Validation, Self-Esteem and Oprah Winfrey

Validation, Self-Esteem & Oprah WinfreyLast week, Oprah Winfrey spoke to Harvard University’s graduating class.  In her speech she noted, “There’s a common denominator in our human experience. Most of us, I tell you, we don’t want to be divided… What we want is to be validated. We want to be understood.”

It is a sentiment that she has mentioned before. During her famous last episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, she said, “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common — they all wanted validation…. They want to know, do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?

Our feelings of self-worth are tied into the concept of validation. Validation makes us feel accepted and being accepted make us feel powerful.  Validation makes us feel reassured.  Validation reassures us that we can have positive feelings about ourselves, which boosts our self-esteem. 

We choose goals for ourselves based on what will make us feel validated.  We seek the approval of others so that we can feel validated.  We also seek out friends, partners and mentors who make us feel validated.

That is not to say that we only seek friends and partners who agree with us. Not in the least.  What we want is someone who listens to us, who understands our point of view.  The validation comes in the acknowledgement, not necessarily in the agreement.

So how can we give someone the validation they are seeking?  Here are three important ways to provide validation:

Be physically present. When you are with someone, really be in the moment with them. Make eye contact during conversation and avoid unnecessary distractions.  Let that person know you care by giving them your full attention. Give a hug, a pat on the shoulder or hold a hand when it is needed.

Be empathetic.  When you feel sympathy for someone, you recognize their emotional response to a situation.  As Oprah stated, people simply want others to understand them.  Our innate ability to see an issue from another person’s perspective is authentic, it is real and it provides validation.

Be an active listener.  Active listening is focusing on the conversation at hand and nothing else.  It means giving the other person your full attention.  It is a sign of consideration and respect. 

Active listeners often summarize or paraphrase key points during their questions or response which confirms an understanding of the other person’s feelings.  Though being a good listener is also about what not to do, such as not trying to predict what the person will say next, and not interrupting or starting to generate responses while the other person is still speaking.

While it is wonderful to become someone who can validate another person’s feelings, let us look at this from another perspective for a moment and look at how to build self-esteem in children.  As parents, we can provide our children with validation through these methods.  And clearly there is some validation that can only be achieved from a parent, teacher, coach or mentor. 

Yet there is one additional, important item that we can start teaching our children at an early age.  The most confident of people seek validation more from themselves than from others.  As was said above, we tend to set goals for ourselves based on what will give us self-validation.  Some people, those with an innate sense of self-esteem, rely somewhat less on others for validation because they get it from within.

So, perhaps it is our role as parents to help our child look within for reassurance whenever possible, rather than relying on the validation of others.  The more we teach our kids to set goals and seek validation from their selves, the less they will have to wonder, “Do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I say mean anything to you?

What do you think?  Has Oprah revealed the key to building self-esteem?


  1. These are great tips. With everyone having smartphones these days they are constantly checking them and it seems being present with the person you are talking to is harder and harder to do. I’m trying to make that a focus this year.

  2. Such good points! I think we are all looking for validation so often, even at a subconscious level, and I think it can lead to lots of shame because we find ourselves comparing ourselves to others when we don’t know their full stories. I think that is part of why we feel such a strong need for validation.

    Learning to trust yourself can help so much with internal validation – when you know how to listen to your intuition, you can guide yourself based on what you know is truly best for you and not what seems like others would expect or want.

    And I love your tips and agree with Tesa. Our ability to be deeply present is challenged all the time with our new addiction to technology. This is something I am working on as well.

  3. Good question! With 5 kids, I can see that self-confidence can be both innate and created. I worry more about my one son who lacks confidence and try to encourage him with his interests like military history and cooking. Though, I have to keep an eye on the other ones to make sure their innate self-confidence doesn’t carry them into dangerous situations. They need to learn discernment and leadership, just as the anxious child needs to learn that he can do stuff and it’s okay to make mistakes.

  4. This is such a great post! I think empathy is definitely lacking in a lot of people these days. It seems like people are so often quick to make judgement and don’t stop to think or care. I heard Oprah gave a fabulous speech at Harvard. I’ll have to look it up on YouTube and give it a listen.

  5. I think we often perceive ourselves as being present or listening, when we’re really distracted by other things. Oprah is right though, most of us want to be heard, and accepted.

  6. Jessica, this is a fantastic post. I certainly needed a refresher right now. Life can get so hectic and we rush through so much of it that it is important to make sure we take a second and realize that being a good mom, friend, wife, acquaintance isn’t only about just being there, but about connecting on a level that both people need. Super important topic. Great tips!

  7. Great post! I have a friend who is absolutely GIFTED at validation, and I didn’t even realize it until I read your post. She’s an incredibly engage & active listener, and I like to meet with her often because when I do, I come away wanted to emulate those traits to everyone I meet!

  8. Well, that woman is a genius! I don’t remember what it was I was watching, but they were trying to work on their marriage, and the counselor had them say to each other, “I see you, and I hear you.” So I have to agree, we all just want the acceptance and validation from others.

  9. I think that active listening leads to building better relationships with others. Too many people seem to just be “waiting for their turn to talk.”

  10. I wouldn’t say it was THE key, but it’s definitely an important component of it. It takes a lot of practice to be a good listener if you’re built that way though. Me, I’d much rather listen than talk!

  11. I don’t know if it is the key, but it is certainly a big help. It is why my daughter’s kindergarten teacher asks her students to show her good friendship when she talks by looking at her in the face and turning their bodies toward her. We all crave connection, approval and validation.

  12. This is a lot to think about, but my quick response is that if we can help change people’s impression of themselves, let’s do it. Taking the time to really listen, to not give advice unless asked for it and to feel for others situations isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

  13. Be an active listener. Ohhh, this is something that I think I need to work on. Great post with info that we all need to be reminded of.

  14. I know I need to be better about these things. I tend to be so exhausted in the afternoons when my son gets home from school that I’m not as good at being present with him as I’d like. I hope to make up some of that time this summer!

  15. I agree! Another great post! Took me years to let me validate myself. I hope my kids get it sooner.

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