Internal validation vs external validation and ADHD

You know that feeling you get when you’ve done something you’re proud of, or something you think is cool, and you’re so excited to tell someone about it?

You picture it in your head: you tell this person about this impressive/cool/interesting thing. Their eyes light up. They get a huge “no way” grin and you’re laughing and saying, “No, seriously!” You both agree: SO COOL, you’re the shit, and you walk away feeling glad that you shared this special experience with another human.

Awkwardly cut back to reality. You tell the person about the thing, and they look at you for a second before returning to scrolling, dishwashing, working, etc. They mumble something nonchalant that absolutely crushes your spirit in the moment:

“Okay.”

“Cool.”

“What? Could you say that slower? …okay, cool.”

Or, if you’re especially lucky, a blank stare, followed by a slight, confused frown, followed by that inconvenienced headshake that screams, “How the fuck do you want me to react to this and can you please go away?” You know the one. I do, at least. (Or so my brain tells me, and I know my brain would never ever be dishonest or dramatic, that would be ridiculous.) 

So away you go, feeling a bit hot in the face, maybe on the verge of tears, or irritated at that person’s response, at yourself for sharing at all, and at that table you just distractedly stubbed your toe on and, wow, who feels like screaming all of a sudden?!  

*deeeeeep breath*

When you have ADHD, someone’s vague underwhelm can feel like straight-up rejection.

Are you me? Because this was me the other day. I felt a bit stung after I shared something with my mom, who seemed way less impressed by what I told her about than I’d expected. 

Oof. I was salty af. 

“Maybe I’m an idiot for wasting her time with something stupid,” I thought. I left the interaction feeling, for lack of a better term, “turnt down.” That mildly bitter flavor of rejection. You know the one. 

And for a second, I thought of you, Dear Reader, so I started paying attention to what was happening.

First, I knew I felt sad. I didn’t have an exact thought for why yet, so I just let myself be sad. “It’s fine to feel sad,” said a calm, sagely part of me who recognized the pattern happening, in all her lovingly detached awareness. “Yeah, just be a salty bitch for a minute, love, it’s okay,” said some other mischievous yet mature yet playful part of me. I laughed.

When I felt naturally lighter—when I felt settled, started wanting to move around, and took some of those extra refreshing after-sadness breaths—I got curious about the thought behind that sad, turnt down-ness. (I’m very great with words today, thank you. 🙂

I realized I felt sad because of the thought, “I’m not that impressive.”

Of all the things to think of yourself, right?! Let’s explore.

Internal vs external validation

Now, I’m all for internal validation. For a while, I insisted that it was all a person truly needed. But now, I think there’s more nuance to it. 

Because I do love internal validation, but I like external validation, too. I know I don’t need it, but I do want it sometimes. An interesting reflex happened when I realized that: I felt shame. 

Shame for wanting appreciation. Shame for wanting others to be proud of me, even if I was also trying to be proud of myself (and doing a pretty good job of it sometimes). Can you relate, Dear Reader?

Instead of believing that shame meant anything serious though, I got curious about it. 

I asked myself, “Why is it so bad to want validation from other people?” Then my brain offered a pleasantly neutral answer that I fucking loved:

“It’s okay to want validation from others. You’re just not entitled to it. The only validation you are entitled to is your own, so let that be your favorite kind.”

…huh.

As I sat and savored that information for a bit, letting myself settle into this slightly altered version of my reality, my brain offered a cute metaphor, to fucking boot:

“Your own internal validation is like the delicious meal you ordered for yourself. External validation from others is like the treat the cashier throws in if they want to.” 

Thinking of it in this simple, ultra-light way soothed a lot of the sting for me. I hope it can for you, too! 

To summarize: if you’re feeling sad, dejected, embarrassed, etc. after someone’s reaction screams “rejection” or “indifference” to you, try these steps:

  1. Feel whatever you’re feeling. It’s just a harmless emotion and it’s only temporary. Relax any tension in your body and just breathe into and out from the feeling. You got this. <3 
  2. Let the feeling pass naturally. When it does, shake it off a little, move around, and try to make yourself laugh. Do things to let your nervous system know that you’re uninjured and safe.
  3. Get curious about the belief that caused you to feel this way. Common thoughts are: I’m not impressive, I’m inadequate, I’m not enough, I overshare, No one cares about what I say/do, I’m bad at communicating, etc.
  4. Remind yourself: “My own validation is always the best fit for me. Other validation is a welcome bonus and I’m okay with or without it.”
  5. Give yourself the words you want from others. That could be praise (“That really was pretty cool, nicely done”), or it could be more neutral (“How interesting, thanks for sharing.”) Experiment with what statement(s) feels good in your body when you close your eyes and think of it. 

For what it’s worth, I think you’re cool. And I hope you think you’re cool and great, because that’s a fun reality to live in and I’d love for you to see it for yourself, if you haven’t already! 

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