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Are you an approval seeker?

By December 1, 2008 - 9:36am
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A recent question on why we sometimes find it hard to tell the truth got me thinking about approval-seeking and why we do it.

Approval-seeking causes a lot of pain and stress to those who are doing it. We may be doing it without really realizing it. It might be as simple as changing the way you say something, or giving in on a choice of restaurant for lunch, to make someone else happy. Or it may be as complex as ordering your entire life around another person's wishes (parent, spouse, significant other, friends, children) because you think you need their approval so badly.

Somehow, through approval seeking, we are hoping for validation from another person. In the toughest scenarios, that person's validation means more to us than our own. Think about that. Another person's opinion of us can run our lives, even if we believe something different about ourselves inside.

Speaker, author and spiritual teacher Byron Katie says this about approval seeking. It's the clearest, most to-the-point explanation I've ever heard of what we happens when we start down this path:

1. When you believe you need someone's approval, you begin to say things you think they want you to say.
2. You begin to do things you think they want you to do.
3. You begin to become someone you are not.
4. When you get that person's approval, when they say you are wonderful,
5. You can never, ever believe them, because you know that the person they are approving of does not exist.

Isn't that true? How often do you take a compliment nicely on the outside, but brush it off on the inside? Could it be because you think the person giving you the compliment doesn't really know you? And if that's true, do they not really know you because you've changed yourself to get their approval?

We all hope others like us, and that they appreciate our talents or our personality. But if we lack confidence or self-esteem, if we believe that others' opinions of us are more important than our own, we can end up living our lives for other people and then, somewhere down the road, we wonder what happened to our true selves.

This is an interesting example from an article by marriage and family therapist Neil Rosenthal of Vail, Colorado:

"A child is happily absorbed in the playground. All of sudden, she surprises herself by perfectly executing a back flip. Kids around her, whom she’d hardly noticed, are gathering around her, clapping. She repeats the flip to see if they’ll clap again. The girl isn’t sure what she’s discovered, but it feels exciting. She thinks perhaps she’s found the key to being accepted. She goes to work on a new flip with a motive she did not have before. She is no longer fooling around to amuse herself. Her focus has shifted to the response she wants from the others.

“ 'By the time we leave childhood, a lot of us are still doing flips of one kind or another, seeking approval from almost everyone we know. Our partners and children, our parents, our colleagues at work, even the stranger in the elevator. Seeking approval becomes so much a part of our lives that it’s automatic. We hardly know we’re doing it,' says Byron Katie in the book “I Need Your Love — Is That True?.” If you watch your thoughts carefully, you’re likely to be thinking such things as: “Does he like me? Will he invite me out again? Will he reject me when he discovers I’m not into sports at all? Does she love me? Accept me? Want me? If I take her to a fancy restaurant, will I impress her?'”

Here's Rosenthal's article:


Here's a Psychology Today article about approval seeking and how to change it, beginning with stopping our inner chatter about it:


And here's a cool blog entry from a woman talking about this:


Do you find yourself falling into the trap of seeking others' approval at the expense of your own opinion? Why is it that others' validation becomes so important to us?

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

How can I be helped from this problem ? I need help

February 16, 2016 - 2:53am

I wonder when in life this really kicks in for us. There's a point when we are kids where we think the universe revolves around us anyway, and can't imagine that anyone could be displeased with us. Somewhere along the way that morphs into the opposite: that only positive vibes from others become important, and we sort of take a back seat to our own opinion of ourselves.

For me, I think it was being a tall, awkward kid with curly hair and glasses who desperately wanted to fit in with other kids in an era of straight hair and bellbottoms. For others, maybe it was working to please a parent or a teacher; for still others, perhaps they picked it up from watching a parent try to please others in THEIR own life.

I'm thinking about what I'm seeking approval on in my life right now:

-- that I'm still a great person though I'm overweight
-- that the Christmas gifts I choose will make people happy
-- that I do a good job at my work
-- That the decisions I've made regarding my family have been sound

Those are just a few examples. Even though I know, inside, that these things are true for me, I also know that another person's criticism or displeasure can make me rethink nearly anything. I'm not really sure why that is. When do we learn to second-guess these things we take so seriously to begin with?

December 3, 2008 - 9:17am

This has been a wonderful post and subsequent threads to read!

I have always been a "people pleaser", and am guilty of seeking approval from others (even if I don't especially like them...strange!)

I read about this phenomena, and has stuck with me: approval-seekers often treat strangers BETTER than their loved ones. This resonated with me, as I realized I was expending so much energy on pleasing my boss, co-workers, the drive-through teller, etc...that by the time I got home, I had no positive energy left for my family.

It's ironic, actually, because I just wrote about doctor/nurse etiquette (and one particular nurse's lack of courteousness), which is the other extreme to this story!

December 2, 2008 - 3:32pm

Pamela DeLoatch, a freelance writter published an article last Mar 20, 2008 on this topic, her focus was women and she stated that women in particular find it difficult to blend their desire to help and connect with others with the need to establish limits by saying no.

Here are some tips for Saying No
1. Don’t rush to answer a request. If you feel pressure to make a decision immediately, you may regret the decision. Instead, say that you’ll first check your calendar, or say you’ll see if it fits into your schedule and will let them know.
2. Determine if you really want to fulfill the request or if you’re feeling guilty if you don’t. Figure out what you fear will happen if you say no. Is it a loss of relationship? Disappointing the other person? How important this is to you and how realistic is the worse case scenario? These questions will help you figure out whether you’ll be happier saying yes or saying no.
3. Once you’ve decided, give the answer promptly. The longer you wait, the more uncomfortable it feels for both parties.
4. “My answer is no,” is a complete response. It can be said with kindness, or followed by a “but thank you for asking me.” But it does not have to have an apology or an extended explanation. “This doesn’t work for me,” is reason enough.

December 2, 2008 - 1:56am
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