I have spent most of my childhood and a good portion of my adult life seeking approval from parents, siblings, and other authority figures. So many people I know seem to be striving to gain the approval of others, whether it’s their parents, their adult children and grandchildren, their bosses, friends, or even the virtual friends over social media platforms. It took me a long time to realise that gaining the approval of others is a lose-lose mindset to have.
When we strive to gain the approval of others, we become trapped within our own mindset. As a result, we adjust our lives and even ourselves, so others will love us. We can lose our very identity and lose complete touch with who we really are as autonomous human beings in the process. Sadly, this mindset can lead to serious mental health problems.
In this article, I want to deal with why we may seek the approval of others and a few steps on how to free ourselves from the addiction of seeking approval.
Seeking Approval from Others is an Addiction
The first thing to say about this is that very often, seeking approval is so ingrained within our character from earliest childhood that we think it’s just the way we are. We often don’t realise that this mindset is foreign to who we really are as a personality. Others may perceive you as lovable and willing to help. You may be those things genuinely as a person, but it becomes a trap when those things are adopted to seek approval from others. Seeking approval is something that we unconsciously adopt to survive what we perceive as rejection. Therefore, we create somebody who really is not really you. We become more lovable, more agreeable, and we can even participate in activities that are really against our better judgement and what we really want to be involved in. I have been a psychotherapist and church minister for 40 years now, and during that time, I have encountered people trapped in all sorts of addictions. In my experience, one of the most potent addictions anyone can have been seeking the approval of others. As I have said, I once sought others approval which left me with low self-esteem and avoiding the company of others. The problem is, seeking the approval of others can become such an addictive habit that there seems no way out. In fact, when it becomes an addiction, one is not aware of the hold upon one’s life. One just acts and reacts very often nonsensically, without thought, and indeed without reason.
How You Know that you Seek approval
detecting if you seek approval is not particularly easy. So, it’s best to ask yourself some honest questions and for you to respond as candidly and honestly as you possibly can.
My recommendation is to write the questions out and underneath right your answer. Writing it down on a piece of paper can often help you reflect and think in a more profound way than you might otherwise. So, write these questions down on your piece of paper.
1. Do you ever feel less than adequate?
2. Do you notice yourself comparing yourself to others?
3. When you compare yourselves with others, do you feel like a failure?
4. Do you find yourself being overly agreeable with others even when you disagree?
5. Do thoughts come into your mind to contribute to a conversation but drawback from doing so because you feel that your opinion might be wrong or say the wrong thing?
6. Are you overly sensitive to people’s negative perceptions, words and actions towards you?
7. Are you highly self-critical?
8. Do you avoid and feel very uncomfortable around conflict to the point where you allow problems to go unresolved?
I could place other questions in there, but I think that’s enough to get started with. Take your time over these questions. You don’t have to answer them all in one sitting. After all, you’re dealing with not only a mindset but deep emotions that have been there for a very long time. So don’t overburden yourself and answer those questions in one sitting; however, do schedule a couple of days or more to address each question thoughtfully, honestly, and in detail as much as you feel that you can write.
To aid you in answering these questions, think back to when you were younger. Were you ordered by your parents or other authority figures to respect the opinion and demands of your elders without question? Why did you do this?
Think back to your teenage years. Did you change your personality, how you dressed, and how you thought for the benefit of fitting into the group? Also, ask yourself why you changed yourself to suit others.
As an adult, do you tend to harken back to such behaviours even though they may be subtle? Why do you think that you do this?
There are no right and wrong answers. If you try to seek self-approval, they can get stuck in their minds of right and wrong answers and become frustrated and abandon any attempt to answer any of these questions. There is no right or wrong; your reflections and feelings what is important here. You won’t be sharing this with anyone else, so you need not fear any judgement from others. The point is it does not matter what other people think. If you find yourself judging yourself or that is a good thing, you have become aware of what you need to work on.
These are essential questions and worthy of time and consideration if you desire to change your mindset and discover yourself.
You may not like what you have written down because coming face-to-face to yourself can be very emotionally painful. So, resist the temptation of screwing up the piece of paper and throwing it in the bin. I remember as a teenager, when I discovered journaling, I bought myself a really nice journal and began to share my thoughts with pen and paper. I didn’t like what I saw and began to understand myself, so I promptly not only screwed up the piece of paper but also binned the whole journal, never approaching the idea of journaling the many years.
When you lose that constant inner nagging voice that needs the approval of others, you gain freedom. And that is your goal for answering these questions is freedom sweet freedom. In my next blog post and video, we will go another step about how we can gain freedom from the approval of others.
Do not see this as a mountain before you because that will defeat you before you even start. See, this exercise is a practical challenge that may be painful, yes, but you will get through it and gain the freedom you so desperately want and deserve.