3 Signs You're Addicted to Validation at Work — and The No. 1 Way To Stop Needing It

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Mory Fontanez10
May 24, 2024 at 9:49PM UTC

Validation addiction is the most common roadblock to feeling a sense of personal fulfillment and accomplishment at work. It’s so common in fact, that all of us struggle with it weekly, if not daily. Validation addiction is simple: it is the reliance on feedback, praise or recognition from others around you to feel you have done a good job or hold value in your position.  

Take a moment right now and ask yourself, “when was the last time I did something in order to hear praise or show that I was valuable in my role?” I bet the answer is in your very recent past. That is okay—there is no shame in this. 

The only way out of validation addiction is to become aware of it. 

Once you know it’s happening, your will to be happy, fulfilled and successful on your own terms will kick in to do the rest.

So, what are the three signs that you are addicted to validation at work?

1. You feel anxious when awaiting feedback.

We’ve all been there—we are presenting an idea and the pause in between when we finish speaking and when we finally hear the other person pipe up feels like an eternity. That feeling is present because the other parties’ feedback holds a great deal of weight to us. We forget that we have created something worthy, something creative or smart, and that in itself is an accomplishment to be proud of.  Yes, feedback is important and absolutely, differing views will make your work product even better. That can be true and your contributions can be valuable, unique, and necessary. Believing in your worth is the first step to breaking the addiction. 

2. You feel frustrated when others disagree with you.

Not everyone will see things your way. Disagreement is critical to innovation, in any job or industry. And yet, we have personalized disagreement so deeply that we reject it as negative almost immediately. Why? If you look beneath your initial negative reaction to disagreement, you will find that part of you is pleading to be understood. This part wants to feel as though others really see us and that they value what they see. This is the part that thinks discomfort in our interactions is a sign that we don’t hold value. When this part of us gets into the driver’s seat, its first job is to reject disagreement as unfair, obnoxious and rude. When we face disagreement, we villainize the disagreeing party. We think, “they just don’t get it,” “she’s playing the devil’s advocate to undermine me,” or “he’s terrible at this job.”  We do this to protect ourselves—because in reality we feel rejected.  

What if it didn’t have to be this way? What if other people’s disagreement could be their own to hold?  What if we could understand that disagreement is just someone’s way of processing what we’re saying? Or that they’re trying to show us a new perspective based on their unique experience? Or, maybe, that it’s coming from the other person’s need for validation? None of the above is about us, and none of it is ever personal.   

3. Your feelings about your performance change easily.

You’ve just completed an important project and you’re feeling really good about it. Your supervisor calls and asks you for an update.  When you’re done bringing them up to speed, they launch into a barrage of nitpicks and complaints about the details of the project. Suddenly, the pride you felt in your work has dissipated and you’re feeling bad about yourself and what you’ve produced. 

Some of you have supervisors that do this as a matter of habit every single time you present something to them. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why they do?  If we apply the idea that it is never about us to this scenario, what do we see? Suddenly, we see a person who is in the midst of their own hurricane, needing to drag us into it to somehow make themselves feel better.  Their nitpicks aren’t constructive—they aren’t meant to be. They are designed to make us feel bad. Why? Because they feel bad, about something or everything. We take this on and make it about us, which makes us doubt our own work product, or worse, our value in our job. 

If you start your day feeling good about your work and notice that that feeling does a 180 after interacting with someone, that is a tell-tale sign that you need their validation to continue feeling good about yourself or your work. Ask yourself: does this person have the tools to really validate me?  I’m willing to bet the answer is no every time. 

Remember, becoming aware of this need for validation is the first and most important step. 

Without judging yourself, start to observe yourself at work. What changes your moods? How do you feel about your role and the work you do? Who has the power to make you feel differently about it? Then, start to distance yourself from the situation. Can you see how other people’s reactions are more about them than they are about us? If that’s the case, are they truly in an objective enough position to influence the way you feel about yourself? Do you need an unobjective point of view to help you define your own importance? Or, better yet, can you find the clarity to see the value of the work you do? Can you see that what you bring to the table is unique and valuable enough that you, and only you, can do it? 

It takes time to break the addiction. Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t turn off like a light switch. Just begin to observe it and ask yourself these critical questions. Before you know it, the anxiety of hearing other people’s perspectives will turn into a consistent calm that is grounded in a deeper knowledge of your own worth. That knowledge is unshakeable and will not be moved by anyone else, no matter how hard they try. 


This article was written by an FGB Contributor

Mory Fontanez is a Purpose Coach and the CEO of 822 Group. Previously the Managing Director of Strategy at a global PR company, Mory uses both her corporate strategy and intuitive skills to coach executives and individuals in aligning their business with their higher purpose.

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