I need love and approval from those significant to me – and I must avoid disapproval from any source.
I like to be liked – you probably do too. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is fine to want approval. Unfortunately, though, people often go beyond wanting it. They make approval into a need – an absolute must without which they think they cannot survive. When this happens, approval-seeking becomes a recipe for self-defeat:
It can be a source of anxiety which restricts your life. You avoid taking risks, trying new things where you cannot guarantee ‘success’, or any situation where you fear people might think badly of you. It makes you conform to what others expect rather than ask for what you want or pursue your own goals.
You may become oversensitive to criticism. Feeling hurt stops you using feedback from other people as a learning experience. Approval-seeking gets in the way of you dealing with your underlying lack of confidence and self-acceptance.
You might keep striving for what is an impossible goal. You will never be able to get approval from everyone significant to you – but even if you could, would they all love you enough to ever satisfy you?
Other people may even end up liking you less. Do you like or respect people who hurt easily, do not say what they mean, always try to conform, say yes to things they do not want, avoid taking charge of their own lives, or are always seeking love and attention? The more you demand approval, the less you end up with!
Know When You are Approval-Seeking
You are probably approval-seeking when you feel or act in ways that show you are worried about what others think:
Saying ‘yes’ to something you do not want to do.
Making a statement you do not believe in, agreeing with an opinion you oppose, or giving a compliment you do not mean.
Reacting to a criticism by getting defensive or attacking back
Apologising when you have done nothing wrong.
Seeking someone else’s opinion on a matter of taste – for instance, on what to wear.
Asking permission before you speak up, make a decision, or buy something.
Asking others to confirm what you say – ’isn’t that right…?’
Going out of your way to impress other people.
Disputing The Need For Approval
Can human beings overcome the irrational fear of being disliked, unloved and rejected? Yes – by getting hold of the idea that approval is not a need.
It is good to get love and acceptance from others. It contributes to satisfying and helpful relationships. It is useful when others have authority over you or control access to things you want: your parents, teachers, employer, bank manager, landlord and other such people.
Approval, though, becomes a problem when you exaggerate your desire for it into a necessity. In other words, you tell yourself that you must have it in order to feel good about yourself and be happy.
What is the solution then? Seek approval wherever you can get it. Do what you reasonably can to avoid disapproval from others. Work on yourself and your relationships to increase the chance of getting the love and affection you desire. But remind yourself all the time that while approval is important, you can survive without it. Then, when it is not forthcoming, you will feel disappointed instead of anxious or depressed, and you will be less likely to give up your own wants in order to please others.
In fact, expect disapproval. In the real world, positive feedback from others will not always be forthcoming. Not everyone is going to like you. Because different people have different ideas about what they want you to be, pleasing others will work only some of the time. If you expect disapproval, you will be less likely to overreact when it happens.
Remember, too, that it is human to be imperfect. So if you have been criticised because of something that you have done, this is proof of your humanness. When a criticism is valid this does not mean you are totally flawed. If you are able to rate behaviours without applying the rating to your total self (e.g. ‘I am not a useless person, just a person who sometimes does useless things’) then you will find it easier to listen to and learn from criticism. What if the criticism is mistaken? This shows that the other person is human. Either way, you do not have to feel bad because someone dislikes you.
Finally, note that disapproval or criticism is not unbearable. You have been criticised before, and you are still alive. You do not like it – but it is uncomfortable rather than awful. If you remind yourself of that, you will make it even less uncomfortable.