What does relying too much on External Validation look like?     


by Maddy Archambault, LAC, NCC

What is external validation?

External validation is when someone provides us positive recognition, attention or praise. As social creatures, we crave this kind of validation as it provides us a sense of love & belonging. However, there is such a thing as relying too heavily on external validation.

Counseling Hoboken; Mollie Busino, LCSW, Director of Mindful Power. Mollie has had extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Fertility Counseling, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her work focuses on Anxiety, Depression, Anger Management, Career Changes, OCD, Relationship, Dating Challenges, Insomnia, & Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.

Some common signs that we might be “addicted” to external validation:

  • Overachieving to gain praise/recognition (Ex: always chasing the next promotion; engaging in extracurriculars that are competitive in nature; seeking out frequent awards, degrees, other accomplishments) 
  • Posting frequently on social media and/or focused on the reactions of others to your posts
  • Being a perfectionist; extra hard on yourself when you make mistakes
  • Loose boundaries in relationships
  • Inconsistent sense of self/identity confusion (Who am I?)
  • Feeling the need to share your affiliation with certain high status groups or career and personal achievements or titles
  • Inconsistent self esteem (some days feeling very confident, others very self conscious)
  • Feeling crushed when receiving constructive criticism or perceived rejection
  • Requiring frequent reassurance from friends/partners on your “goodness”
Seeking external validation

Seeking external validation

Identifying signs of External validation.

If you could identify with one or some of these, first of all, you are not alone! We all adapt behaviors based on our lived experiences.

If we look at this through an attachment lens (meaning we look at the quality and dynamics of early attachments with our caregivers), we can gain a better understanding of a few ways this can originate.

  • You grew up feeling consistently INvalidated by caregivers. This can be as subtle as a parent saying “Don’t cry, everything is fine!” when of course, you wouldn’t be crying if you believed everything was fine! It can also be as overt as a parent telling you that your values, opinions, hobbies or beliefs were wrong/bad. As adults, we become chronic self sacrificers with a hunger for outside validation.
  • Caregivers were inconsistent with love/affection. Growing up we require loving touch, soothing statements, attentiveness and attunement to our inner world. If our parents did this some of the time but not all the time, we may form an anxious attachment style and require constant reassurance in order to feel secure and confirm that we won’t be left behind.
  • Grades, awards, and achievements were #1 in your household or community. Did you get yelled at or punished if you got anything less than an A+? Did you only get an ice cream treat if your team won the soccer tournament? We then believe that we will only deserve praise when we have measurable outputs. This is why we may continue to compulsively seek out achievements as adults.

Perhaps the above provided you some answers, or perhaps you are still left scratching your head. Consider this as just one invitation to continue tuning inward and becoming a curious explorer of yourself: In what ways do I rely on external validation to make me feel good? Where did I learn that? How does it serve me now?

If you want to learn more about how we can begin to manage this over-reliance on external validation check out the second blog.