If your happiness is dependent on an outside source, person or event, you are destined for heartache and misery. Happiness and joy emanate from within, you are responsible for your own happiness.
As kids, we come into this world with a naive innocence, some of us. We play openly without fear of judgement, we talk to people as if we knew them, and we approach the world as if it’s a world waiting for us. We are happy and we don’t need others to validate it. That changes as we age and as our environment influences us.
It may start with our parents telling us not to act a certain way in public or telling us to curb certain behaviors. They tell us if we act a certain way people will see us in specific ways. In school, our teachers curb our actions and tell us how to learn. Kids around us, who have dealt with these things already, pass judgement on us due to the negativity they feel.
All of these things are the beginnings of our need to seek approval. We are taught that if we act, believe, and do certain things we will be accepted as “normal.” If we don’t, then we will be outsiders. And we are taught that outsiders are bad.
Why we seek approval
Because of what we are forced to learn, we seek approval from others because we cant handle being rejected or disliked. We don’t want to feel rejected or ostracized. We believe that being accepted leads to being treated with respect and are afforded some kind of status.
The sad part is that most of this stems from low self-esteem. This sense of inferiority can come from many factors like upbringing and cultural experiences. When our parents criticize us for playing, we feel bad. We think that we are not good enough. So we start to change our behavior to seek this approval.
From a young age, we are taught to seek the approval of our parents for things said or done. This need for approval, love, acceptance from our parents is so strong that we become conditioned over time to seek it out from others. If we don’t receive it, this automatic trigger kicks in for us to feel bad and want even more to win it back. It leaves us feeling like we don’t belong or are strangers in our own world.
When we feel approval, we feel secure with ourselves and are a part of something larger than us.
Types of approval
There are so many types of approval seeking behavior and most of them stem from some type of low self-esteem. And much of this stems from our upbringing. This leads us to seek the approval for pretty much anything we do or say and it intensifies as we age.
If we lack belief in ourselves and are self-critical, it is natural for us to seek validation of who we are from outside of ourselves.
What are some times of approval seeking behavior? There are so many that the list would take days to talk about, so let’s focus on some of the more common.
Seeking your tribe
Personally, as a youth I knew that I was different from other kids around me. I didn’t know how or why but I felt it. This created a need for me to find others like me to fit in with, to validate my existence and how I fit in. The first place that I searched for it was in my heritage. I found out that I had Native American ancestry and knew that it had a cool factor, at the time of my youth. Because of that, I threw myself into learning as much about it as possible. I wanted to emulate myself after it because I saw how people felt about Native America’s and how they were thought to be cool.
As I tried to pattern myself after that heritage, I realized that Native Americans did not approve of me because I did not grow up on the Rez. I was viewed as some wannabe white kid. And it hurt, A LOT!
What I realized was that because of my differences, I would never be accepted as one of them. I became really upset over it.
Taking disagreement personally
This can be a big one. If someone, at work or your personal life, disagrees with a point of view that you have, you take it as a personal attack. You feel that their disagreement with you is because they don’t approve of you as a person, not the idea you expressed. We feel that our quest for approval has failed and that the person doesn’t validate our worth.
Emotions and feelings can be dangerous here. We need to learn to disengage our personal feelings from the statements we make. They are not reflective of each other. A point of view can change as you learn more things or change your point of view. It is not indicative of who you are as a person. This could also lead you to change your opinions to make the majority, to create a feeling of approval.
The fear of saying no
We are taught at a very young age that “no” is negative. Our parents use it to curb our behaviors, saying things like “no, don’t touch that.” Or we ask for something and they simply say “no.” This leaves us feeling bad about the situation and pushes us to pursue positive reinforcement.
This can strengthen our need to search for pleasure or approval. Some people become the serial over-committer, always saying yes when we are asked things. We believe if we say no we will be rejected. This leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. Then we end up resenting the very things we have committed to.
Passing the negativity
When we are surrounded by people who do not accept us for who we are, we pass that negativity onto others. We look for the flaws that others point out in us, in other people. We become the person passing judgements to make ourselves feel better about who we are. It takes the stress off of us as being the outsider but pointing out someone else is an outsider.
Expecting or seeking compliments
Admit it, nothing feels better than when someone compliments us on something. If someone compliments you on how you look, what you are wearing, or a behavior it creates a validation of our self worth. This can even happen in your work life when your boss points out something you have done.
Taken to extreme, a person may set out to deliberately seek or coerce approval from others they are interacting with. This praise may or may not be appropriate or due to the person.
Equally worse is when you are complimented for the positive things you have done. We internalize them and it creates negativity in us.
Not coping with criticism
Our parents criticized or punished us for failing to do something or acting bad. So we set out to seek approval from people for the good things that we do and if it is met with criticism we internalize that it means we have failed, somehow.
We feel that the criticism is a direct reflection of who we are and not the actions/expressions that may have caused it.
In work, you may speak out in a meeting about how something is supposed to work or how something has always been done. Someone challenges that idea or offers a different opinion, we feel that the reason they didn’t agree with us is because they think we are inferior or not good enough.
Acting in a way that is contrary to our own beliefs
Looking back to high school, many of us joined groups of people just to feel popular. Deep down, we actually know that these aren’t people we want to be around because we don’t agree with what they say or do. The Bad Boyz club, for example.
As a kid, this is a great learning experience and doesn’t have lasting repercussions. As an adult, it can have a much bigger impact on our lives.
We will not listen to our heart when it tries to save us simply because we want to please people and be accepted.
How to change the need for approval
People want to know that they are smart, cool, and on the right track in life and the easiest way to do that is to get that validation from other places. A pat on the back, likes on our social media posts, and people agreeing with us are the quickest ways to achieve that. This type of attention seeking can quickly become toxic to us and it becomes our focus to get those accolades.
Changing this behavior is a long process and sometimes we don’t even see that it is a problem. We only see the results of it in our daily lives. So how do you correct it? Therapy is a great place to start. We worry about what others think of us for a variety of reasons. If we aren’t confident in a decision or thought process we are contemplating we end up going down the rabbit hole of how others would view us. We become afraid of being judged for our actions.
A therapist can help us look at those thoughts and see why we have them and how to navigate them. Afterall, a therapist isn’t emotionally invested in our lives, their job is to ask questions to help us find our truths.