How to Stop Caring what People Think

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just stop caring what people think? 

Imagine how confident you would feel if criticism bounced off your psyche like pebbles off a suit of armor. Imagine all the mental and emotional energy you could free up if other people’s opinions stopped taking up space in your head. The fear of judgment or rejection would no longer be a concern for you. You’d be an unstoppable force, ready to conquer the world! 

I think most of us carry around some version of this fantasy. Many of my counseling and coaching clients tell me that, if they could change just one thing about themselves, it would be their tendency to worry too much about what other people think. 

Of course, not caring at all about other people’s thoughts isn’t a goal you’re likely to achieve. And you wouldn’t really want to — having some sensitivity to how other people think and feel is a prerequisite for having healthy relationships. But we all need to strike a balance between concerning ourselves with what other people think, and using our own internal wisdom to tell us who we are, what’s important to us, and how we want to spend our limited time on Earth. 

To strike this balance, you need to learn how to rely less on external validation. You must know how to validate yourself, so you can feel good about yourself and confident living your life based on your own values and priorities, no matter what’s going on in other people’s minds. If you struggle to validate yourself, learning how to do so may be the most important step you ever take in your journey of personal growth

Of course, this is deep internal work that can take months or even years in therapy. But this article will give you some ideas about where to begin. If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Why We Seek Approval

Human beings are social creatures. For our ancestors, being part of a group was a matter of life or death, and our brains developed complex systems to help us sustain the social bonds that we needed to survive. 

These psychological systems are still a part of you today, even though you’re not literally in danger of starving to death if someone doesn’t like your outfit. These systems are why your brain can pick up on a ton of information about another person’s inner state, like whether they’re feeling confused, pleased, or irritated, based solely on a microexpression that flashes across their face for a fraction of a second. This tremendous sensitivity allows us to be empathetic and responsive to others, which is how we’re able to maintain our critical attachment bonds and succeed as a collective species. 

When our social bonds feel threatened, we feel uncomfortable emotions. We may feel guilt or shame when we disappoint someone we care about. Or we might feel hurt when someone is critical, hostile, or rejecting toward us. These feelings can guide you to do healthy things, like repair a relationship after a fight, or set healthy boundaries with difficult people. But they can also lead to some unhelpful behaviors, for example, a tendency to stuff your feelings down and avoid conflict at all costs. 

This social sensitivity is deeply wired — you can’t research it away or even therapy it away. But you can learn how to manage your feelings, rather than trying to change your feelings by managing how other people think or feel about you. This essential emotional intelligence skill allows you to remain open and responsive to others, while still having the inner security to live your life based on your own authentic values.

What Is External Validation?

When you think about external validation, you may think about praise, attention, or approval. But it’s about a lot more than that. We receive external validation when we’re around people who reflect back to us that we make sense, that we matter, that our feelings are understandable, and that we belong. 

This is all positive — we all need a little validation to feel happy and connected to the people in our lives. But not every relationship is validating, and no relationship is validating one hundred percent of the time. You are going to meet people who disagree with your perspective, and some will even think you’re foolish for thinking the way you think. Even the most loving, loyal friend will occasionally invalidate your feelings, or fail to understand your point of view. 

If you don’t know how to validate yourself, you’ll feel disappointed, hurt, or resentful when you can’t get the validation you need from the people around you. This not only puts you in a precarious spot, it also puts a lot of undue pressure on the people in your life. Some of the most unhealthy relationship dynamics come from trying to manage how you feel by managing other people. This is at the root of controlling behavior, codependent relationship dynamics, narcissistic relationships, and other toxic patterns.

While there’s nothing wrong with external validation, you also need your own internal supply of self-love and self-confidence to feel secure in yourself and to have healthy relationships with others. 

Signs You Care Too Much What Other People Think

If you care too much about what other people think, you might have trouble with decision making. When you’re not skilled at validating yourself, it’s hard to feel sure enough about your own thoughts, feelings, judgments, and desires to use them in making important decisions

You may also have a strong fear of judgment. Spending a lot of time thinking about how other people will evaluate your choices is a sign that you’re hungry for external validation.   

It can also show up as trouble setting boundaries. It can feel too risky to set healthy boundaries with others when you need their validation in order to feel good about yourself. 

Perfectionism is another common problem. If you need validation from others to feel okay, you’re going to feel pretty anxious about whether or not you can get it. Many people try to manage that anxiety through perfectionism — a habit that is not only self-defeating, but leaves you feeling even worse. 

If you notice yourself saying “yes” when you really want to say “no,” you may be trying to people please in order to earn validation. Similarly, when you meet people who are rejecting or critical of you, you may work hard to earn their approval or to prove your worth if you’re a junkie for external validation.

Not taking criticism well can be another sign that you care too much about what other people think. If you find yourself getting super defensive or collapsing into a pile of toxic shame after gentle feedback, that’s something to think about. In the same vein, you may be addicted to praise. This can create big problems when you encounter manipulative people, who often use flattery to hook people who have low self-esteem into toxic relationships.

Finally, being overly concerned with status or appearance is a big sign you need a lot of external validation. We all like to feel successful, have nice things, and to surround ourselves with people we find cool and interesting. But if you’re seeking markers of status or managing your appearance to change how other people see you, that’s a sign that you’re relying too much on external validation.

How to Stop Caring what Other People Think

So what can you actually do about it? There are a few steps you can take to begin shifting from external to internal validation, which will help you feel more confident in yourself and secure in your relationships.

  1. Remember, no one cares 

Every single person you will meet in your life is primarily self-focused. Yourself included! If you weren’t, what other people think about you wouldn’t be a concern. Remember this when you’re falling down the rabbit hole, ruminating about the thoughts that other people are having about you. They’re probably not having that many. How freeing!

  1. Get clear about your own value standards 

If you spend a lot of time thinking about what other people think of you, that can be a sign that you don’t aren’t clear about what your own values are or how you would like to live your life. When you do have a clear internal belief system that you’re measuring yourself by (with heaps of self-compassion, of course), it’s easier not to judge yourself by other people’s standards.

  1. Have clear goals 

What do you want in life? What is your ten-year plan? What are your most ambitious goals and how are you going to achieve them? The clearer you are about where you want to be and how you plan to get there, the less you’ll need other people to tell you you’re okay. 

