Consciously or not, the vast majority of people in our generation are reliant on validation and approval to uphold a positive self image and a healthy self-esteem. Whether it be likes, comments, shares or republishes, we have social media to thank for our constant need to be validated by others; often strangers that we’ve solely interacted with using our bluelight-emitting blocks.
With social standards and norms, we’ve managed to train our brains to expect compliments and other forms of affirmation for everything we put out there. As much as we may hate to admit it, we’ve become as attention-seeking as dogs flashing their puppy-eyes.
Detrimental? Absolutely so.
Don’t worry, it’s normal
The desire for approval is innate and common among mankind. Think back to when you were in your early years of grade school and you made a drawing at school. For most people, your initial response would likely be to go home and show the piece of artwork to a loved one to earn a comment like “great job!” or “wow, that’s a fantastic drawing!”. Already, at such a young age, we seek approval, recognition and validation. So, why is that?
While there are many theories and reasons for this built-in need, one explanation from the article “What Drives Our Need for Approval?” explains that “whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the desire for validation is one of the strongest motivating forces known to man”. The article suggest that, since we all share the desire to feel secure, there is “a huge degree of inner peace and security” linked to feeling approved. Hence, we seek validation to fit in and avoid feeling vulnerable, which we assume will lead to being comfortable. However, this craving for validation tends to result in quite the opposite of comfort.
Then what’s the problem? (and how to solve it)
Interestingly enough, the desire for approval is not the issue itself. This fundamental need only becomes detrimental when we begin to prioritize pleasing others to the point where we overlook our personal values and feelings to do so. When we appoint more value to other people’s opinions, we give others the power to dictate our worth. That’s why self-validation is the 🔑 to balancing out external validation.
A few easy ways to be in control and improve your self-image 🦋
- Compliment yourself. Once in a while, look yourself in the eyes in the mirror and, bear with me, give yourself a compliment! Ideally, base your compliment off of a non-physical attribute that you possess — try to break down the idea that appearance is our only valuable feature as humans. This can be tough step, but treating yourself with kindness is crucial for self-love and appreciation.
- Try journaling. Although it may seem pointless to write down your thoughts or insecurities on paper, journaling can be a great stress-management tool because it helps prioritize your needs and connect with your inner self. Reading through your thoughts can help give you perspective and find ways to control your problem. (Journaling for Mental Health)
- Acknowledge and embrace your imperfections. Remind yourself that we are all humans. Nobody is perfect and therefore, there is no reason for you to feel the need to be so!
- Stop comparing yourself to others- and I cannot stress this enough. Just as nobody is perfect, nobody is the same! (Other than identical twins, but that’s also superficial). In order to grow and love yourself for who you are, you cannot keep comparing ourselves to other people on this earth. You need to realize that each and every one of us is unique and that this is a good thing.
- Be self-aware. Once you recognize that these destructive habits exist, you’ll be more likely to overcome the need for approval. Going back to social media, the next time you do something like posting a picture on instagram, don’t wait for the feel-good comments to start rolling in or stress how many times people double-tapped. Do things that make you happy and put yourself out there for yourself, not to make somebody jealous or make your sixth grade enemy wish they were you.
- Take frequent social media breaks — and I don’t mean avoiding Instagram for a couple hours tomorrow. This will help you reduce your dependency on external sources for happiness and make you realize that there are in fact more important things than social media!
- Control what you see on your socials. Customizing your feed can be a game changer because you can shape what you see and avoid looking at posts that spark feelings of unworthiness and negativity. Replace those toxic accounts you follow with more educational and worthwhile accounts and at the least, you’ll be getting more valuable information. Here are a couple links to great educational accounts on Instagram: Makeuseof.com/ Mim-essay.com
It’s clear to see that the intensifying need for validation is attributable to social media and the notion that our worth is derived from the response to our online identities. As a teenager living among the generation of kids that seem to be aging at 3x speed, I have first-hand experience when it comes to the effect that social media is having on this generation.
As much as I try not to care, I all too often find myself checking how many people double tapped on my most recent post, the number of followers I have, or the amount of views on my latest story, only to feel bad when I see that I don’t have anything close to what others do. Honestly, even typing this out is making me feel so stupid… social media has turned into an approval contest, but we shrug it off because it’s the new normal.
I have to keep reminding myself that spending time worrying about such insignificant things is pointless. The purpose of social media is to connect with others and share thoughts, experiences, posts and sometimes even learn about global issues. The goal shouldn’t be to compete with the people on your feed, or to try to fit in with the narcissistic kids that have thousands of followers and hundreds of likes, but that’s what it’s turning into. While external validation may feel good in the moment, it doesn’t turn out well in the long term.
We need to realize that it is unreasonable to want to live the seemingly perfect Insta-worthy life because, most of the time, people share the best parts of their lives — the highlights. Not the moments of self-doubt and gloominess in between. For this reason, I think it needs to be a priority for people to be aware that external validation only feels good in the moment. Kids and teens are impressionable, so by simply educating them on social media’s downsides and how to handle them, we can avoid a pattern of young people struggling with mental health issues.
With the way that social media has amplified the desire for approval, it is critical to remember relying on others for self-worth is like keeping your happiness in the hands of others. To recognize that all these things are just components of artificial social media personas is to leave behind feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction, and finally feel comfortable in your own skin!