The quest for validation has many faces:
- The perfect shot dilemma: Taking a gazillion photos to get that one perfect shot? Yep, we've all been there.
- The like-ometer: Refreshing your post to see the likes pile up? Guilty as charged.
- The fashion jury: Remember when you needed the whole squad to approve your outfit? Fortunately, times have changed. Today, people are carving their own style, one individual choice at a time.
The need for external validation is bigger today than ever before in history. About a decade ago, the pressure to “fit in” wasn’t as 24/7 as it is today. With social media now providing a window into our lives, the people we aren’t actually interacting with can validate or invalidate our entire existence.
Validation feels great. However, seeking validation can be a slippery slope when it goes too far. When you’re doing something – or lots of things – solely for the approval of your buddies and likes and comments on your posts, you might be missing out on the real deal: allowing the real you to be seen, heard, accepted, and loved.
To truly understand the reason for validation, we need to understand its origins. Let’s dig into it.
Understand The Need For Validation
Everyone is wired to fit in. Humans have been seeking validation since the earliest days of civilization. Let’s start by understanding the deep-rooted reasons for our need for validation.
Our need for validation, today, is linked to evolutionary needs for validation that existed when the first tribes were formed. Back then, seeking approval from a tribe and getting it was essential to survival. Being part of a tribe meant food and protection, back when these essentials couldn't just be purchased.
The bottom line was that, for early humans, being accepted by one’s tribe, especially its leaders, was a matter of life and death. If people displeased the tribe, it could mean that they got removed, and that might leave them exposed to attacks from other tribes, wild animals, or simply death by exposure and starvation. That’s why the need for acceptance is hardwired into the human psyche.
Remember when you showed up with that crayon masterpiece, and everyone went “aww”? Or when you tried to fit in with the cool kids in school? These external validations influence how you seek approval today. It’s understandable; as kids, we relied on external validation to learn. As adults, it aids in teamwork.
However, find a balance. While feedback is essential in some contexts, staying true to yourself is equally vital.
Society’s invisible nudges
Ever felt like your self-esteem took a hit because you don’t have a Cannes-ready birthday outfit like everyone on Instagram seems to? How many times have you overextended yourself and fallen sick because of fear of missing out (FOMO) linked to a social event?
Between society’s not-so-subtle ways of whispering (or sometimes shouting) about how we should be and our inherent need to not want to be the odd one out, it’s easy to forget who we really are. While you do need to colour within the lines of what’s ethical, what’s legal, and what’s in line with your long-term well-being, don’t depend on others’ views when it comes to defining yourself.
Fear of being a misfit among peers
Similar to the above point, people tend to feel uncomfortable when their likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies differ from their peers. This is because it is common for some people to feel uncomfortable with the idea of enjoying some activities independently. For example, you might enjoy good old murder mysteries while all your peers are into animé. Or maybe you like to wake up on the occasional Sunday for a trek instead of hanging with friends till late every single Saturday. Pursue what genuinely makes you happy. Stay true to yourself and you will find genuine satisfaction in the things you love without external gratification.
Define Your Own Worth
College is a time for exploration and self-discovery. While it's natural to seek validation, here’s how you can make sure it does not overshadow your personality -
Indulge in self-discovery
Take a moment to understand the real ‘you’. One way to do this is to take some quiet time to hear your own thoughts, assess your own feelings, and separate what’s expected of you from what you want. You should also be aware of when and why you project a less authentic version of yourself. You might not always bring your vulnerabilities to the forefront (and it may not always be safe to do so), but you should always know who you are at your core.
You can also use science to support your efforts in self-discovery. Personality tests that look at your DNA and psychometrics can help you decode your unique traits and tendencies. So, instead of turning to comments and likes for comfort, why not take a look at your DNA?
Moreover, self-discovery gives you the power to align your career with your personality. Rather than getting lost in the crowd, charting a course that resonates with your core self often leads to greater success. This path not only boosts confidence but also reduces the reliance on external affirmation.
Permit yourself to be authentic
Here’s the harsh truth: There’s nobody holding a gun to your head forcing you to hide your true self and pretend to be someone else. You’re silencing your true self on your own steam because you want to be liked. But when you do that, it's your pretend self that’s getting liked, not your true self. So you end up feeling dissatisfied and unloved anyway.
People should – and probably will – like you for who you are. That includes any unique clothing choices and less-than-popular hobbies and lifestyle choices. For example, maybe you prefer to read over the weekend or watch sci-fi flicks rather than party. That’s okay.
What about the opinions of your peers? Think of them as film reviews that are interesting to hear but do not dictate whether you will go watch the film in the end. Don’t let their views guide your choices. This might take practice at first but keep reminding yourself that your choices are yours alone; don’t depend on others’ opinions.
Don’t compare IRL to what you see on social media
Social media showcases the best bits, not the routine activities (and definitely not the less-than-perfect parts of anyone’s life).
Don't envy Rahul's Maldives trip when you had a fun Goa trip. And don’t feel inferior because Tina’s birthday bash was grand when you did enjoy a fun dinner with your closest friends. At the end of the day, it is not about gram-worthy moments but “remember when” stories.
Be your own cheerleader
Aced a test or finally mastered that yoga pose without face planting? Celebrate yourself. Tell yourself, “good job.” Make it a habit to sum up your achievements for the day – it gives you immense satisfaction. If you’re asking how to stop seeking attention from the world, the answer is to give that attention to yourself.
Don’t scar yourself – find a trusted circle
As you start to be your most authentic self, understand that not everyone needs to know everything about you. For example, you don’t need to go tell the bullies in your school or college how you’re insecure about being skinny or not being tall enough. That would be asking for trouble. Similarly, you might not want to voice an unpopular view or unpopular lifestyle choice amidst an aggressive group discussion that clearly favours the opposing view. However, you can hold your own choices and opinions and even discuss how you have an unpopular view or choice with a few trusted friends or in the safety of your own thoughts.
You may not need to tell your peers you disagree with them or feel differently – especially if it will result in aggression or ridicule. That said, it is essential for you to allow yourself your own views and choices and to work towards finding friends around whom you can safely be yourself.
Sometimes, you do have to conform
While embracing these strategies, it's essential to remember that seeking approval cannot be completely eliminated. You do need to pay heed to your educators’ comments on your projects and papers. You can’t go around breaking the law saying, “Well, that’s just the policeman’s opinion.” And you probably will get grounded for the foreseeable future if you show up way past your curfew, telling your parents, “I don’t need your approval on how I live my life.” Someday, you’ll grow up and have a boss, and it probably will not be acceptable to say, “I don’t need your validation, I’m going to show up to that client meeting in my beach shorts,” you do need to conform in some contexts. However, that’s also why you should savour the areas of your life where you can afford to be yourself.
To Sum Up
When you stop seeking validation and have the courage to be authentic, you are more likely to feel happy, loved, and accepted. The world – and that includes your school or college – is full of different people with a variety of tastes, and you’re sure to find genuine friends who will accept you for who you are. Of course, use your intelligence to understand when you need to follow instructions or keep your thoughts to yourself and when you are free to do as you please.