“Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional experience. Emotional validation is distinguished from emotional invalidation, in which another person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged.” — Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault
Emotional validation is a potent motivation throughout our lives. We seek it from our parents as children, ideally learning how to eventually provide it for ourselves. Of course, even the healthiest, most emotionally well individual will find emotional validation in their work, their relationships with others, and many other sources.
For the healthy, emotionally well person, however, it is not a craving. It is not an unquenchable thirst, not the primary motivation in their lives, and it rarely leads them down treacherous, toxic paths into painful, sometimes even dangerous, situations.
This is because they, luckily, feel good enough, fundamentally content with themselves, and their sense of self-esteem comes from within. On the other hand, those who don’t feel good enough are in a trickier spot and that is what this article is about: the origins and consequences of how not feeling good enough makes you constantly crave external validation.
It Starts in Childhood
Babies and children completely depend on their caregivers for their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Their helpless dependency isn’t a problem in non-toxic and emotionally healthy families as caregivers will consistently respond to the child’s needs in ways that foster and grow understanding, love, and acceptance. In these families, children are valued as individuals, loved for who they are, and are taught what unconditional acceptance and love looks like because that is what they are shown.
Over time, these children learn to care about, love, and value themselves—independent of their original caregivers and other outsiders as they enter adulthood. Naturally, they learn that they are good enough because that is how they are treated and, consequently, they feel good enough.
In contrast, toxic and emotionally unhealthy families either fail or are inconsistent in how they respond to the child, and both inadequate responses set the child up for failure. Growing up without understanding, without unconditional love, and without acceptance will likely be extremely damaging, the effects of which may persist throughout the individual’s life. Indeed, children from these sorts of environments tend to feel not good enough even long into adulthood when the trauma, abuse, and neglect of their childhood is behind them.
Unfortunately, the conditions that cause chronic feelings of not good enough prime the child for future trauma and a deep, existential craving for the emotional validation they lacked from their primary caregivers. For them, they will seek it elsewhere from other toxic, emotionally unavailable people.
It is not purposeful nor is it the child’s fault, but a child who is rejected, ignored, or judged by those they depend on for their very lives will very likely internalize a variety of negative emotions such as anger, sadness, and despair, not to mention chronic shame and inadequacy. Since their primary caregivers never unconditionally loved and accepted them and since their caregivers provided inconsistent emotional validation, if any, they will be unable to recognize emotional validation or create their own.
People who come from such environments will unconsciously and unknowingly seek outside sources of emotional validation, perhaps without even realizing the seed of truth behind their pain: not feeling good enough causes them to crave and subsequently seek outside sources of emotional validation that will very likely put them in the path of toxic people, relationships, and situations. They want to be validated so bad, they look for the quick fixes.
Here are a few examples of such quick fixes: the narcissists who love bombs, the conman who only uses people for sex or money, the person who only wants their own needs and desires met and won’t be there when you need them, neglectful and toxic family members. Indeed, craving emotional validation without really understanding the mechanism behind it will only draw in people who are, in fact, completely unable to satisfy it.
These superficial “fixes” may feel good for a while, but they will not resolve the actual problem. When a person craves emotional validation from others without knowing how to create emotional validation for themselves, they will repeatedly put themselves into the same tricky, painful, and disappointing situations.
Healthy Steps You Can Take to Get Better
So what can you do about it? If your caregivers inconsistently or never showed understanding, love, and acceptance, here are some valuable steps you can make.
1. Recognizing that you don’t need constant external validation anymore. Recognize that you are no longer dependent on your parents for the emotional validation you needed when you were a child. Just because they were unable or unwilling to provide it, doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with you and you don’t deserve it. Additionally, you don’t have to be afraid of people’s rejection or abandonment anymore because having acceptance of others is not vital anymore.
2. Learning about childhood trauma and its long-term effects. Childhood trauma has a ripple effect that can last an entire lifetime. This is a tragedy, but thankfully there are many people out there who write about it, talk about it, and want to help you overcome it. A good place to learn about childhood trauma are the many online resources available both for money and for free. Of course, there are books, articles, and videos, supportive communities, blogs, and professionals – truly, a vast network of others who understand you and have the knowledge, experience, and resources to help you learn how to emotionally validate yourself.
3. Learning self-empathy and self-acceptance. You can honestly look at yourself and accept who you are as you are, including the painful aspects of your life. Aim to change what you don’t like about yourself, and remind yourself of the things you do like about yourself. You can learn to provide yourself with what you didn’t receive as a child: empathy, love, curiosity.
4. Acquiring the tools you need to heal and grow. Working on yourself is essential in order to overcome your childhood programming and its consequences. It’s a difficult and long-lasting process that involves both working on your past and tacking your current problems. Setting healthier boundaries and choosing better relationships can help tremendously in creating a more nurturing environment. A good professional can aid you, guide you, and make this process much bit easier.
Summary and Final Words
Feeling that you are never good enough is very common. It stems from unhealthy childhood environments. One of its effects is constantly craving external validation. In order to overcome it, we need to work on ourselves with the goal of resolving our childhood traumas and learning new tools how to deal with our painful emotions and life’s challenges better.