  1. Stop judging others 

From a psychological perspective, judgment is an interesting tool. Like seeking validation, judging other people is another way of regulating how you feel about yourself, but instead of trying to make other people think that you’re great, you’re trying to make yourself feel superior to them by knocking them down a peg in your mind. But this backfires. When you judge others, it ultimately reinforces the message that other people’s judgments of you might be valid. It also damages relationships — absolutely no one likes feeling judged

  1. Validate yourself 

Practice intentionally validating your own thoughts and feelings and treating them like they matter. It might help you to use a journal to articulate your point of view, or practice naming your feelings out loud. Then, decide what you want to do with these insights. Is there something you want to change? Or some emotional self-care you can offer yourself? As you do this, remember that there is no one right way to think or feel. I assure you, you are doing this right!

  1. Healthy boundaries 

Not caring too much about what other people think is connected with having healthy boundaries. When you have healthy boundaries, you release other people to think what they think, and you release yourself from any attempts to change or control them. 

  1. Face the fear of abandonment 

For many people, especially those with an anxious attachment style, the possibility of abandonment is terrifying. It can be the core fear behind being overly concerned with what other people think, and it can cause you to abandon yourself to maintain relationships that aren’t good for you. When you face your fear of abandonment (possibly with the help of a good therapist), you can make peace with the reality that other people will come and go from your life as they choose.

  1. Limit who you turn to for validation 

Become more aware of 1) when you may be seeking validation, and 2) who from. When you’re genuinely feeling uncertain or you need some reassurance, it’s good to have a small circle of emotionally safe, trustworthy people in your life who can offer their perspective. But allowing selfish people or those who don’t have your best interests at heart into that circle would be a mistake.

  1. Notice the impact of social media 

Posting snapshots of your life online for strangers to like and comment on is a recipe for getting a little obsessed with how other people see you. If you think social media may be making you feel bad (which is not at all uncommon), try taking a break for several weeks and then noticing how you feel before and after. Then you can decide if you want to continue engaging with it, and how much. 

  1. Work on your self-love / self-esteem 

When you have a negative inner voice, criticism from others feels like confirmation of something painful you already believe about yourself. When you have a supportive inner voice, it feels like a random data point among a billion others. Not totally irrelevant, but also not all-important. Improving your self-esteem can be the key to becoming less fixated on what other people think.

  1. Remember, you’re going to die someday 

I know this one feels morbid, but it’s also the truth. In fact, research shows that worrying too much about what other people think is one of the top-five regrets of the dying. At the end of your life, do you want to look back on a life lived according to your own values? Or a life that was constrained by fear? 

When you find yourself worrying about what other people think of you, I hope that remembering your time is limited and precious will help you gain perspective about what truly matters.

Support for Self-Esteem and Confidence

It’s one thing to read an article or listen to a podcast on how to stop being so reliant on external validation, but it’s another thing to do the deep internal work that will allow you to validate yourself, improve your self-esteem, and build authentic self-confidence. This work touches so many areas of your life and leads to so much personal growth. Whether you do it alone, with a counselor, or a coach, I hope you’ll invest in it. You deserve it. 

And if you’d like to start this journey with support from a talented clinician on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — We have a library of related content, all about how you can become the best version of you. For more articles and podcast episodes, check out our “personal growth” collection

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How to Stop Caring what People Think

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by LA Witch with their song “Starred.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. Relying too much on external validation can keep you from enjoying your life. Today you’ll learn how to validate yourself so you can stop worrying about what other people think. Start feeling more confident and start living a life that’s true to you.

I was listening to one of my favorite bands of all time. This is L.A. Witch, the song is Starred from their album Play with Fire. And I chose this one for us today, because it has such a nice little reminder that you are actually a shining star already. And being able to get connected with that truth. It is so important in feeling good about yourself, your life, being less reliant on others for external validation. When you feel confident in your own worth, your own abilities, your own competence, then feeling okay about yourself no matter what other people may think of you. 

And there are so many important benefits that come from learning how to do this. You will actually have stronger and much less volatile relationships with other people. When you are more clear and confident and less attached to what others think of you. Interestingly, you actually have more opportunities to learn and grow from your interactions with others when you feel more stable on the inside. And also, you will feel much more even keeled just day to day when you’re able to regulate yourself rather than needing somebody else to do that for you. 

So we are talking about so much big important stuff today. And I’m really, really glad that you’re here to join me. As we talk today, I’m going to be mentioning a variety of other podcasts, articles, resources. And of course, we will link to all of them on the post for this podcast, which you can find at And if you would like to access the other resources that I’m mentioning to you, you can find all of them, they’re totally free at Just go to the blog and podcast page, you’ll see it right at the top there. Navigate to the Happiness Collection, or the Love Collection. 

And from there you’ll find a number of content collections on personal growth, self esteem, self confidence. And in those you’ll find assortments of articles, I’ve created a little Spotify playlists with different podcast content collections for you so that it’ll be easy for you to find. That is how to find all of them. And then also, hey! Thank you so much if you’re one of the many who’s reached out to me lately with some questions about how to feel more confident, how to feel better about myself. And I just want you to know that I’m making this episode in response to those questions. Because becoming less dependent on external validation truly is the key. 

This is a skill that once you master it, you’re gonna feel better about yourself, you will have more stable relationships, and you’ll feel more confident just day to day. So this is for you. And if you have a question for me, get in touch you can send an email to Obviously, Instagram, Facebook, usual suspects, I’m around. 

Okay, so let’s dive right into our topic today and talk about external validation. And I’m so excited for today’s episode. Because truly, like so many different things are attached to this concept. And you know, as a psychologist, marriage counselor, coach, I’m always talking to people who fundamentally are coming in wanting, they say “I want to feel happier”, “I want to feel more satisfied with my life”, “I want to have better relationships with other people.”

But you know, at the end of the day, I really want to feel better about myself. And learning what you’re doing with other people to manage your anxiety, regulate yourself, determine your self worth. Like if there’s one thing that you can do differently without really having to change anything else. It is when you learn how to stop worrying so much about what other people think. And I would also like to say that learning how to do that is not flipping a switch. You don’t just decide to stop worrying about what other people think. Because sometimes when people talk about this, they make it sound so easy, don’t they? They say, stop worrying about what other people think. Oh, yeah? Okay.

