Internal validation refers to accepting the legitimacy of one’s thoughts and feelings. An individual’s sense of self-worth comes from within.
No judgment is passed on aspects of one’s beliefs, habits, or personality characteristics. Even those attributes that may be deemed undesirable in society are fully accepted by the individual.
Achieving internal validation may not be easy. Society can have strict expectations, some people in one’s life may be judgmental, or the individual may have unrealistic standards.
However, it is important to not allow these standards to have an overwhelming influence on one’s identity. This can lead to feeling down, defining oneself with negative labels, or maybe even leading to depression.
On the other hand, being internally valid can build confidence, self-esteem, and resilience. These are valuable attributes to internalize, especially when facing challenging situations.
Internal vs External Validation
The fundamental difference between internal and external validation is where the acceptance originates – within oneself or from others.
With external validation, the sense of approval that one has for the self is a result of messages received from outside sources. Those sources can include parents, role models, close friends, colleagues, or society at large.
The problem with external validation is that it can be harmful. Other people may not provide the kind of validation that a person wants or needs, and society’s standards often change and are slow to move with the times.
For these reasons, internal validation is considered more stable and enduring. If achieved, it can be psychologically healthier.
Internal Validation Examples
- Accepting One’s Faults: Of course, no one is perfect. Internal validation means accepting one’s negative qualities as part of who you are and being okay with the lack of perfection. This can lead to higher self-efficacy.
- The Neighbor’s New Car: When a neighbor buys a new car from a prestigious brand that is probably expensive, having internal validity means that you don’t feel jealous because your car is much older.
- Not Ruminating Over Negative Comments: Receiving a lot of negative comments on a social media post can be hard to take. But, not allowing those comments to dominate your thinking and make you feel down about yourself is an example of the power of internal validation.
- Neutralizing Judgmental Thoughts: When engaged in negative self-talk, having internal validation means rejecting those thoughts and feelings and replacing them with reminders of your good qualities.
- T-Shirts with Political Slogans: Making a political statement that goes against the grain or takes a firm stand on a controversial issue means that the person is confident in their beliefs.
- Forgiving Oneself: Everyone makes mistakes and engages in actions they are not proud of. Being able to forgive oneself for those mistakes is fundamental to internal validation.
- Being Honest with Oneself: Constantly seeing others in the media that are super successful can create unrealistic expectations. Acknowledging one’s limitations and being honest about one’s skills is a valuable form of internal validation.
- Resisting Internalizing Societal Definitions: Most societies evolve over time. Unfortunately, this means that some of society’s definitions for what is appropriate or acceptable can be outdated. Rejecting society’s negative label for who you are and how you self-identify is a form of internal validation.
- Wearing the Clothes You Want to Wear: Every office has at least one person that dresses flamboyantly. This is a person that is completely comfortable in their own skin and dress according to what they like; not based on established norms.
- Acts of Civil Disobedience: Throughout history there are examples of brave individuals that took a stand and protested against civil injustice. These individuals were so confident in the validity of their belief system that they were willing to put themselves in danger.
Strengths of Internal Validation
1. Inner Fortitude and Resilience
Accepting oneself provides a strong sense of inner strength. This can be a valuable asset when faced with severe challenges such as a health crisis or interpersonal crisis.
For example, going through a divorce can make a person question their value and self-worth. At this point in time, internal validation is extremely important. Being strong enough internally to resist self-doubt is key to being able to push forward and “move on.”
Ultimately, this fortitude will allow a person to turn the page and embark on a new journey in life.
2. Resisting Peer Pressure
The teen years can be full of peer pressure. A student that lacks internal validation may be susceptible to giving in. That can lead to dangerous behavior such as drinking and driving, or engaging in other illegal activities.
When a person feels strong in their beliefs, those belief systems are unwavering. This makes it much easier to resist pressure from external sources.
3. Setting Realistic Expectations
In the era of social media, forming realistic expectations about life can be challenging. We are constantly exposed to images of people that are exceptionally attractive and/or who have achieved great wealth.
That can create a false impression regarding what is “normal.” Even though 99% of the population will be unable to achieve that same level of success, the constant exposure to those examples can be very powerful.
However, for a person whose definition of “success” is based on internally-derived criteria, the images portrayed externally in the media will have little effect.
4. Underpins Intrinsic Motivation
When you validate yourself internally rather than through external markers, then your motivations to act will be based on what you want, rather than on who you want to please.
When we act based upon internal desires, we call it intrinsic motivation. What results is an intrinsic reward, such as personal satisfaction. By contrast, when you do things only for the validation of others, we call it extrinsic motivation.
