“A truly strong person does not need the approval of
others any more than a lion needs the approval of
~ Vernon Howard
So what’s wrong with wanting to
Nothing, up to a point;
Approval seeking is only a real problem if you feel as though positive approval from others is the very oxygen that keeps you alive.
Reliance on approval seeking leaves you open to abuse.
One grave problem with chronic approval seeking is that it leaves you vulnerable to being manipulated by others. People pick up that you’re anxious to please them, that your main priority is that ‘everything be okay’.
(My ex-father in law, Jerry used to tell me this story all the time to illustrate the point of how sometimes you just have to “Beat the snake” out of someone for their own good, even if it makes them mad.)
The sleeping man and the snake
There once was a man who fell asleep under a tree.
As he slept, a venomous snake slithered into his open mouth.
Another man, seeing this situation, immediately pounced upon the sleeper and beat his back, held him upside down, and generally seemed (from a superficial perspective) to be abusing him.
The man who had no idea he’d swallowed a snake complained bitterly, thinking the other guy was deranged.
Eventually, the snake was dislodged and tumbled out of the first man’s mouth.
He was saved and in that instant knew the ‘attacker’ had really been seeking to save him, not seeking his approval.
It’s important to remember that the needs of the situation sometimes far exceed the needs for instant approval.
The fact is that some approval seeking is probably inevitable.
It makes sense to ‘fit in’ with other people
But if we are led through life always and only really doing and being what we’ve come to believe is ‘expected of us’,
then, in a way…
we cease to exist, to live, and be real.
So how can you start to care less about gaining
other people’s approval?
1) Practice saying what you think
Not always, of course, but why should it always be you who has to ‘tread carefully’?
Start practicing speaking your mind a little more and let the ‘consequences’ sort themselves out.
What you’ll find is that most of the time no one is offended at all – and, as long as you don’t deliberately set out to hurt others, if they are upset it’s only because you’ve started behaving in a way that lets them feel they have less ‘power’ over you.
2) Practice pleasing yourself
Constantly seeking approval means we’re always worried that others are forming a bad opinion of us.
We come to feel vulnerable and become overly preoccupied with whether other people are pleased with us or not.
This steals the fun, creativity, and spontaneity from life.
Make a point of doing stuff now and then purely because you want to.
This is not being selfish; it’s letting other people know that you’re a multi-dimensional person with your own tastes, ideas, and enthusiasms.
3) Remember you can’t control what others think, anyway
Anxiously seeking approval is often an attempt at trying to gain and keep a sense of control.
We foolishly believe that if we can just make people ‘happy’ by being what we imagine they want us to be, then we won’t be rejected or abandoned.
That’s the common assumption; but does it work?
Well, people like ‘nice’ people, for sure; but, paradoxically, trying to be all things to all people can make us less appreciated.
People are generally drawn to an aura of self-confidence.
So remind yourself regularly that you can influence other people’s perception of you some of the time, but you can’t control it.
People tend to think what they’ll think.
4) Remember that sometimes ‘doing the right thing’ means appearing not to
If you had lived in Nazi Germany as a non-Jewish blond-haired blue-eyed person, to seek approval from people around you (the ruling Nazi party) you would have to have done and believed some monstrous things.
Peer pressure can make us go against what we truly know to be decent and civilized behaviour.
Was it decent and civilized of the helping man in the story to beat the snake out of the sleeping man?
Pack mentality can work on any scale.
The ‘leader’ decides what is ‘right and wrong’, and the followers sometimes comply to impress the leader and others or because they are afraid of the consequences if they don’t.
This is obvious in a huge cult like Nazi Germany
It is obvious in lesser cults,
BUT… It happens much more in day-to-day life than many of us realize.
Focus on what you believe to be right in situations, rather than what peer pressure may lead you to do.
Be your own person.
5) Don’t assume people make black or white assessments of you
I’ve noticed that people who are overly concerned with approval assume that I and others will think them ‘a terrible person’ or ‘a loser’ if they say or do something that isn’t somehow right.
But most people don’t make heavily judgmental decisions about other people based on a few words or even actions.
Constantly worrying that someone else is inwardly going to condemn you as a ‘awful person’ is over-estimating the ‘black or whiteness’ of other people’s perceptions of you.
I might sometimes be baffled or surprised (or assume I have misunderstood them) when someone says or does something, but I rarely conclude:
“She is a terrible person!”
As we know, generally good people can do bad things.
If you’re around people who do make blanket, negative, and premature assessments of you based on a few words or actions, then you need to remember that is all about them – not you.
6) Don’t play the game of disapproval
Some people use disapproval as a weapon.
If you’ve had what amounts to a phobia of disapproval, then such people will scare and therefore control you if you play their games.
Seeing reality through a narrow and prejudiced lens of ‘does this please or displease me?’ makes people pretty tyrannical.
People who are quick to disapprove (even if they just imply disapproval) can make you on edge, to say the least.
Focus on what you think and want.
If someone seems to disapprove, call them out on it.
Ask them what their problem is.
As weird as it sounds, you have every right to disapprove of their disapproval!
Ultimately, disapproval fails to deliver what it threatens.
When the ‘bomb drops’,
you learn there is no bomb.
When you let people disapprove of you if they want and cease to worry,
A whole new world of personal possibility opens before you.