But like, how to do that is actually quite complex. There are a lot of moving parts to this. And it is actually for most people, very, very deep growth work. So we are not talking about any of this flippantly. And also just to manage your expectations, listening to a podcast on this subject is not going to be the end of this. What I’m going to be offering you today is kind of a guide, like here’s how this works. But just know that doing this work is truly a journey. For most people, it takes a month. I have personally had clients who have been working very actively on managing this and learning how to do this over the years. Just depending on where they’re starting from, in their ability to do this. 

So I just wanted to say that because the last thing that you need is any kind of messaging that makes you feel like it should be easy, because it’s not. It requires work. And it is also entirely achievable. And today, you’ll learn about the things, kind of the stages along the way, and the things that you can be doing to help yourself grow in this very important area. And when we think about the core of this experience, and that I think what all of us want, it’s really just to feel more confident in ourselves, right? 

When we stop worrying so much about what other people think, what that means by converse is that we’re more self directed. We are more self guided. We are able to decide for ourselves. What is important, what is valuable, and I think really be more autonomous and guided by our own values. And you know, a lot of people again, really struggle to do that. Wish they could do that. I mean, I’ve talked to so many clients and felt this way myself, I think particularly at earlier stages of my life. What it feels like, none of the accomplishments matter until somebody else recognizes them. 

And many people will spend a lot of time and energy trying to “make” other people like them. which is especially hard when they’re chasing after getting the approval of people who are maybe difficult to please. I know that so many people struggle to feel good about themselves and their choices, if there are dissenting voices coming from outside themselves. Like, if you have an opinion, feel that something is important, have a certain set of beliefs, or even just want something and it feels like there’s an argument around that or other people disagree with you or think that’s a bad idea. You know, many people struggle to kind of maintain their own inner north star in the face of that. 

Like if other people feel differently, well, that must be a bad idea and kind of collapse. And the danger of this is that they become increasingly disconnected from themselves in the proces. And often increasingly resentful of others. But without really knowing why. It’s blaming others for being obstructionist or difficult, but not really realizing that it’s their own ability to be confident and kind of stable in their own ideas whether or not other people agree with them. When that is true. Other people could disagree with you all the time. And it doesn’t actually matter that much because they can have their opinions. And you can still have clarity about who you are and what is important to you.

Now, there’s so much here. And also we just say it’s totally natural to care about what other people think. And positive in some ways, too. I mean, we also don’t want to go too far to the other side of this which is being closed off to the needs, rights, feelings and perspectives of other humans because that’s not good for anybody either. Particularly if you’re in a healthy relationship with people that you care about, and that are emotionally safe. They may have important feedback for you that is relevant and important for you to be taking in and hearing about maybe how you come across to others, how you are showing up in relationships. And it’s also important to be able to let that in, in a productive and helpful way so that you have growth experiences along the way that are of benefit for you, as well as others. 

So I just wanted to say that too, we don’t want to become so walled off and certain in our own supremacy that we stop taking in information that helps us grow too. And again, normal to care about what other people think and nothing inherently wrong with wanting external validation, or enjoying people being happy with you or approving of you. In fact, I think you do need at least some validation from the people around you to feel connected to them. I mean, we are all social creatures. And part of the fabric of relationships is experiencing mutual appreciation, feeling approved of and valued by other people. And it’s really fundamental in some ways to our wellness to be in relationships with people who value us and to show us that they value us in large ways and small. 

But this becomes a problem, like the need for approval and need for validation from others becomes a problem when you don’t know how to validate yourself. You don’t know how or are not able to look internally to connect with who you are, what you think, how you feel, what you want, what is good for you, not good for you, you’re disconnected from that, or you don’t trust that. And you’re not able to allow it to guide you. You don’t have the kind of relationship with yourself that allows you to affirm your own thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, and kind of have that acceptance and approval inside of yourself. 

And when that is true, when you don’t know how to do that, you become reliant on whatever validation or approval you can get from the people around you. Like when you can’t do it yourself, you need other people to do it for you. And that puts you in a very precarious spot. In so many different ways. I mean, emotionally, but also relationally that is not good for relationships when that happens. 

So today, we’re going to be talking all about how you can stop worrying so much, and really become much more able to validate yourself, stay connected with yourself, have your relationship with yourself, be your primary relationship, and know really provide so much peace and comfort, you’ll stop worrying about what is going on in other people’s heads. Start valuing your own wisdom and judgment. And it leads to so many positive growth opportunities. And so we’re going to be talking about why you care what other people think, and what external validation is. And also some signs that you may be relying too heavily on external validation or confirmation or approval in a way that is not healthy for you or your relationships. 

And then we’re going to be talking about a bunch of different, just action strategies and tips to be able to develop these skills inside of yourself. And again, I’m going to be talking about a lot we’re going to be going through it fast and and just know that every single one of these ideas could be a very deep deep dive. So even though I’m going to be going through them quickly, I don’t want you to feel like these are minimal high level. Take this advice and everything will be different. It’s like each of these things requires work in order to fully understand. In order to actualize in your life. So with that in mind, part of the reason again, why it’s normal for all of us to care about what other people think at least to a degree is because it is baked into the bread. 

Humans are social creatures. You know, we talk about the biological basis of love, attachment, connection, relationships a lot on this podcast. And the truth is that our evolutionary history, our survival drives are organized around our ability to form and maintain loyal relationships with other people. You know, it’s really so recently that human beings created societies that allowed us to be safe and healthy on a physical level, like having enough food to eat, be protected from wild animals or not freeze to death independently. Prior to that, our literal survival depended on being part of a community that was working together, a part of a tribe, part of a collective like this is what we are designed to do. 

And so because of that, we have hard wired systems in our brains, in our bodies that seek connection, seek stable connection, are highly averse to any kind of social rejection. Because that meant death for our ancestors, like 10,000 years ago, if you get kicked out of the tribe like good luck with that, right? And so we have many internal systems inside of us that are designed to maintain connections with others, look for approval from others, be reading the emotions of other people and kind of gauging those. Especially around faces, we have highly developed systems inside of us that take information that we are not consciously aware of. But that are coming from other people around how they feel, and particularly how they feel about us. Like, it’s just so fundamentally important. 

