Our need for approval has its roots in our childhood. Those of us raised in unhealthy households often received disinterest, scorn, or criticism in the place of encouragement. Our need for relevance became interlaced with being seen by our caregivers, and receiving their approval was instrumental to our safety.
But now we are all grown up, our safety and worth does not rely on approval from others. But try telling our nervous system that. It can be challenging to untangle ourselves from this pattern of behavior.
This article will examine approval and the complexities of approval seeking. We will also provide 5 tips on how you can stop needing approval.
What does approval mean?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines approval as “good opinion.” Approval is associated with acceptance, agreement, encouragement, and support. Approval is a positive reaction to something or someone.
Some of us are preoccupied with the approval of others. I remember introducing my friends to a new boyfriend, desperately seeking their approval for the choices I’d made in my love life. And feeling deeply wounded that they didn’t view him in the same rosy way I did.
Only recently have I come to understand how approval has affected my life. I sought approval to help me feel real. The criticism and disinterest I usually received from my father made me feel unsafe and unloved, so I had to work extra hard to appease him. My efforts didn’t always work.
While our relationship with approval and our need for it stems back to our childhood, we can learn to change the rhetoric.
The complexities of seeking approval
According to Jay Reid, the author of “Growing Up As The Scapegoat To Narcissistic Parents”, many people raised as the scapegoat child of a narcissistic parent struggle to feel that they are real.
They seek approval to feel valid and claim their place in this world. I would elaborate on this and suggest it’s not only those who grow up in narcissistic households that learn this approval-seeking behavior; it’s anyone who grows up in an unhealthy household.
Children instinctively know that even a poor relationship with a caregiver is better and safer than no relationship. So they try to appease the problematic caregiver and seek their approval to guarantee their safety.
In this study, children who experienced negative approval endured heightened emotional distress, whereas children who experienced positive approval elicited more socially competent behavior.
Approval and encouragement from primary caregivers are essential to raising children as confident and well-adjusted adults.
This article in PsychCentral summarises the point well when they say:
“When a child is repeatedly given approval, they build up their sense of value. They eventually become confident in their internal sense of validation: they don’t need outside approval because they can often validate and approve themselves.”
The article suggests that children raised in unhealthy homes may struggle with poor self-esteem, affecting their ability to validate themselves. So they turn to people-pleasing behaviors to adulthood in a desperate bid to seek approval.
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5 ways to stop needing approval
Sure, we all like to be given compliments or know others like us. But it can become problematic if our sense of worth and confidence relies on this.
Here are our top 5 suggestions for how you can stop needing approval.
1. Know your worth
In the self-care world, people regularly talk about knowing your worth. But what does this mean?
It’s taken me a while to learn my worth and to recognize my value. It’s not something that we can figure out overnight. A great start to this process is to learn to see yourself how your greatest cheerleaders see you. Look at yourself through the eyes of your best friend.
Often the harsh words or criticism from childhood plays on a loop around our subconscious mind. We are quick to reject positive comments and equally quick to accept negative comments as those are the ones we feel more deserving of.
I challenge you to list 10 things that make you a worthwhile and valuable person. Don’t be shy or modest. If you are truly stuck on this, ask a trusted friend to help you.
2. Get to the source of the issue
I have read countless books on people-pleasing and how to boost low-self esteem. But none of what I read helped me get to the root of my issues.
Don’t get me wrong; I made significant progress with my healing journey through my research. But it wasn’t until I started working with a therapist that I learned why I had developed my traits, including my deep desire for approval and acceptance by others.
Understanding how we are the way we are is instrumental in unraveling our tangled brain yarn and helping smooth everything out when we understand the why and how we can start working on long-term solutions instead of short-term fixes.
Social media is one big melting point of one-upmanship. Sometimes
I can handle the noise of social media. Other times I find myself getting caught in its merry-go-round and seeking approval from others via social media.
Examine how you use social media and whether you rely on it as a source of approval. Science shows that social media use increases anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances.
Social media engagement can cause a downward spiral in our well-being and plummet our self-esteem. One knock-on effect of this is an increase in approval-seeking behavior.
I strongly suggest that you limit your use of social media, unfollow accounts that don’t make you feel good about yourself, and maybe set time restrictions or remove the apps from your mobile phone.
4. Practice self-love
I’m a big believer in practicing self-love. Self-love isn’t about shopping and spa treatments. It’s more than that. It’s about learning to believe in ourselves and showing up as our own best friends.
Use loving kindness mantras during meditation to help engage with your inner child.
Most of us who seek approval seek it on behalf of our hurt inner child—the damaged child from our youth who still resides within us.
I’ve learned to show compassion and understanding to my inner child. I make sure she knows she is loved, safe, and cared for; above all else, her traumas are not her fault.
This healing process is helping me find a place of acceptance instead of feeling I need to prove myself and find approval.
5. Become comfortable with disapproval
One of the hardest things for approval seekers is hearing negative comments, disapproval, or no comment. Being passed over or disregarded, and discarded is excruciatingly painful.
But once we work on our need for approval, not only will we stop needing approval from external sources. But we will also learn to let criticism wash over us. We become comfortable with the idea that not everyone will like us and that we are not for everyone.
Logically we understand that we don’t like everyone. Let’s now become comfortable with the fact that not everyone will like us. And that is perfectly ok.
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Many of us seek to be liked and approved of wherever we go. But the truth is this aspiration isn’t realistic. And ultimately, the only approval we benefit from seeking is approval from ourselves.
Don’t forget our top five tips for how to stop needing approval from others.
- Know your worth.
- Get to the source of the issue.
- Jump off the social media merry-go-round.
- Practice self-love.
- Become comfortable with disapproval.
Is there anything you do differently to tackle your need for approval? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!