It doesn’t take a genius – let alone a therapist – to conclude that the root cause of most approval-seeking behavior is a lack of self-esteem.
If you need other people to sign off on your choices, opinions, etc., you are on a road that leads to nowhere good. It is not healthy to live our lives for other people (as people-pleasers and codependents often do).
The issue that arises with needing approval is a blind submission to others—a form of servitude that can enslave you spiritually, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. It can lead to anxiety about whether or not someone will validate your self-worth by bestowing you with the gift of their approval. To live like this is to give control to others over your life. If you live and breath for others’ approval, this is demoralizing as you surely will not always be given said approval.
Approval seeking also leads down a slippery slope of doing something that is against your better judgment, but to gain said person’s approval. Instead of doing what you think is right you do what the other person wants you to do and feel bad about it in the process. This is not a healthy way to live. Now this does not mean that the opposite of approval seeking is being deliberately rude, difficult, or oppositional. These are polar opposites to avoid. Instead your choices should be driven by your values not your blind need for approval.
If someone doesn’t approve of you and your choices, that is THEIR problem. Not yours. Unless you are an approval seeker that is. I find as a counselor, if people don’t approve of who they are, they tend to seek out the approval of others.
Your life is YOUR life. It’s as simple as that. At the end of the day you are the only person who needs to approve of your choices. This is what being a mature self-actualized person means. Your friends, family, coworkers have their own things to focus on and worry about. They have their OWN life to LIVE. You need to focus on your own life while simultaneously allowing others to focus on theirs.
The truth is gaining someone’s approval is a false ego boost. It is getting someone to validate you because you are not capable of validating yourself. A healthy person becomes independent of the good AND bad opinions of others—they know all outside chatter is essentially noise. In becoming self-differentiated and emotionally mature, we live by our own values and principles.
Listen, all of us care if people like us to some extent. Humans are social animals after all. We all love validation and approval particularly if it is a person we truly respect. But if you are psychologically and emotionally healthy, you shouldn’t need it. But if you NEED people to like and approve of you, this is a different story. It is time to start reflecting on WHY.
Here’s the thing. You can’t control what other people are thinking. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. Because you CAN control what YOU are thinking. This is where your power lies.
When we constantly and endlessly aim to please other people, we’re seeking approval of self from outside sources. And whenever we reach for something in the external world to give us what we NEED to be giving ourselves, we set ourselves up for disappointment and hurt. We set ourselves up to live a life we don’t necessarily want, but will fit with what other people expect of us. This is an inauthentic way of being.
If you are doing the best you can with what you have, worrying if people like you or not is a waste of your most precious resource: your energy. If you are struggling with needing other people’s approval, counseling may be a good avenue to pursue. A good clinician can help you be okay without needing other people’s approval.
Ask yourself, “Do I value this person’s opinion?” and “Do they have my best interest at heart?” If the answer to both of those questions isn’t a definitive yes, then don’t worry so much about what they say or do.
At the end of the day, if someone doesn’t understand you or believe in you, it’s their choice—but if you keep waiting for their approval, it’s your choice. Don’t chain yourself, including your self-worth, to someone who does not value you. You have to be able to accept the fact that some people might never understand you, respect you, or like you—and that’s OK.
If you find you are struggling with approval seeking behavior and would like to schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Anew Counseling Services LLC
617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649