And it’s also true that part of this system is that negative assessments from others create feelings of shame, and feelings of guilt. Because if you go back 20,000 years ago, if somebody doesn’t think well of you and is thinking, should we vote this person off the island? Send them off in their little own canoe and never come back? You know, shame of, “I’m the worst person in the world. I’m so sorry, please forgive me.” Or guilt of, “Oh, I can’t believe that. That was so terrible of me. I’m so sorry.” Like either of those emotional responses to rejection, equaled this appeasing behavior if you think about dogs in packs, there’s the alpha dog, and then a lower status dog. What will they do if they feel threatened? Rollover on their back, let me show you my belly, please forgive me, don’t kick me out of the wolf pack, like that kind of thing. Humans do that too. 

But we’re not conscious of it. This is going back into midbrain, limbic brain kind of stuff. And it’s not bad or wrong if it happens. But it is just so instinctive and reactionary and connected to very old things. And the problem is that this isn’t related to thinking behaviors. This isn’t a rational conscious thought many times. And when people don’t understand these kinds of emotional currents that exist in us for very good reasons, we can unknowingly and totally understandably begin organizing ourselves in our lives around maintaining that connection. But it’s sort of driven by those dark emotions, guilt, shame, fear of rejection, and really like looking to others only for how we are defining ourselves. Are we safe? Can we trust ourselves? Are we worth something? And that creates problems, as you may already be considering in your own life, right? 

Particularly when we put it into the context of our modern lives. Because we’ll still instinctively feel feelings of shame, feelings of guilt, and wanting to you know, not just avoid those but like, those are repair signals. “Oh, I’m so awful. I need to fix this with this person. Because it sort of motivates a desire for appeasing behavior.” And when we experience a lot of that, we can become just highly vigilant. I think about what other people might be thinking and we begin trying to then, therefore, change the way we feel on the inside. You know, I don’t want to feel shame. I don’t want to feel guilty. I don’t want to feel anxious. I don’t want to feel bad about myself. So to do that, I’m going to try to change and influence this other person to think well of me and show me that by changing my own behavior. And it’s like, really trying to get this need met from somebody else. 

And when you think about it that way, it’s very understandable to me why we all do that. But again, the opportunity here is just to really become much more self aware around the fact that it’s happening. Because it’s so reactive, like most of the time people literally don’t even know that that’s what they’re doing. Because again there are parts of your brain, large parts, powerful parts, actually, most of your brain is operating on this very non conscious level. It does not speak to you in words, it isn’t coherent thoughts, it communicates to you in feelings, or in impulses. It’s what people talk about intuition. 

Like that’s where we’re running. And it’s not like new wave stuff. I mean, that’s actually how most of your brain is working, very well actually. But it’s understanding how this works that gives you a lot of ability to begin to have a different relationship with it, right? Because when we are able to realize what’s going on, and where these feelings are coming from, and start to notice how we begin organizing ourselves in such a way to try and get approval from other people as a way of managing our own feelings.

It’s like, you just like that “Naked Lunch” moment from William S. Burroughs, that when you just recognize the disgusting thing that’s actually impaled on your fork, or if you flip on the lights, there’s this, “Oh, I’m doing this kind of moment.” And then it becomes a totally different conversation. It becomes, what do I want, or feel like I need from other people right now, in order to manage these feelings of shame, anxiety and guilt that I really don’t need to be feeling? 

How can I do that for myself, because then you’re able to become much more emotionally stable, but it requires self awareness. And it also requires energy. And again, once you can do this it creates a stable foundation. Because you’re deciding what your values are, you’re deciding how you measure up, you’re able to regulate your own emotions no matter what other people do. And then the way other people feel about you either, fundamentally, or fleetingly. It doesn’t shake the foundations of how you feel about yourself, because that’s what happens when you can’t do this. If somebody disapproves of you, or doesn’t give you the validation that you feel like you need in order to be okay on the inside.It creates this extreme emotional reaction inside of you that will unfortunately, but fairly predictably, actually harm your relationships with others. 

So when we think about the experience of being validated externally, it’s when we’re around people who are reflecting back to us that our thoughts and our feelings make sense, we matter, they agree with us, they approve of us. And also that they affirm our decisions or our ways of thinking. And these can show up in obvious ways, but also very subtle ways. You know, even like in working situations over and over again, what do you think of this email? Is this the right thing to do? Am I about to make a mistake here? I mean, it’s good if you’re learning like checking in about other people, but at a certain point to be able to say to yourself, Is this about my need to know? Do I really literally not know what to do right now? Or am I trying to manage my anxiety about doing the wrong thing? By having somebody else say “Yes, that’s the right thing”, before I do whatever it is that I probably know that I should do, that can be a form of external validation. 

Also, being assured that your way of thinking, feeling, operating your life is the right way, as evidenced by other people’s approval of you. And of course, this is so difficult because there is literally not a correct way of doing pretty much everything. There are extreme tails of the bell curve at which human behavior is patently problematic and it will create problems. But there’s a lot of average in the middle that can look like many, many different things. And this political orientations, parenting styles, spiritual belief systems, ways of approaching work, life, relationships, what you do for fun. I mean, all kinds of different things, there’s a lot of different ways to be that are fantastic, and just fine. 

But to be able to have developed that sense of who you are, what you value, what you want to be, what you think is important, what you think is true requires a lot of work. But also, without that fundamentally being stable inside of yourself, you’re going to feel very uncomfortable interacting with people who don’t value the things you do, see the world the way that you do. And it puts you in this little echo chamber where you’re right, and you are surrounding yourself with other people who are similarly correct. And then everybody else is kind of suspicious of. And that’s really stunting in a lot of ways, it limits appreciation and tolerance for other ways of being at limits, diversity of thought. And also, particularly in relationships that can create a lot of hostility and a lot of barriers. 

But most importantly, it can create feelings of massive anxiety, shame, guilt. If you have a truth and maybe emerging belief or want something different that maybe is not shared by people who are close to you. If you can’t validate yourself it becomes very, very difficult to be yourself, empower yourself, assert yourself in healthy ways, have healthy boundaries with others when they may just have different opinions of you. 

