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Over-reliance on external validation, pitfalls and fixes

Let’s explore external validation. I believe it’s an important topic since it, along with unhealthy perfectionism and a couple of other issues, played a role in my burnout story. Residents, and faculty alike, often fall prey to an unhealthy desire for others' approval.


The satisfaction of external validation is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s a natural occurrence with some adaptive consequences historically.  Wanting to belong and a desire for external validation go hand-in-hand. That desire kept our ancestors safe inside the warm cave with their community and not alone in the wilderness. It’s still adaptive in most cultures. After all, this life is not meant to be spent in isolation. We are designed for community. 


So, when does the problem arise? It arises when we become solely focused on needing the approval of others.  When that happens, our view of our self-worth becomes tied to others’ opinions. Those opinions are affected by multiple influences external to you.   And then you climb on the emotional roller-coaster that others control. 


The fear of judgment grows large when we become overly reliant on external validation. That fear leads to people-pleasing. People-pleasing sounds so nice, but at its core, its motivation is to gain favor and protect or control reputation. It’s a form of lying or even manipulation. And once the cycle is fully established, we are constantly seeking those dopamine hits. We become approval addicts. When our worth rides on the fickleness of others’ opinions, we will ride high at times and be devastated at others.  We become “graspy” and fish for compliments, or resentful that there’s no positive feedback, or even self-deprecating by telling ourselves we are a disappointment.


What can be done if you find yourself too reliant on external validation?  Leave room for other explanations when you don't get the recognition that you want. We need to remember that everyone is busy. When we are busy, we naturally become inward-focused.  Even if you are doing incredible work, those around you may not notice or have the capacity to tell you. Your leaders may not recognize your efforts. Or, they may but forget to tell you.  They, too, are human.


A key tool is to go back to your values and purpose. When you are working from those – it diminishes the importance of others’ opinions. You learn to validate your own efforts and be proud of what you accomplish, who you are helping, and how you are showing up. Take the time to really uncover these and review them regularly. 

Remind yourself of your worth – inherently - as a human being. And, see your worth by reviewing the meaningful things you’ve done and relationships you’ve had. Dwell on this a bit. We too often fail to see and celebrate our own value and impact.  I promise you, if you’re worried that doing this will turn you into a narcissist, it won’t. Narcissists don’t worry about such things. 😉


Stop the comparisons. Practice gratefulness. Take the time to validate others who are doing great work in this thing called life (talk about a dopamine hit)!


Render control – acceptance gives such peace and contentment. Embrace that showing up as yourself IS enough.  


Leave room for people to be wrong about you or even judge you. Know that sometimes you just won’t be someone’s cup of tea. Some patients, colleagues, leaders will click with you. Others won’t. It’s normal.


Decide whose opinions you really do care about. Cultivate conversations with those people, not to pat your ego, but to learn what they think is going well and how we can grow.


I hope this is helpful.


Have a joy-filled day!


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