Overcome the Storm of External Validation Through the Sea of Self-Worth
I love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It is timeless and so true. As human beings, we have interesting lives, to say the least. On the one hand, we are creatures of “tribe and connection.” We are meant to live together for safety, companionship, and having families. That means fitting in with the group. On the other hand, we are each individual, unique beings. No two of us are alike, even if we look and act similarly. We are our own creations. For this reason, as humans, we often struggle with this idea of where our value and worth comes from. Do we get our value from those around us, the way we fit into our tribe and what others think of us? Or do we define our value internally, based on the value and love we get from ourselves and our connection with a greater being, God, the Universe or whatever term you use for a higher power?
When we are young, we do not care what anyone else thinks about us, until we are taught that it matters. As we grow up, others begin to judge us. Our academic ability, our athletic ability, our talents, and skills are all compared with other humans in our circles. Our behavior is compared with what society sees as “normal, ” and we are praised or criticized based on that “norm.” We often begin to seek external validation from adults and those around us, to let us know we are “ok” and we are “worthy.” Sometimes we even allow the opinion of someone else to decide our mood for the day and how much confidence and self-esteem we have. Have you ever started the day full of joy and confidence, only to be deflated like a ripped hot air balloon when someone makes a negative comment about how you look or something you said or did? At that moment, you begin to question everything else about yourself as well. Am I smart enough? Pretty enough? Talented enough? Good enough? These all boil down to one thing – Am I worthy? We’ve all done it. We have allowed the opinion of one person on one topic to shake our very foundation of self-worth.
That is what external validation does. It can rock our boat in different directions based on the patterns of the waves and wind. One minute we are high as a kite because someone loved our school essay or presentation and the next minute we are moping on the couch because someone turned us down for the prom and now we feel like no one will ever like us again. Getting our self-worth and self-esteem from external sources is a roller coaster, at best.
Now consider the alternative. What would happen if we had a strong foundation of self-worth that started on the inside? What if we all realized that we are perfect exactly as we are, and we do not need to DO anything to prove our worth? (Don’t forget – we are human BEINGS, after all, not human DOINGS.) Sure we may want to improve some things over time, but our value as a human being is not reliant on seeing a certain number on the scale or having someone else tell us we have done a good job.
Since we can all get caught in the waves and winds of external validation, here are a few tips for increasing internal validation to replace the need for external approval.
1) Understand yourself better and what you truly want – look past the roles you play, your possessions, family, school or career to see the true person you are.
2) Realize you are perfect and accept the good, bad and ugly of who you are unconditionally. If we cannot love ourselves unconditionally, no one else can love us that way either. Forgive yourself for mistakes you have made in the past and will make in the future. We are only human after all!
3) Set realistic expectations for yourself (and others!) and when mistakes happen, roll with it. It’s ok – it’s part of the process.
4) Release the need to compare yourself to others – This is a hard one for most of us, both kids and adults. But remember what our good friend Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” You are your own fish. There is no other like you and nothing to which you can compare.
5) Take responsibility for your life – Even as kids, we have the power to decide how we think, feel, and to control our attitude. We can decide who we hang out with and we can choose to avoid people who are toxic (or at least minimize their impact on us). It doesn’t always feel like it, but we can drive our own life and set our destiny. And we can decide how we “show up” to the party.
Self-validation is a muscle. We must practice every day, so it becomes strong. Whether we are young and just getting started or trying to undo old habits of a lifetime, developing strong self-worth and self-love will keep us from being thrown around constantly by the waves and winds of other people’s opinions of us. Enjoy the journey and remember it’s perfect, just like you!