When you hear the word “addiction,” what are some of the things that come to mind? Perhaps you may associate the word with substance abuse, or maybe it brings to mind tobacco smoking, vaping, drinking, or binge eating. There are also certain types of behaviors that can be considered addictive, with Everyday Health listing gambling, sex, shopping, video games, thrill-seeking, and even plastic surgery as activities that can all pose risks of one sort or other if they reach the level of a compulsion.
Even if you have no issues with any of these more common types of addiction, however, you could still be dangerously addicted to something you’re not even aware of. Mory Fontanez, who works as an executive purpose coach and also serves as the CEO of the business consulting firm 822 Group, warns of a troubling trend that seems to be endemic on today’s culture, something she calls “validation addiction.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
What is validation addiction?
Validation addiction is something Fontanez defines as “the ongoing need to derive our value or worth from other’s opinions of us rather than developing a deep inner knowledge of our own value.” While she acknowledges that we all rely on some form of feedback from other people, the addiction kicks in, she says, at the point where “external feedback becomes the only source of information a person uses to define themselves or their worth.”
So how can you know if you’re a validation addict? As Fontanez tells us, you may have a problem if you’re “looking for feedback before making a decision about whether you believe what you’ve created or done is worthy or good,” and she also says it’s not a good sign if you’re “easily thrown off track in achieving your mission or goals because of other people’s negative reactions.” What’s more, she cautions that “holding back from speaking up, disagreeing or sharing new ideas because ‘people will think I’m crazy'” is also a sign that you’re relying too heavily on others’ opinions.
How validation addiction can harm you
Well, everybody cares to some extent about what other people think, don’t they? What’s the harm in it, really? Fontanez says there’s quite a lot of damage that this addiction can do, wreaking havoc in both your personal and professional life. If you’re constantly seeking to be seen and understood by others, something that’s never going to happen because everyone’s got their own belief systems, you risk falling into what Fontanez terms “a black hole of sorts where we are never fully satisfied with ourselves because we are relying on others who don’t have the tools to truly make us feel valuable.”
Not only are you doomed to living your life in a state of dissatisfaction if you’ need to be validated by all of the people all of the time, but Fontanez notes that this need will also negatively impact your ability to make decisions. If you’re constantly second-guessing what’s going to get the best response from other people, then you’re likely to lose touch with your own true feelings. Fontanez speaks of the “inner compass …[that] is the voice that is trying to move us to do what’s best for ourselves and for others … [and] moves us to speak truth and share new ideas.” If we lose touch with this voice, we lose our ability to be creative or innovative and we may wind up making poor decisions that hurt not only ourselves but others around us.
How you can overcome validation addiction
The first step towards overcoming your addiction to others’ validation lies in embracing some truths about this condition. For one thing, Fontanez points out that this over-reliance is not natural and is something that can be avoided if you’re willing to put in the work. She says that, despite what we may think, earning other people’s approval doesn’t create the security we crave (people are notoriously fickle), but reassures us that letting go of our dependence on what others think won’t mean we automatically “spin into some selfish abyss where we won’t act in ways that are compassionate or empathetic.”
Every time you feel badly about yourself because of something someone else has said or how they’ve reacted to you, Fontanez suggests you stop and consider that maybe it’s not really about you. Could be they’ve got something going on or maybe they’ve got their own filters or life experiences that make them unable to recognize the validity of your opinion. Once you can, as Fontanez puts it, “see that often, other people’s reactions have more to do with them than us,” you can move on to the next step, that of ‘”remind[ing] yourself, this person does not have the tools to validate me.” Finally, and most importantly, she says, you should try to “tune in to see if you can hear that inner voice,” since, as she reminds us, “the feedback coming from that voice is the most effective and valuable.”
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