've probably been worrying too much about other people, and it's time to start doing what is best for you.
Forget About What Your Family Thinks
It's natural to want approval and understanding from your family; when you were young, your life depended on their support. That's not true any more, but often we stay stuck in patterns based on what we think our family wants, rather than what's right for us. So it's particularly powerful to stop seeking validation from your family; otherwise you'll continue to take on all their limitations as well.
Pick Yourself A Mantra
Becoming self-validating will free you to make new choices. This may cause you anxiety, especially at first. Rather than backing off when you make changes to how you've been acting, be prepared with a mantra that you can chant to yourself when the anxiety hits. Pick something that resonates with you like “I make choices that are best for me” or “I am always loved” or “I'm always connected”; anything that you'll be sure to remember. Don't pick more than one, and keep it simple so you'll remember it even in the moment of anxiety.
The idea is to get you over the peak of anxiety so you can still do what is right for you. Take a minute now to choose your mantra before reading on. Remember you can always change it later if you think of a better one.
Meditation is a powerful way to reduce the anxiety we feel about the need for external validation, and to replace it with a sense of peace about who we are and our ability to make the choices that are right for us. It can give you a deeper sense of what lies beneath the personality that we all project to other people in the quest for acceptance.
Sit or lie in a quiet place, relax and observe your breath for 20 minutes a day. Or meditate on a concept like love, peace, confidence or self-acceptance until you generate the associated feelings. If you're not used to meditating, start with some guided visualisations on CD or your MP3 player to get you into the zone.
Seek Out Non-Judgemental Friends
It can be tough to be self-validating all the time, especially if we're hard on ourselves or very self-critical. Going it alone can be difficult. So seek out non-judgemental friends that you can be really open and honest with, and still receive acceptance in return. Your true self is a lot more acceptable that you've been giving yourself credit for, and sometimes we need a little support from other people. A habit of external validation often goes hand-in-hand with a sense of shame, and the way to defeat shame is by exposing what's going on inside you to non-judgemental people. Start seeking them out and spending more time in the company of people who “get you”.
Put these tips into practise, and over time you'll break the habit of needing validation from other people, begin validating yourself and start to feel more free and confident in who you are.