Generally, scholars like Carol Dweck (2006) find that intrinsic motivation is sustained for a longer period of time than extrinsic motivation, and can lead to better resilience.
Weaknesses of Internal Validation
1. Resistance to Change
Although there are many benefits to internal validation, one possible negative outcome is the reluctance to acknowledge that personal change is needed.
When a person has an exceptionally strong sense that their beliefs and values are correct, it can make it difficult for them to recognize when they are at fault.
In some cases, this presents a barrier to personal growth. Throughout the lifespan, it is unlikely that the attitudes and beliefs one has as a young adult will be the same as in middle or later adulthood.
Being willing to accept that one could be wrong helps a person mature and evolve.
2. Inability to Adapt to Social Dynamics
A large part of social functioning is learning to adapt. This sometimes means accepting the values of others in a social circle or workplace environment.
When an individual is so firmly entrenched in the acceptance of their personal views and opinions, this can make smooth social functioning difficult.
By repeatedly expressing one’s opinion, which may be in contrast to the environment, it can create tension and possibly lead to social rejection. Like most aspects of life, balance is key.
Therefore, learning how to strike a balance between espousing internally validated opinions and accepting the differing views of others is essential to maintaining peer relations.
Applications of Internal Validation
1. In Psychotherapy
There are many versions of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT; Beck, 2011) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT; Linehan & Wilks, 2015).
These can be effective treatments for depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. Although each has its own set of procedures, they have some practices in common.
For example, regarding the interaction between therapist and patient, the therapist has to maintain a balance between corrective change and validation of the patient’s thoughts and feelings.
Even when a patient reveals what may be considered irrational emotional reactions, as Linehan (1997) stated, “Understanding and validation of emotions is crucial in any psychotherapy” (p. 384).
For patients that are suicidal, this effort needs to be timely. However, the fundamental goal is to help the patient establish a positive and affirming attitude towards themselves that is eventually internalized.
Although the therapist provides external validation initially, the goal is for this validation to be internalized by the patient and practiced outside of therapy.
2. In Parenting Practices
Research over the last five decades on parenting practices and children’s behavioral and personality profile have demonstrated consistent patterns (Baumrind, 2005).
The use of authoritative parenting practices is strongly associated with children’s self-esteem, emotional adjustment, and academic performance.
Morris et al. (2015) summarize much of this research:
“Children’s ability to regulate emotions effectively is a developmental skill essential for maintaining successful relationships with peers and family, academic success, and mental health” (p. 233).
These attributes are the foundation of self-acceptance. When a child has validated who they are from within, they are able to practice self-discipline, exercise emotional self-regulation, and resist peer pressure.
This all starts with the parents helping the child internalize a positive self-concept and form the foundation of internal validation.
3. In Inspiration to Fight Injustice
There are many examples in history in which an individual’s values and beliefs were validated based on internally derived standards. In fact, those ideals may be in direct opposition from the values and norms that exist in that person’s culture.
The ideals could center around issues related to racial or gender equality. When a person has a strong sense of being right, it may compel them to take action in the form of protest.
Despite the risk of personal harm or imprisonment, the individual is determined to express their inner beliefs and values in an effort to transform the views of others and exert change in society.
Internal validation is when an individual relies on internal criteria to determine their self-worth. This includes accepting one’s positive and negative qualities.
Helping patients in therapy involves initially providing external validation of the patient’s thoughts and feelings, while at the same time encouraging change.
The eventual goal is for the patient to rely on internal validation to maintain their self-esteem and confidence. This will allow them to function independently, after therapy has ceased.
A long history of research has found that children raised by emotionally supportive parents are able to lead better-adjusted lives. Because their self-worth is grounded from within, they are able to better resist the need to seek approval from others and thereby avoid destructive behaviors.
Baumrind, D. (2005). Patterns of parental authority and adolescent autonomy. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 108, 61-69.
Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond (2nd ed.), New York: The Guilford Press.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House.
Wei, M., Mallinckrodt, B., Larson, L. M., & Zakalik, R. A. (2005). Adult attachment, depressive symptoms, and validation from self versus others. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(3), 368.
Linehan, M. M. (1997). Validation and psychotherapy. In: Bohart A, Greenberg L, (Eds.). Empathy Reconsidered: New Directions in Psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Linehan, M. M., & Wilks, C. R. (2015). The course and evolution of dialectical behavior therapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 69(2), 97-110.
Morris, A. S., Criss, M. M., Silk, J. S., & Houltberg, B. J. (2017). The impact of parenting on emotion regulation during childhood and adolescence. Child Development Perspectives, 11(4), 233-238.