Stop Seeking External Validation! Here Are 3 Reasons Why

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Master Guides: Living Your Best Life" by Shortform. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Do you feel validated by other people’s opinions of you? Why should you stop seeking external validation?

It’s normal to want to try other people’s styles and hobbies if it makes you feel good. But what you shouldn’t do is adopt other people’s values. You need to come up with values on your own that reflect your desires in life.

Here’s why seeking external validation will ultimately lead to an unhappy life.

Why You Adopt Others’ Values—Even if They Make You Unhappy

Multiple experts suggest that the compulsion to adopt others’ values as your own comes from the need for external validation. This need was conditioned in you early on in life when you likely found that conforming to the expectations of other people was the only way you could experience comfort and happiness:

  • If you acted according to their desires and expectations, you were rewarded—for example, with extra attention and affection. This made you feel comfortable and happy. 
  • If you acted against their desires and expectations, you were punished—for example, with rejection or social humiliation. This made you feel uncomfortable and unhappy.

According to Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics), your self-image and values have likely evolved since your childhood, which is why you should stop seeking external validation. However, until you consciously address the thoughts and beliefs that influenced you, they will continue to subconsciously inform your motivations and behaviors

Letting the pursuit of external validation rule your life inevitably leads to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. This is due to three reasons:

Reason 1: You Pursue Unfulfilling Goals

According to Neil Pasricha (The Happiness Equation), chasing external validation pushes you to act in ways that don’t support what you really want. Instead, you make decisions and set goals about how to look and behave, your career, and your possessions based on how you want others to react to you. This creates internal conflict for three reasons: 

  • Different people have different perspectives and expectations. Your behaviors and goals can’t please or impress everyone, so you won’t always receive positive feedback.
  • Basing your happiness on external validation forces you to conform to what other people want instead of what you want—because pleasing yourself won’t always elicit the feedback you crave. 
  • Your motivation to please or impress others forces you into constant comparison and competition. You strive to be more like people who receive the validation you want and set yourself ambitious goals to outdo them.

Brianna Wiest (The Mountain Is You) expands on this: Because your need for external validation is so deeply ingrained in you, you fail to question why your achievements aren’t making you happy. Instead, you assume that you just haven’t done enough to deserve happiness and that you need to be, do, or acquire something more—for example, by making yourself more attractive, acquiring more possessions, or achieving a higher status.

Reason 2: You Feel Powerless to Change

In How to Do the Work, holistic psychologist Nicole LePera argues that conforming to others’ expectations in the hope of receiving validation caused you to lose touch with who you really are and your true needs. She explains that, like most people, you’re likely not conscious of your impulse to seek external validation or the fact that your beliefs and behaviors are a reflection of your conditioning. Instead, you assume that your beliefs and behaviors are inherent and unchangeable parts of your identity. As a result, you live your life catering to the needs of this conditioned identity because you think that it is you. 

Meanwhile, your true needs remain neglected, unexpressed, and unfulfilled. When your true needs go unmet, you get the sense that something important is missing from your life—which triggers negative feelings ranging from dissatisfaction to resentment.

Wiest explains why you might feel powerless to overcome these negative feelings: Because you’ve given external factors so much power over your happiness, you mistakenly assume that they are responsible for your happiness. In other words, you believe that your happiness is outside of your control, and therefore feel powerless to take responsibility for how you think and feel.

Reason 3: You Suppress Your Emotions

According to Wiest, your conditioning inadvertently taught you to believe that some feelings are unacceptable or bad. 

  • For example, if you were punished for expressing disagreement as a child, you unconsciously associated the feeling of disagreement with punishment and labeled it as “bad” or “wrong” in your mind. 

As a result, you feel ashamed each time these feelings come up, pretend that you don’t feel them, and try to avoid people and situations that might trigger them. You also judge other people who express these feelings as “bad” or “wrong.” However, these suppressed feelings continue to live on inside you, get stronger the more you try to deny them, and morph into irrational thought patterns and emotional reactions that stifle your capacity to feel satisfied with your life.

  • For example, your discomfort around feeling disagreement leads to unhealthy behaviors that fuel insecurities and resentment—such as pretending to agree with others, agreeing to do things you don’t want to do, or judging others who do express their disagreement. 

Tony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within) adds another negative effect of suppressing your emotions and avoiding situations that risk triggering them: You miss out on experiencing the positive emotions these situations might elicit. For example, if you’ve suppressed your need for affection, you might avoid relationships or pretend not to need affection in a relationship. As a result, you miss out on positive experiences that spring from meaningful relationships, such as love and intimacy. This makes you feel lonely and increases your unfulfilled desire for affection—and your shame for wanting it.

Stop Seeking External Validation! Here Are 3 Reasons Why

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Shortform's "The Master Guides: Living Your Best Life" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Master Guides: Living Your Best Life summary:

  • Over a dozen experts' advice on living your best life
  • How to understand what's making you feel unhappy
  • Actionable steps for living a more meaningful and happy life

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.