Need for validation and its effects on mental health

Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.[1] A variety of definitions have been used for different purposes over time. Health can be promoted by encouraging healthful activities, such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep,[2] and by reducing or avoiding unhealthful activities or situations, such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices, such as whether to engage in a high-risk behavior, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still other factors are beyond both individual and group choices, such as genetic disorders.

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Have you noticed that certain people are forever in the need of being praised by others? Why is validation so important for them? An expert breaks it down.

Over the years, the concept of validation has come to the forefront, more so due to the surge in social media. The moment you upload a picture or a story on a photo-sharing or video-sharing platform, the desire to be liked and appreciated takes over. Of course, not in the case of everyone. But this is what such platforms feed on: the insecurities of their users.

So what exactly is validation and how can it hamper your life? And why is it that certain people require it more than others?

Dr Preeti Kocchar, counseling psychologist, IWill, shares her view, “Emotional validation involves understanding and showing acceptance for another person’s feelings. When people receive this type of validation, they feel that their emotions are not only seen and heard by others but that these feelings are also accepted. If a person feels that their thoughts, feelings, and emotions are not heard and understood, they may be left feeling isolated and unsupported. This, over a period of time, may trigger insecurity in some individuals whose sense of self-validation may be lacking and may turn them into validation addicts.”

Known as approval addiction, this behavioural health condition is defined as an intense desire to win the approval of those around you and avoid feelings of rejection at all costs.

Why do you need constant validation?

Dr Kocchar explains, “People crave attention for a variety of reasons, including normal emotional development, low self-esteem, and, in some extreme cases, the presence of personality disorders. Emotional, social, and physical reasons typically are behind a child’s attention-seeking behaviours. It’s not inherently bad! In fact, we all begin life in a state of complete reliance on external validation. As children, we rely on it to learn appropriate behaviours; as adults, it’s a necessary part of tribe life.”

You need to be able to take instructions and constructive criticism from others in order to collaborate with peers. The problem occurs when outside approval becomes your be-all and end-all. Neither is it healthy to completely eschew the opinions of others. If your boss asked you to make some changes to a project you may have submitted, or if a professor suggested a different angle for your essay, would you completely ignore the feedback?

social media validation
Are you bothered by the ‘likes’ you get on social media? Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“It is not about agreeing with someone or accepting their thoughts as your own. It is about being able to accept these thoughts and experiences as being valid. Validation is part of being interdependent and relying on the feedback and encouragement of others around us. It’s all about balance: knowing when to take healthy, constructive feedback from others, while not relying completely on outside approval for your sense of self-worth,” she adds.

But there’s also more to it to seeking validation

Conversely, invalidation is one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse. What’s scary is that it can be one of the most subtle and unintentional abuses. Invalidating a person’s feelings and emotional experience can make them feel like they’re going crazy.

“Stonewalling involves refusing to communicate with another person. Intentionally shutting down during an argument, also known as silent treatment, can be hurtful, frustrating, and harmful to the relationship. Seeking validation beyond a healthy constructive limit is defined as attention-seeking behaviour. This is commonly seen on social media nowadays. Attention-seeking behaviour can include saying or doing something with the goal of getting the attention of a person or a group of people,” says Dr Kocchar.

Examples of this behavior include:

• Fishing for compliments by pointing out achievements and seeking validation
• Being controversial to provoke a reaction
• Exaggerating and embellishing stories to gain praise or sympathy
• Pretending to be unable to do something so someone will teach, help, or watch the attempt to do it.

Be comfortable in your skin rather than trying to fetch compliments all the time. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Attention-seeking behaviour may be driven by:

• Jealousy
• Low self-esteem
• Loneliness

“Self-esteem is a broad term covering a variety of complex mental states involving how you view yourself. When some people believe that they’re being overlooked, bringing back the lost attention may feel like the only way to restore their balance. The attention that they get from this behaviour may help provide them with the feeling of reassurance that they are worthy,” she shares.

Loneliness can result in an urge to seek attention, even in people who don’t normally exhibit attention-seeking behaviour. Feeling insecure in your relationship from time to time is completely normal. However, if you find yourself and your partner exhausted by your constant need for reassurance and your daily life impacted by it, you may have a condition known as relationship OCD (ROCD).

If you regularly seek such validation, it might escalate to become your NEED. It might start affecting your everyday choices. Your sole goal might change into pleasing people around you – even if it conflicts with your internal values and feelings.

How do you break this cycle of seeking validation?

Dr Kocchar says an effective first step in breaking the need for validation from others starts with understanding the type of validation you are seeking: Do you want to be acknowledged through social media? Are you interested in hearing that you are one in the group, the best one at work, the ideal spouse, or perhaps the greatest parent?

“Learning to recognize when you are seeking validation from external sources is the first step. By acknowledging this behaviour, people can choose a more effective option, breaking the cycle and learning to look internally for validation,” she says.

stay away from social media
Keep your mind off social media. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Some good ways to start include:

  1. Take a social media break:

    Getting off social media is a great place to start. This eliminates any comparison with others or the anxiety and stress about how your picture, post, or comment is being seen and received by others.

  2. Be mindful:

    Look carefully at what you are doing. Look for improvements and make a record of these either as a mental note or in a journal. This is self-validation that helps you acknowledge your own abilities, talents, and skills.

  3. Do not ask for validation:

    Instead of seeking validation from others, ask yourself first. If you do receive validation (encouragement or acknowledgment) recognize the praise and acknowledge it, then stop. Do not continue to ask others or seek out others for validation.

    Keep in mind that validation is not a bad thing in your life; it is affirming and positive. It only becomes problematic when it becomes the focus of all you do.

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