Why Do We Seek Approval From Others?
I’d say just about everyone I’ve met shares tales of woe from their childhood, some more graphic and despicable and some the usual teen drama or Dennis the Menace type of mischief. But, one thing that I often hear that seems to go completely unnoticed by the storyteller is when their story contains a big clue as to why they have developed certain behaviors of approval seeking. It is a major road block held by many people, yet it is so ingrained in our everyday lives, we don’t even acknowledge its power over us.
The first step is to recognize it, so think about how you interact with others. Do you hesitate to give your opinion until you know how others feel? Do you worry excessively about how you look to others, such as spending a lot of time on hair and makeup before you leave the house or change your clothes multiple times to find just the right outfit? Do you hesitate to respond because you are thinking of something to say that sounds funny or smart? Do you buy things to impress others, such as an expensive car or the most modern phone? Do you play golf because you enjoy the game or because you need to impress your boss? Do you ask others for their opinion before you make a decision? Do you worry about what to say before you say it? Do you seek your boss’s approval and wait for someone at work to say something good about your work? Are you always self-conscious? Are you a people-pleaser? Do you have trouble saying “no”? Do you feel incomplete and insecure if you’re single? These are all pretty common and we seek out this kind of attention in the hopes of replacing our own self-acceptance.
When we lose track of our life’s path or forget what is most important in life or choose to follow the advice of others instead of listening to our own hearts, we feel broken and uncertain and like a fraud or failure. We can’t provide our own approval and acceptance, so we seek it out in others. This can be dangerous because if someone reaffirms our feelings of insecurity or feelings of fraud, it reinforces it stronger than a hundred people’s approval we don’t really agree with. A person can receive a hundred compliments in a day and one angry person with a negative comment you agree with will wipe away every last one of the affirmations. The whole belief is rooted in fear.
The first step to removing this damage from your life is to recognize it and acknowledge it. Becoming aware of this negative behavior is the most important key to healing it. Becoming aware of it also allows you to see it in others, and you will be amazed how many people suffer with it. So, how do you get there? How do you let go of this unnatural need that has been part of your behavior for as long as you can remember? There’s a part of you that needs to be healed, and you are the only person that can find it and heal it. What you are seeking in others is what you need to give yourself. If you obsess about your hair and makeup before leaving the house you are looking for others to find you beautiful, which means you do not believe you are beautiful. If you hesitate to say anything without it being smart or witty, then you do not believe you are smart. You need to accept it for what it is and make a conscious effort to change. The reasons your mind created this belief are inside you waiting to be recognized. You need to take charge and take responsibility for your own beliefs.
So, after you’ve done some self-exploration and discovered the roots of your fear and need for approval from others, how do you proceed? You need to recognize and actively resist your behaviors. Behaviors are habits, and just like any other bad habit, you need to resist the old way and replace it with the new way. Think of what people go through to quit smoking. The urge comes, they resist, sometimes with helpful tools, and they form new habits to replace them, such as deep breathing exercises or going for a walk to take their mind off it. It’s the same process.
You need to identify and plan ahead. Think about what you do when you interact with co-workers. How can you change this negative behavior with a positive one? Stop pre-judging people when you meet them. Stop trying to impress others to make them like you. Take things at face value and stop injecting them with insecure thoughts. You aren’t a mind reader and you really have no idea what other people are thinking of you. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met that spent years interpreting my actions toward them, only to be shocked to discover that I wasn’t thinking about them at all, and my actions were totally unconscious. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered some rude comment I took very personally was just that person’s venting of their own frustrations and personal insecurity and had absolutely nothing to do with me. What you thinking is your own business and what others are thinking is theirs. Its good to put other people’s approval in perspective and realize your opinion is the only one that really counts.
Another great tool is to keep to the present moment. A lot of stress can be created by trying to predict what someone would do or how you would react to a certain person’s behaviors, but in truth, you have no idea how anything is going to play out. And stop pretending you know what someone was thinking in the past. You really have no idea what was behind a damaging comment thrown at you by someone when you were ten. It was a choice that person made years ago that may have had very little to do with you and more to do with their fears and frustrations. The fact that you chose to take it personally carry it all these years is your choice. Dumping it to the side and moving on is also your choice.
It takes a lot of hard work to disassemble and rework a belief system that you’ve been fostering and using your whole life. It is surely as addictive as a drug and can make your life just as miserable and negative. But, if you truly want to improve your life and the ripples your actions have on the lives of those around you, you need to do some deep exploration and follow the steps to liberation.