And live the life you want.
By Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D.
“Queen of social chameleons, I mastered the art of telling people what they wanted to hear and being someone they would find impressive — all the while worrying incessantly about what others thought of me, fearing criticism, and holding myself back as a result.” —Sacha Crouch
It usually starts out as a logical tactic. We gain others’ approval, make them happy for a moment, and feel pretty good about ourselves. It seems like the perfect path to take — and it’s one we can continue on for many years, believing it’s reducing our anxiety about disapproval in our daily lives. In actuality, it can work pretty well in getting people to like us. We avoid having them disapprove of our actions, and we get to enjoy that nice pat on the back every once in a while. But there will come a time when the constant seeking of approval — the very solution to our problems — will run its course. And that very behavior that brought us so many feelings of accomplishment will become the problem itself.
When we urgently aim to please other people, we’re seeking approval of self from outside sources. And whenever we reach for something in the outside world to give us what we should be giving ourselves, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We set ourselves up to live a life we don’t particularly want but will fit with what other people expect of us. We don’t dare take a chance on something that may bring on a disapproving stare or rank low on the social status meter. We do what’s expected of us. We do what others want for us and from us. In return, we get their approval. You might be thinking, “Why not seek approval?” Well, the reason is that we only get it at the expense of knowing what we want and being our true selves. When we seek others’ approval, we miss opportunities to learn how to approve of ourselves — even if others don’t.
How Is Approval-Seeking Holding You Back From Your True Self?
Without realizing it, you may be negatively impacting your effectiveness by seeking others’ approval. This is because you probably avoid doing things that are important to you, feel anxious about trying new things outside your comfort zone, and get stuck worrying about what others might expect from you. Needing approval may lead you to reject potential opportunities, because you’re too anxious and believe your performance has to be perfect. It may cause you to fear failing so much that you give up before you start.
This is why it’s important to focus on how your need for approval is holding you back from doing tasks that are important to you. Once you move past this, you’ll be free to achieve and create what you want in life with much less stress, because you won’t be so consumed with worrying about what others will think.
Even though you’re probably a high achiever, who regularly gets seemingly positive results, you’re often getting those results at the expense of everything else. When you’re driven to achieve solely because you want to impress others, you wind up doing too much, feeling overwhelmed, getting lost in your thoughts about your challenges, people-pleasing, overworking, avoiding making time for yourself, and constantly finding yourself unable to say no.
If you can relate, try focusing on how your need for approval is pushing you to do too much, instead of participating in things that are important to you. When you find yourself getting hurt by doing things for others at the expense of yourself, it’s time to make a change.
The Importance of Knowing Yourself
When others’ acceptance of you impacts how you make decisions about where to spend your time, you lose awareness of what’s important to you, what drives you, and what makes you happy. You might feel stuck doing work you don’t particularly enjoy and continue habits that are counterproductive. If this feels true for you, it’s time to focus your energy on getting in touch with what really matters to you. Start asking yourself questions like: What do I value? What keeps me awake at night? How is it that I prefer to spend my time? Start to listen to what you really want for your life, and align your actions with your values, principles, and goals. When you live in line with what you value, your life becomes much simpler and more effortless.
Instead of making decisions based on what others will approve of, start making them based on what’s right for you. When you make conscious choices about how to spend your time and are committed to doing what’s valuable to you, you’re able to create your own life. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be — or appear — constantly busy in order to be successful. As an alternative, you can see success as a measure of doing what matters to you.
Say Goodbye to the Need for Approval!
This all begins with building the strength to go with what feels right for you. When you start doing this, you’ll no longer feel the urge to seek validation from other people. Start to become more self-aware, and pay attention to what behaviors make you feel good about yourself, regardless of how other people react. Reflect on and pay attention to choices you’ve made, things you like about yourself, or times you’ve stayed true to yourself.
You have to start being honest with yourself when you take on a new commitment and really evaluate whether you’re doing it because it’s right for you, or because you want to gain approval and/or avoid disapproval.
Take your time before saying yes to a new task or commitment. Take a step back, sit down and review your schedule, then ask yourself: What’s really necessary and important, and what’s being driven by people-pleasing? Once this is clear, start slowly working through the approval-seeking list so you can re-evaluate. When you start noticing what you aren’t doing for yourself in order to gain other people’s approval, it will be easier for you to eliminate those tasks and replace them with things that allow for the growth of your personal goals.
I know how difficult it can be to change your approval-seeking behaviors. It isn’t easy to start making decisions that could potentially be disapproved of by others. You probably started seeking approval for a very good reason; in some situations, it probably seemed like the easier, less dramatic choice for you to make. Under certain circumstances, failing to seek other people’s approval can end in immediate negative consequences. However, avoiding confrontations time after time will have you living a life that’s missing your true values, which will inevitably have you questioning your worth as a person. Both paths bring their own set of negative consequences, so it’s ultimately up to you. But don’t forget: It is a choice, and the choice is ultimately up to you.