And I think in the worst places, its external validation is needing other people to actively be interacting with you in such a way that it regulates you emotionally. So like, if you are upset, not feeling good about something, and you are depending on someone else to talk with you in such a way or behave towards you in such a way that is soothing to you, that helps you become more regulated and kind of calm down. Because you can’t do that for yourself. And like the rest of us, you are in a relationship with a fallible human who isn’t perfect and doesn’t always know exactly what to say or isn’t perfectly empathetic and sensitive. 

And may struggle themselves trying to figure out how to have healthy, emotionally, intimacy. And so in any relationship with any other human, you can expect that they are not always going to be just right. They’re not always going to know what to do. They’re not always going to say the right thing. And though the problem is that, when you are highly dependent on other people to be meeting your own emotional regulation needs by through the way they behave towards you, or through the way they treat you. 

When they don’t do that perfectly or fairly when that it’s not fair to them to have that expectation because as soon as you need somebody to be a certain way in order to make you feel a certain way, that also starts to send the message of it’s not okay for you fellow human to have your separate thoughts, feelings, behaviors, needs, wants, dreams, values. Because if you do any of those things, I fall apart on the inside. And so it can turn into a lot of controlling behaviors quite frankly of other people that are not healthy for either of you. 

But the other thing too is that when your person/people don’t show up for you in perfect ways, you will not just kind of fall apart. You’ll often feel angry towards them that they are harming you, they’re being mean to you, they are narcissists, they are not meeting your needs, whatever. While there certainly does need to be a middle ground, and people should be striving to have thoughtful, and emotionally intimate, emotionally safe relationships with each other, that is not possible. When you’re depending on somebody else to be a certain way with you in order to help you feel okay about yourself because you can’t do it on your own, that turns into a one sided relationship that is actually kind of all about you. Even if you’re not fully conscious that that’s what’s happening. 

So this can really create a lot of different problems relationally and turned into like the technical term for it is “emotional enmeshment”. You need your partner to be a certain way in order to feel okay on your own. And this can lead to codependent behaviors, it can lead to a lot of emotional reactivity in relationships, and actually a lot of controlling and anxious behaviors as well. And what it will also do is lead to avoidant behaviors in their partner if they’re feeling controlled or attacked by you for not being perfectly perfect all the time. 

They’ll start to move away from you and in self protective ways. Because they feel like they can never be who or what you need. And that’s partly true. Nobody can step in and regulate someone else perfectly every time that is something that all adults need to learn how to do. And I will also share that in the parenting of very young children infants to age three, even a little bit later. But little babies are highly dependent, I mean, really exclusively dependent on parents, or parenting figures to regulate their emotions for them. That babies literally cannot do this themselves because their emotional regulation systems have not yet developed. And so the way that happens is that if a baby gets escalated, it’s really being in the soothing presence of somebody. They’re like borrowing their parents physiological, emotional system, in order to calm themselves down. 

So if you have a screaming toddler and as a parent, you can stay calm, offer hugs, just let them sit in your lap, and they cry it out for a little while. Because you’re calm, you’re safe, you’re not getting elevated, they’re learning, not consciously learning but like their neurological systems, their brains are actually developing these mirror neurons where they’re getting to practice self soothing. Because they’re borrowing you in order to be able to do that. So that is what little babies need and really like young children. So let’s just throw in a parenting tip here. If you would like to have kids who are able to regulate themselves emotionally for you to be emotionally safe, emotionally calm, and just let them climb onto you and calm down, that’s how you develop it. 

Save the conversations or teaching moments for later. Everybody’s calm, we’re all breathing, everybody can think rationally, this is when we have the teaching moment, right? But when this is very difficult for adults to do, they didn’t get the chance to do that in a reliable, safe, regular way oftentimes with their parents or their parental figures when they were little. So they never really did internalize the ability to do that for themselves. And so now they’re always looking, looking for somebody else to meet that very, very, very early need. 

And so this is why at the beginning of the podcast, I warned you that this can be very deep work depending on your early life experiences and it’s not easy to change because it’s so nonverbal. This is easier to change if we’ve just sort of fallen into patterns and developed ways of being either as teenagers or later in life, centered around approval seeking. Those can be easier to change in many ways because they’re easily accessible. And particularly if somebody did have early life experiences with a parent or a parental figure who was able to help them soothe emotionally over and over again and have a neurological roadmap of being able to do that, it’s much, much easier to change these behaviors as an adult. 

And the cool thing is that teenagers go through a very similar developmental experience like a little baby zero to three. Their brains are just exploding with neurons like their brains are literally growing. And for preteens, for kids in early adolescence, like 11, 12, that starts happening again like a lot of their existing neurons, brain structures will atrophy and die off. And it turns into this next, like a huge explosion of brain development. And so teenagers can be similarly reactive and emotional to little toddlers in the same way. And I think it’s hard for parents, because frequently they are much less sympathetic than a crying two year old, right? When you have a screaming 14 year old. But at the same time, to be able to be soothing and let them be close to you, and how to calm down and kind of borrowing your nervous system for a little while. And saving the thinking parts of teaching and corrective responses for later helps them reinforce their ability to do that themselves. It’s showing their brains how to regulate. 

So again, I just wanted to take you into the biology of how some of this stuff works a little bit because this is the path forward for us as adults too. If you have arrived into adulthood, and you’re listening to this and being like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know how to do any of this.” Understanding where it comes from in the first place, I think, helps us understand then what we need to do in order to be able to heal our brains. In some ways, is what it really is because this is often a developmental injury, right? When people struggle to validate themselves. 

Hold on. There can also be other reasons for this. So in addition to the developmental stuff. If you did grow up in an environment where there was a lot of bullying or judgment, or a lot of cultural factors that carried with it, statements of your worth which often happens in a white supremacist culture. There are so many kinds of culturally defined messages around what is worthy and what is not. How big your body is in relation to other people’s bodies can carry a lot of statements around it. Socioeconomic factors, what we do for jobs. Also, I think that there can be for children or adolescents who have experienced a lot of bullying or unsafe social environments. They can be more sensitive to thinking, needing to be vigilant about what other people think of them, because it’s almost like they’ve been traumatized by relationships in the past. 

