It’s not an easy thing to do, to learn how to stop seeking validation. It’s almost like it’s in the air we breathe to crave that approval from other people. But needing validation isn’t likely to yield a lot of happiness in your life. It makes you reliant on others for your feelings of self-worth and it limits your authenticity and connection.
But you probably already know at least some of that. That’s why you’re here. So let’s talk about how you actually stop yourself from needing that validation all the time.
The Imaginary Audience
I remember when I was in college (the first time around), I took a lifespan development course that covered what it’s like to live through all the various ages and stages that we pass through, from birth to death. It was an amazing course (probably my favorite that I took in my undergrad years) and a lot of it still sticks with me—and one of the things that I remember studying about is the imaginary audience.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of the imaginary audience, it’s a normal stage of development for teens that involves believing that everyone around them is watching, scrutinizing, and focusing all of their attention on you. If you’ve got a big zit on your face, everyone is certainly looking at it and thinking you’re so gross. Or if you trip in the hallway, the whole world probably knows and thinks you’re a clutz.
Like I said, this is a normal phase of development for adolescents, but it’s funny to think about because anyone who has been around teens knows that they are mostly focused on themselves and definitely not on the skin of the person across the room.
And though it’s a normal phase of development for teens, I wonder how many of us are still living with an imaginary audience a lot of the time?
Do you ever find yourself looking to others for approval? Do you need validation in order to feel good about yourself? Aren’t those things just an extension of having an imaginary audience? You feel like you’re performing for a crowd and like you’ve got to live up to others’ expectations.
Breaking Free From the Need for Approval
The first thing to know about how to stop seeking validation is to recognize what seeking validation is and the ways that you are doing it. I talked a lot about that in this post, so we won’t go into detail about that here.
Once you know you are doing it (and we all are in some way or another), then the question becomes, how do I stop? Here are 3 things you can do to break free from the need for approval from others.
How to Stop Seeking Approval from Others
Step 1: Check Your Motivation
The word motivation is a powerful one these days. Everyone wants it and thinks it’s the magic pill that will have them accomplishing all of their goals. But it’s super important to check where that motivation is coming from. If motivation is a spectrum (which Self-Determination Theory scholars argue that it is), all of your behavior is motivated behavior, it’s just a matter of whether it’s extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated.
I might have all the motivation in the world, for example, to start a business. But what’s my motivation for that? Is it to get rich quick and to be seen by the world as powerful? Or is it because it’s something that I genuinely love and want to spend my time working on? Maybe I think I have to start that business to please my parents or my partner, or maybe I feel like I can make a difference in the world by starting that business.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Can you see how the motivation differs for each of these reasons? Some (like wanting to be seen as rich and powerful) might be very extrinsically motivated. Those are very much related to seeking validation. You wouldn’t be motivated by extrinsic goals in this case if you weren’t wanting validation and approval from others.
On the other hand, some are coming from a more intrinsic desire to do something you love or to touch people’s lives.
Motivation is, as I said, a spectrum though, so things can land somewhere in the middle. The point is to pay attention to your choices and behaviors and see if you can tell what’s motivating them. If you’re feeling motivated by wanting to be seen as good by others, it might be time to challenge that in yourself.
Step #2: Developing a Strong Sense of Self
And that leads us perfectly into the second thing you should know about how to stop seeking validation. Having a strong sense of self means that you’ve got positive feelings about yourself that are NOT reliant on other people to maintain them.
I mean, that would literally be not seeking validation then right?
But how do you get a strong sense of self? The easiest way to do this is to come at from the backend—or seeing what the opposite of a strong sense of self is, catching yourself doing that, and challenging yourself to stop.
The opposite of a strong sense of self is a reflected sense of self. Someone with a reflected sense of self is trying to see themself through others’ eyes to see how they appear. Rather than living the experience for themself, they are trying to see how others perceive them, to see if they are measuring.
If you can start to watch for times that you are functioning from this reflected sense of self, you can then challenge yourself on them and bit by bit, strengthen that sense of self.
Step #3: Watching for Common Pitfalls
Building on that last point about how to stop seeking validation, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to know what some of your common stumbling blocks are and again, challenge yourself on those as well.
These are 5 common ways that people tend to seek validation. See which of these might apply to you.
- What I like to call the “shoulds” or “supposed tos,” trying to live up to other people’s expectations for you is never going to work. That’s because there are WAY too many of them and they are always going to conflict. Instead, try deciding for yourself who you want to be and how you want to live.
- Comparison—not only the thief of joy, but also a great way to make yourself mentally unhealthy, to have less connection in your relationships, and to drive yourself crazy. And yet research shows that we do it all the time, sometimes without even knowing it.
- Living by labels or being put in a box. Sometimes we think we have to live a certain way because of our gender or level of education. Or maybe it’s because others put us in a box labeled race or religion. When you limit yourself by these sorts of labels, it’s hard to be the real you.
- Body image is a big problem for a lot of us. In fact, as many as 97% of women report (and a large percentage of men as well) report some level of body dissatisfaction. This is one of the biggest ways that we look to others for validation and approval. We think we’ve got to meet some standard of beauty (which we never will because it’s not real) and then feel bad when we fall short.
- One major way of looking to others for approval is sometimes called emotional fusion. It’s literally needing others to make you feel good about yourself. Like you can’t be happy unless others like you. Or making others take ownership of your feelings. It’s a major problem in a lot of ways.
That’s a lot to take in, but it really helps in so many ways when you can learn how to stop seeking validation from others and truly learn to be yourself. You can expect better relationships and better overall well-being when you do. And those things really matter. It’s worth the effort to shed the need for approval and to just be you.
 Ryan, W. S., & Ryan, R. M. (2019). Toward a social psychology of authenticity: Exploring within-person variation in autonomy, congruence, and genuineness using self-determination theory. Review of General Psychology, 23(1), 99-112.
 Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.
 Flury, J. M., & Ickes, W. (2007). Having a weak versus strong sense of self: The Sense of Self Scale (SOSS). Self and Identity, 6(4), 281-303.
 Schnarch, D. M. (2009). Intimacy & desire: Awaken the passion in your relationship (p. 448). New York, NY: Beaufort Books.