If You Have to Ask… When and When Not to Ask for Validation

Let me begin by saying that what follows is not an original or new insight. Obviously. But it’s worth repeating.

If you have to ask someone else to validate your judgment about yourself, your judgment about yourself is almost certainly wrong or dishonest.

If you have to ask if you are doing a good job, you are not doing a good job. If their pat on the back comes as anything other than a spontaneous, unbidden appreciation, you can be sure it’s not fully sincere.

If you have to ask if you are lovable or respectable, you probably don’t love or respect yourself enough to be truly lovable or respectable.

If you have to ask your partner if you are a good boyfriend/girlfriend, you are probably failing on that front.

There’s an old saying: “If you have to ask, the answer is probably ‘no.'”

Why?

Someone who does a good job is primarily concerned with doing a good job, not with being thought of as someone who does a good job. If you’re that kind of person, you’re going to know intuitively if you’re creating value in ways that you’re proud of – and in ways that are valuable to others. If you have any uncertainty, it’s a sign that you aren’t addressing problems you are already aware of.

Someone who is lovable or respectable is not primarily concerned with being lovable or respectable. They are primarily concerned with the actions and traits which make a person lovable or respectable. They love and respect. They meet their own standards of lovability or respectability. If you have to ask if you’re lovable or respectable, you may not be meeting your own standards. That doesn’t mean you should substitute the standards of others.

Someone who is good to have in a relationship won’t need to ask their boyfriend/girlfriend if they’re doing a good job at being in that relationship. If they have any empathy – something which you’d hope a partner would have with their significant other – they will already know. Are they following through on that empathy and growing in the values that support the relationship? That’s not something they need to ask their boyfriend/girlfriend.

Deep down, in all of these cases, you already know the answer to all of your own questions about your judgments. Your question and your validation-seeking can be an easy way out of being honest with yourself. The real problem is not a lack of validation. It’s a lack of followthrough on your own values and opportunities which no assurances from others will be able to satisfy or solve for you.

Questions like these questions of evaluation are primarily valuable when you’re sure of yourself. That’s when you need an outside opinion – not because you crave validation, but precisely because you’re now in danger of over-self-validation. The main difference is that a person of self-esteem can approach these questions (is this good work? etc.) with the goal of finding truths he may have missed, instead of suppressing truths that he already knows.

In either case, the goal is truthfulness with yourself and truthfulness with others about where you actually are. Don’t misuse feedback to avoid that truth, and don’t use words to ignore your intuition about your problems and opportunities.

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James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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