And then certainly if you’re a more vulnerable person in relationships, like maybe you have social anxiety, or are less experienced, just feel less confident in relationships in general, haven’t had a lot of positive experiences with others maybe haven’t had a lot of friends, it can lead to very real and understandable anxieties about, are you doing the right thing? What do other people think of me? Is this okay? They can also read this external validation kind of needs. But again, most commonly we see this in primary relationships between you and a partner, that’s when it becomes I think, the most intense and the most obvious if it’s when you need something from your partner that you’re not able to give to yourself. 

So that’s what it is. And again, the reason for correcting this is that nobody is perfectly dependable ever, when it comes to this kind of thing. And if you can’t do it yourself, you’re going to feel bad, and you’re going to struggle in relationships. So signs that you may be relying too heavily on external validation, if you have a lot of trouble making decisions on your own if you’re like polling a lot of people to find out what they think before you decide what it is that you should think that would be an indication that this is a vulnerability for you. Also, if you really fear judgment. If it is difficult for you to put yourself out there and imagining disapproval, hostility, anger, rejection from others for doing the “wrong” thing that can be hard. 

Another way this shows up as if you have a lot of trouble setting boundaries with other people is that you are essentially compromising your own values, your own needs, your own rights, in order to gain the approval or acceptance or validation from other people that can be unhealthy. Perfectionism is another byproduct of relying heavily on external validation. This inner pressure that you have to do things over the top well that there’s like a performative thing. It’s not okay to make mistakes, it’s not okay to be anything less than a plus plus which is exhausting. And also impossible and also paralyzing and will make you less effective at the end of the day because you have to get comfortable with being good enough. 

But if you have a lot of anxiety about judgment, rejection, what other people will think or have impossibly high standards for yourself, that’s hard to do. That’s hard to do. People pleasing can be another indication that you are fueled by external validation. Also, I think you’re just not being confident in what you think unless others agree with you. And the converse of that, is trying really hard to get other people to agree with you. So this could be arguing with other people so that they come to see and agree with your perspective. Can also be working really hard to prove your worth to people who are rejecting or critical. So it’s almost like chasing after other people to try to get them to change their minds and either agree with you. Do what you want them to do. Express certain feelings or approval for you. 

It can look like a lot of things in relationships. But when people rely a lot on external validation, it often feels on the inside like needing to fight for their rights. Yeah. So if that’s happening in your relationships, that is something to be aware of. Also, certainly true. I mean, not taking criticism, well, like getting super defensive. Again, going back into that arguing with yourself like, “No, I need you to agree with me. You’re actually the problem, not me. Because if it is me, I would be devastated. And I don’t know how to deal with that.” So like getting defensive, or conversely, like collapsing into a big heap of shame, a puddle of “Oh, my gosh, I’m the worst person in the history of the world, because this person criticized me without being able to take a more balanced approach. And sometimes both at the same time.” 

Getting super defensive and argumentative and then collapsing into a depression because somebody gave you feedback about something that maybe is a growth area for you. But neither of those approaches are actually helpful or constructive either to your relationships or to your growth. Also being very heavily swayed by praise. If people tell you that you are doing a good job, or say nice things about you, or tell you that you’re the best person ever. If you’re really dependent on external validation, you could start following them around like a little puppy. 

And the problem with that too, is that narcissists or other people who can be exploitative or manipulative of other humans, often begin relationships with that kind of love bombing. Let me tell you why you’re so awesome and all the potential and amazing things that I see in you because that’s part of that hook. So you will actually be more vulnerable to getting involved in relationships with people who maybe aren’t that healthy themselves. If you’re kind of a praise junkie.

Or on the other side, you can begin doing things for the sole purpose of getting praise from other people that are not really connected to your own value system. I think there’s a stereotype of social media kind of culture that can be quite damaging. Again, I think, especially young teenagers or adolescents whose brains are still building what can I be posting online, about my appearance or my lifestyle? Or what I’m doing? Or what are my thoughts that are going to get me likes that are going to be validated by my audience. So what is being posted what is being done, what is being pursued, starts being totally disconnected from who they are, how they feel, what they really believe in. These healthy, strong parts of themselves, there’s a real disconnect around just a very performative way of being that’s not really healthy for them. 

And then certainly, a sign that external validation is a vulnerability for you is when you’re really concerned with status, symbols, appearance, right? If you can’t go to the grocery store without makeup on because you might run into somebody. Or maybe going into debt to have certain things that convey status to others can be damaging. And I think most tragically and heartbreakingly when people try to change their physical appearance. Either by manipulating their body shape or size through malnourishment or mistreatment of their physical needs. I mean, an extreme examples that can turn into body dysphoria and plastic surgeries and all kinds of stuff. 

So anyway, just as you’re trying to get a map of what this really looks like in practice, I hope that this little list that we ran through helps you just gain awareness of what it looks like in the wild so that you can see it in yourself and maybe on others too. And so when it comes to some tips, right? Some strategies, some things to be developing in yourself that will allow you to stop caring what other people think. Release that need for external validation through developing a stronger and healthier relationship with yourself that is organized around your, not just awareness, but confidence and ability to legitimize your own needs. 

Some of the things that you can begin putting into practice that again, require practice, require effort, require intention, require often deep work or some of these. And one cognitive strategy, you can write this on a post it note, stick it to your bathroom mirror, is that nobody cares about you or me or any of us. Everybody is self focused, right? Everybody is primarily concerned with what is going on inside of them and in their lives. And when you think about how focused you are on what somebody else is doing or not doing, that’s just not part of your life probably. It doesn’t occupy a lot of your time, unless you’re thinking about what they think about you most of the time. Or unless this is somebody that you’re partnered with. And is behaving in a way that is creating bad feelings inside of you. 

That is when we can get kind of hyper focused and fixated on other people. But generally speaking, really, nobody cares about us. Other people just don’t think about you that much. They don’t think about me that much. And getting comfortable with that idea and learning to appreciate that idea I think can be very, very valuable. Because without it there can be this hypersensitivity. As you’re walking through the world that other people are very interested in, what you’re wearing, whether or not you’re wearing mascara, how much you weigh, what you do for a living. 

And so, if you can think back to what it felt like to be 13 in junior high, when you’re planning your outfit for days in advance and with great anxiety put the pink shoelaces in your sneakers or whatever it was. Have these beliefs that literally everybody at school cares about what my hair looks like or any of these things. I hope that as adults, we’ve all moved away from that. But just as you move through life, be aware if that is part of your operating system still. And actively remind yourself that nobody cares.

