Internal and External Validation: How to Improve Validating Your Experiences

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

This post was originally released on October 20, 2021. It has been updated to show the most up-to-date science research. Enjoy!

As humans, we strive for validation. Why? Because it allows us to feel like we belong. But, did you know there are two types of validation? No?! Well, take a moment to read this post!

What is Validation?

If we go on what the dictionary says, the definition of validation is “the action of checking or proving the validity or accuracy of something.” I want to draw attention to the whole “checking or proving” part. This is exactly what our prefrontal cortex is looking for! The definition of validation is all about having facts our prefrontal cortex can check and know they are real.

Not only does validation help our prefrontal cortex, but it also helps our hippocampus and hypothalamus store these facts as memories. As the hippocampus stores those memories, it assigns emotions to those facts. That means, when our darn amygdala decides to show its colors, we have facts that would help the prefrontal cortex have a strong voice and say “Amygdala, shut up!”

Validation and Neurotransmitters

Another cool thing about validation is the ability it has to release the feel-good neurotransmitters just when we remember that validating fact. How? Let’s review some of the information we talked about in my post, The “Feel Good” Neurotransmitters and How to Release Them.

brown rope tangled and formed into heart shape on brown wooden rail

First, you have oxytocin. Did you know when you remember a neutral fact (or dare I say it: a positive fact) someone says to you, your brain releases oxytocin? Even if you aren’t physically with that person, that release of oxytocin reminds your darn amygdala that you are not alone and have someone supporting you, somewhere, in some way, in your life.

Next, you have serotonin. We have talked a lot about how serotonin improves our ability to feel joy, be happy, and reduce symptoms of anxiety. When we are given validation by someone, we can feel our heart rate increase (partially in thanks to endorphins and norepinephrine), get a warm feeling inside, and feel a small spark of joy.

Want to learn more about how neurotransmitters affect our mental health? Check out my post, Neurotransmitters: The Language of the Brain

Dopamine also has a hand in validation. Can you guess it’s role? If you said that hearing validation on something you are working on helps you feel accomplished, then you are are on the right track! The dopamine released during a validating comment improves motivation to keep going (true story).

Validation and Pain Relief

I mentioned endorphins and norepinephrine above, but there is still more to be said about them. When we hear someone say “I’m proud of you,” we notice a decrease in physical pain. Why? The endorphins that are released naturally reduce physical pain receptors and actually release our own form of opioid: mu-opioid. Norepinephrine is responsible for the physical response we have when we hear these positive words from other people. It all comes together to help our prefrontal cortex mount a defense to that darn amygdala when it says “Nothing I do matters, I’m alone, and no one likes me.”

Now, there are two types of validation: internal and external. Are you familiar with the difference?

External Validation

First, let’s start with external validation. Why? Well, it is way more common than internal, and it is easier to find. External validation is the validation of experiences and emotions we receive from sources outside of us. This included family members, co-workers, teachers, and likes on our recent TikTok video (true story). As humans, we naturally seek out external validation for several reasons:

  • Increased sense of acceptance and belonging
  • Improved communication about needs
  • Sense of safety and bonding with our peers

As discussed above, the release of feel-good neurotransmitters helps improve our mood and self-confidence.

multiracial couple giving high give standing near pile of boxes

Internal Validation

Now, we have the elusive internal validation. Why do I say elusive? Well, think about it. How often do you validate your emotions and experiences compared to how often you offer external validation to your best friend? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Internal validation is how we validate our own experiences and emotions. Yup, that means acknowledgement of what you are feeling. I say this one is harder to do because this means you are using your own facts to validate yourself. If you struggle with self-esteem, you may not necessarily believe facts could actually be positive AND realistic.

Balancing Internal and External Validation

Needless to say, we need to have a healthy balance of both internal and external validation in our lives. If we are heavy on the external validation and light on the internal validation, what could happen? You got it: our brain’s reliance on an unrealistic expectation that external validation is the only way to feel happiness, joy, and all those other positive emotions.

How do we validate ourselves without it coming across as insincere, bragging, or even boastful? That is a great question! I think I have to refer you back to my post, Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills to first reflect on the difference in assertive and aggressive communication. Once you understand that assertiveness isn’t aggressiveness, then we can move on to the next step.

Coping Skills Alert

I am going to focus more on internal validation rather than external validation in this coping skill. My posts all about Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills did a great job about increasing our confidence in asking for what we want and/or need. I think it is time for us to focus more about how to ask for what we need from ourselves.

When we start to validate ourselves, it is going to feel awkward, maybe weird, and everything in between. Remember, this is a new skill that requires practice. It will take time for it to feel natural. With that little disclaimer given, let’s move on!

Be Present with Yourself

This means you have to actually feel your feelings. Not avoid them, ignore them, or dissociate when they are present. You actually have to sit with your feelings, label them, and experience them. Want to learn more about how to be mindful of your feelings? Check out my post, Mindfulness: The Art of Becoming Calm, Cool, and Collected

Reflect on What You’re Experiencing

To reflect means to label what you are feeling accurately rather than guessing. For example, if someone close passes away, labeling your grief, sadness, and denial of their passing would be accurate compared to just feeling sad. Reflection just doesn’t happen with our emotions, it has to happen with what we are physically feeling. When we label our physical sensations (like a tight stomach or tense jaw for example), we are drawing attention to the whole experience

man in white sweater sitting on green grass field

Use your Hippocampus

Sometimes, we need to allow our hippocampus to review memories of times where we have felt the same way to help identify all that we are feeling. By doing so, we are also helping our prefrontal cortex draw on past facts to help you in a tough situation. This can help you validate strengths you have used in the past, as well as problem-solve situations that can increase your distress levels.

Remember: Everyone has Emotions

I feel like one of the biggest troubles with mental health is the idea that we all are supposed to be happy all the time. We really need to normalize the idea that we all have emotions. Emotions are not good or bad, they are just there. When we normalize how we are feeling, that means we are giving ourselves the same patience we give to others when they experience the same emotions. Believe it our not, you deserve that same kindness.

Be Honest with Yourself

Better known as radical genuineness in the therapy world, being honest about what you are feeling is a key in validating yourself. Many people try to lie about what they are experiencing (cue toxic positivity to enter the conversation) as a way to avoid feeling these hard, “negative” emotions. When we discredit these tough emotions, we also deny our experience. How invalidating is that?!

Need help on validating yourself in a honest way?

Take an Educated Guess!

There are situations where we truly don’t know , or can’t label, the emotions we are experiencing. This is where we prime our brain with some oxytocin, dig deep into into our hippocampus and ask “how would someone feel in this situation? Is that what I’m currently feeling?” By doing this, you are taking internal validation one step further by decreasing the shame of (ready for it?) being human and having a human experience!

I want to thank you for hanging in there for this post on the two styles of validation. With practice, you can ask for the validation you need to feel appreciated while offering yourself the validation you deserve! I believe in you!

To recap this post:
– Validation is the art of collecting facts for our prefrontal cortex
– External validation comes from people around us
– Internal validation comes from within
– There must be a balance of both external and internal validation to have self-confidence

Bonus Material!

Handouts are created to help you remember the facts of each post and help you implement the coping skill into your life. This week’s handouts (that’s right, handouts!) goes over the definition of validation, the differences between external and internal validation, how to validate yourself. Enjoy!

Get the one-time payment plan

The one-time payment option allows you to get all the handouts in one neat file, or with each post.

References

Image Sources

28 responses to “Internal and External Validation: How to Improve Validating Your Experiences”

  1. […] offer them some external validation. This can be in the form of words (like “you’ve been working so hard, no wonder you […]

  2. […] hard is a way to gain acceptance and validation from their peers (better known as people pleasing […]

  3. […] When we think about why we love what we do, we are doing something called internal validation. Internal validation is the art of reminding ourselves that we are more than the stress or chaos we are currently living […]

  4. […] is cool happening in our brain when experience gratitude: motivation. Come again? When we hear that external validation from someone, and our brain is flooded with the feel-good neurotransmitters, that darn amygdala […]

  5. The point when you talk about be present with your feelings is something that I think needs to be work out for adults but with kids too. Many parents don’t let their kids (especially boys) to express their feelings with crying, since it makes them “look like girls”. We all need to express and feel the emotions of our experiences, that is what makes us humans.

    1. You are spot on. Oftentimes, our kids model exactly what we do. So if we are not present with our own feelings, and then tell other people not to be present with their feelings, it creates a bit of an issue. I want to thank you for the idea of doing a post that talks more about being present and what that actually means 🙂

  6. How we speak to ourselves is always so important and I’m going to start referring to it as internal validation because it’s so true!

    1. That is great!!!!!

  7. I love this post! I We often tend to ignore our emotions and neglect our internal validation and this happens a lot when we keep seeking for external validation, and some others do the excat opposite, they focus on internal validation and ignore external validation as it’s something bad or shouldn’t be! That’s why It’s really important to make a balance between external and internal validation! Thank you for sharing this it was really helpful!

    1. You are welcome!!

    2. I’m so happy you enjoy it! It is a labor of love and full of passion so people have the information I need about their Mental Health

  8. Your posts are seriously so informative!! 🙂 I really like what you said about reflecting on what you feel and labeling your feelings and thoughts. The best way I’ve found to do this is journaling consistently. I also use the voice memos feature on my phone to put words to random things I’m feeling and need to make sense of. Thanks for this post!

    1. It is so great to hear that the information is useful! Journaling is a great way to keep up with this, and I have an entire series of posts just about how journaling impacts the brain 🙂

  9. I love your acknowledgment of sometimes we DONT know what we’re feeling and that’s ok too! The follow up recommendation to ask ourselves “how would someone else feel in this situation” is such an amazing reality check which can be so grounding in and of itself. I’m definitely going to start encouraging clients to use that follow up question, and maybe even try it out for myself 😉 Thanks so much!

    ~Lauren
    Forestbeachcounseling.com

    1. It is a great question to ask ourselves because, sometimes, we can see it from a different perspective. I’m so happy you found this post helpful!!!

  10. Great post! This is really useful information, I enjoyed reading this a lot!

  11. This was such an interesting read! Feel like I’ve learnt a lot from this thank you for sharing! x

    1. Thank you so much for reading!

  12. Wow, this is so informative! I’m such a sucker for external validation. Thanks for helping me to understand why. It’s all so logical when you spell it out. Thank you

  13. I really resonated with this, I’ve got a lot of experience with the struggles of anxiety and depression, thankyou for sharing! x

    1. I’m happy it resonated with you! It is such an important topic to discuss and know about

  14. Ohh this seems like such an informative post! I am bookmarking it to come back to it later. Also, will definitely link back to your site in my future blog posts.

    1. That is amazing! Thank you so much for the link back!

  15. This seems like such an informative post!

    1. Thank you! Hopefully it helps you find a way to talk kinder to yourself and validate your feelings

  16. This is great. I find that as I get older, the external validation is not as crucial to me. I am much more comfortable in my own skin than I used to be. Great information in this post.

Leave a Reply