Okay. Another thing that is, I think the most fundamentally important part of this work, and this is the part that does take the most time and energy is to get really clear about your own value standards. And then learn how to measure yourself by your own value standards and your self determined ideas about what is important and what isn’t. 

And again this is a very major process of self awareness that goes into, who am I? What do I believe in? What feels like the most valuable and important things in the world to me, right? What matters in my life? What kind of person do I really want to be? Is it a good friend? Is it being of service to the world in some way? Is it making a difference in the lives of others? Is it producing creative work that touches other people? Spend a lot of time here, because once you get really clear about that, then you have the opportunity to compare other things to whether or not that matters in terms of your core truths. 

And it creates that basic foundation and yourself. Because when you have that, then you can have realistic conversations with yourself. Am I living in the way that I want to live? How am I showing up at work? How am I showing up in my relationships? Am I spending my time in a way that I value? Who am I spending time with, right? Because it allows you to make the most informed decisions about whether or not things matter to you. 

And again when you’re clear about this, you’re determining for yourself what is important. And when you have that ability, what other people think or don’t think or react or respond to become much less significant. Because there’s like this self awareness that they don’t get to decide who you are, or what should be important to you. They are also operating by their own internal belief systems, their own value systems about what is important to them, what they value, what they are organizing their lives around. And so it’s like, you also begin to see as you yourself become more autonomous and clear about who you are. I think there’s also a greater respect and appreciation and tolerance for other humans who are different from you. 

Being able to allow that so that when somebody else may disagree or have a different opinion, as opposed to this, like catastrophic, collapsing into self doubt and self recrimination, it becomes a, “I could see that, they came from a very different background and they have had different life experiences. And they have things that feel true for them that don’t feel true for me. When I look on their side of the table, I can see how that makes sense. And I don’t need them to be different. But I also don’t need to judge myself according to their standards, because I have my own. I have my own.” 

Again, this is a process that I think is really connected to a process of emotional maturity that many people don’t fully develop until they get oftentimes into their 30s, 40s. I recorded a podcast a while ago with my colleague Harold who is so fabulous around emotional maturity. And that one might be worth listening to, to get more information on how that works. 

Another fantastic strategy to buffer yourself from what other people are thinking is to have clear goals. I mean, part of it comes from knowing who you are, but then next is like, what do you want in life? How are you going to create that? How will you know if you have been successful by the standards of your own yardstick or not? Because the clearer you are about that, and the more intentionally you are designing your day to day life activities and ways of being around that, the less you will need or crave external validation. 

So I mean, just a little thought experiment. Imagine there’s a backpack with a million dollars in it hanging on the top branch of a tree. You can have all that money if you just figure out how to climb up the tree and grab it. But there’s this group of people standing around you. They can’t see the backpack, but they’re all yelling and pointing. Why are you climbing that tree? You’re not doing it right? You look weird. This is dumb. Do you care about that? Absolutely not, because you have your eye on this thing that you’re moving towards. And the fact that other people may not recognize that or want something different for themselves is just not important. Because you know where you’re going, you’re focused on that and that is self directed, truly. 

Additionally, and this sort of sounds counterintuitive in some ways. But were the least the temptation or break the pattern of having judgment for others. Because when you are judging other people, it ultimately hurts you. If a part of you feels puffed up by your thinking badly of somebody else. But on a deeper level, you’re sort of reinforcing this message, that the judgments of other people may be valid and that other people are judging you. That’s partially where it comes from. So people who tend to fear judgment of others the most, tend to be highly judgmental themselves. 

And this very weird and subtle aspect of being reliant on external validation is that if you are looking out into the world, and measuring your own worth against other people, and if other people are lower on whatever imaginary unit of measurement you have in your mind, then you feel better about yourself. And again, you’re using other people to feel better about yourself. But they’re not telling you you’re great. You’re like, Oh. I’m better than that. 

And so when we’re carrying a lot of judgments for other people, in our minds, it is a way of regulating our own emotions. But it is also contributing to this belief that everybody is walking around with a lot of judgment for other people which makes you feel hypersensitive and not safe in the world. So the quicker you can get out of the habit of not judging other people, the safer that you will feel in the world. And you will also then need to decide for yourself what’s important and what’s worthy. Ways of doing this are to be consciously and deliberately developing appreciation for others, noticing the strengths and the values and the value of other people even if they are different from yours. 

And also having a lot of compassion and empathy for the life stories of other people. I mean, when others are struggling, I will tell you, as a psychologist, that there is a really good reason for that. And that many of us only see the external outcomes of other people who are struggling. There’s misfortune in their lives, or maybe they have made some “mistakes” along the way or something isn’t going well for them. And I talk to people all the time about the actual stories behind all of this and everybody makes perfect sense. And if you had the life experiences that some of these people would have, you too, would be feeling the same things, and making the same decisions, like so to have to have empathy, to have compassion, and to not judge. To not judge. 

Okay, so moving on. Another important strategy is to very, very intentionally learn how to validate yourself. The best way to care less about what other people think is to care more about what you think. Treat your thoughts and your feelings like they matter because they do. So don’t minimize them. Or tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel how you feel like practice, acknowledging, validating, supporting your own feelings and your own thoughts. 

And again, this can be very hard to do if you don’t know how to do it yet. So through journaling, through talking to a great therapist or a coach, through just reminding yourself over and over and over again, that whatever you think and feel is actually okay, there’s a reason for that. And that you get to decide what is true for you. I will refer you back to a podcast that I recently updated on how to love yourself. It’s really a lot about developing a positive relationship with yourself. And learning how to validate yourself is an important component of that. 

Another strategy in this work is getting real deliberate around setting healthy boundaries. Realizing that other people’s thoughts and preferences are just that and they are their own. And also, if you have somebody in your life who is highly dependent on external validation, and on you doing certain things or being a certain way in order to manage their emotions when you start doing this work, you’re going to see that and your ability to set healthy boundaries will be strengthened because of that. 

To be able to say to yourself, and hopefully somebody else, I understand that you would prefer this. And that it would soothe your anxiety if I did. And that is actually not feeling healthy for me. So I’m not going to do that. And I would invite you to find a way to soothe your own anxiety that is independent of me being controlled by whatever would make you happy. We are much better able to do that with other people, when we stop doing it ourselves. So put that in the hopper. 

Okay, another strategy, facing the fear of abandonment. For many people, this can be one of the core fears behind being very concerned with what other people think. And it can cause you to abandon yourself in order to maintain relationships that aren’t good for you. So finding ways to manage that fear of abandonment and the reality that other people are going to come and go from your life can really help you become more autonomous. You stop hanging on or being as dependent on other people that you’re able to release and curate real relationships. So that you know, over time you have a bouquet of healthy, meaningful, mutually positive relationships with people in your life. 

Another strategy here is to be limiting who you turn to for validation. If someone routinely invalidates you, criticizes you, stop and consider whether this is someone whose opinion you value in general. Do you only care about it when it’s a negative assessment of you? Because trying to earn validation from some people, particularly people who are highly critical, who tend to be very self focused, is not going to work. Recognizing that you can’t get blood from a stone and some people are much more judgmental, and more difficult to please than others is validating of yourself in the sense of it helps you understand what you’re trying to do and develop different expectations of what that person is capable of. 

So a little rule of thumb, when I take advice from this person, do I agree with or approve of the way that they’re operating their own lives? And so it’s awesome to have a small circle of people in your life who really are trustworthy, who are emotionally safe, who can help you think through things when you are genuinely uncertain. I mean, it’s nice to have a sounding board of people who are affirming and ideally supportive of any of your decision paths. Because it can just help us process things to be able to talk about it out loud. You can also do this through journaling, if that’s helpful. But be cautious about who you’re allowing into that circle. 

Social media and the culture around it can just by design make you feel a little bit obsessed with how people are responding to you or reacting to you. And just being aware that they’re responding to your self presentation and just noticing the impact that has on you. Making decisions about whether or not that is good for you. The degree to which this experience is adding value to your life or notice if it’s making you wanting to present yourself in different ways in order to get this immediate approval or disapproval from people just what it’s doing to you. 

Additionally, working on your self love and self esteem. I mean, we talked about this a little bit ago. But when you have a negative inner voice, criticism from others feels like confirmation of something painful that you already believe about yourself. The core of having difficulty validating yourself is always this process. When you have, in contrast, a supportive inner voice, like this loving inner parent “criticism” or other people expressing their opinions, it feels like just another data point among a billion others. It’s not irrelevant, but it is also not all important, because you feel okay about yourself anyway. And again, the beauty here is that when you fundamentally feel okay, and it’s not like collapsing into a heap of shame when somebody else gives you feedback about something that does have a growth opportunity for you. When you are able to be calm and generally self supported, it is much, much easier to take that in, in a nonreactive and productive way. 

Maybe I am showing up that way sometimes, and maybe I need to consider this and work on it. Thank you for sharing this perspective with me, it’s a valuable growth opportunity. And it’s just something that you then take into consideration and maybe start working on but it’s not this catastrophe on the inside. It hasn’t made you feel terrible about yourself. And it’s also allowed you to strengthen your relationship, because you can say to that person, “Thank you so much for telling me how you feel I value our relationship. And I appreciate your feedback. And I’m going to think about that. And maybe work on this because I want to be a good friend for you.”

We’re not being reactive, we’re not having big emotional flooding, or saying, “Okay, taking that into consideration.” And then of course, you can work on that yourself around. Does what this person want? Is this in alignment with my own values? With my own boundaries? With my own self understanding? With who I want to be? And if the answer is yes, then you find a path forward. And if the answer is no, you get to decide the extent to which you’re willing to work on yourself in their direction. In a way that’s congruent with you. 

And then very lastly. Memento Mori, y’all. Reminding yourself that you’re going to die someday, which probably feels very morbid. But if when you keep this in mind, right? At the big scheme of life, it helps create perspective around how much influence other people are allowed to have in who you are, what you do, and how you operate your life and its whole entirety. What is going to matter to you at the end of your life? You know, there’s research that shows that one of the biggest regrets that people on their deathbed have is this feeling that they lived their life by other people’s rules. And that it limited their own ability to create a life that was really truly meaningful to them, their own values, their own priorities, they didn’t do that. Because they were so focused on what other people thought. Working to get their approval rather than their own meaning and that is a very regrettable place to be. 

And so just to remember that and even do some thought experiments around at the very end of my life. What will have mattered to me and use that as part of that process of getting clear about your own values. What’s meaningful to you can be a really important cornerstone of this work. So I know this is a ton of information. This might be one of the longest podcasts I’ve ever made. So I’m gonna stop talking now. But thank you so much for joining me today to talk about this important topic. Of course, so many more free resources for you on the blog at Please enjoy more L.A. Witch. You can learn about L.A. Witch and what they’re up to on their Bandcamp page and I’ll be in touch with you next week. Okay, take care.

One Comment

  1. This was such a timely episode for me. My boyfriend of over a year broke up with me rather abruptly a couple of weeks ago because apparently he felt judged and criticized and like nothing he does is “ever good enough.” I wish he had discussed it with me sooner because I am not judgmental of him almost at all, I really enjoyed the way he lived his life, and also our differences (it felt a little like a running joke to me the stuff we didn’t have in common) but apparently because I wasn’t getting any sort of verbal validation or approval from him very often and kept seeking it (usually by asking if he had a nice time on our dates when I’d get back home), he felt like I was being critical when I was attempting to open up discussion about these things.

    After much apologizing on my part (I really related to what you talked about with our natural instincts at the beginning of this episode), and I guess him ending the relationship (he never responded to my final message), I began to realize that he is also probably struggling with the same issue but it’s much less aware of it. I was really glad you touched on that aspect of it (being a critical person and thus assuming you’re being criticized as well) because that’s what I was thinking might be a problem for him. I just wish I knew he was struggling so much so he could have understood how much I cared for and appreciated him instead of assuming I thought he wasn’t enough, and so I could have found a way to encourage him to feel more secure with himself. It feels like such a shame.

    The good news is I have been working with a therapist for about 6 months and I feel like I am already checking a lot of the boxes of the ways you recommended for validating yourself. I’m even starting to think that perhaps it was my boyfriend’s insecurities that ultimately killed the relationship and not (as much) mine. But of course there’s still plenty of work to do, it is definitely a journey.

    Thanks for another great episode.

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