We all want to be liked and we all want to fit in. From the moment we’re born we seek connection with other people, it is part of what makes us human.
The problem starts when this basic human need shifts into an overwhelming desire for approval and a serious fear of rejection.
When this happens it becomes all too easy to compromise who we are and to hand over control of our lives to others.
Often referred to as ‘approval addiction’ this need for others to like and accept us can rule our lives, from what we wear, to how we spend our time and what job we get.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that pervasive, it can come through in the little things, like feeling irrationally hurt if an idea we have is rejected by others, or in the inability to say ‘no’.
Is this an issue for you?
- Are you worried about expressing your real opinion for fear others will reject or judge you?
- Do you say yes to things you really don’t want to do?
- Have you found yourself often stressing that something you’ve said or done may have made someone think less of you?
- Are you always worried about how you’re ‘coming across’?
- Do you change yourself to suit other people from situation to situation?
- Are decisions hard to make?
- Is it a struggle for you to know what you really want?
- Do you find yourself doing things, or hanging out with people that you don’t really like in order to not offend and ‘go with the flow’.
If you answered yes to any of these things, the chances are, you may have a touch of ‘approval addiction’.
Why approval addiction hurts us
- You’re basing your self-worth on others’ biased opinion
Other people are going to judge you based on their own life experience, that is not something you can control.
They may have had a next door neighbour who laughed like you do and so their opinion of you is coloured by how they thought of their neighbour. Or, they may have a very strong opinion about people who wear hats inside based on how they were raised.
You can’t change people’s bias of you any more than you can change the colour of the sky. When you hand people the power over your own self-worth, you are setting yourself up for a life filled with insecurity.
- It will never be enough
The need for external approval is something that never ends. Once you need approval to feel worthy, you will constantly seek it.
Sure you may get it one day, but what about the day after that? And the week after that?
You will chase it forever and will never feel fulfilled. There will always be a need to feel accepted.
- Your happiness is at the mercy of other people
When you need approval to feel worthy, you are essentially handing the keys to your own happiness over to other people. You relinquish control of your life to another person’s whims.
- It’s human to want to be ourselves
As much as connection is a human need, so is the need to express ourselves as individuals.
Authenticity is a buzzword that is being pushed around a lot these days, but there’s a good reason for that. Being our authentic selves is something that we all want deeply. Whether or not we realise it, we all hunt for somewhere or someone that will just let us be us.
When we have to squash down who we really are in order to please others, we end up unhappy, depressed, anxious and resentful.
- Easy prey
The need for approval can make us easy targets for people who would abuse or take advantage of us. People who need approval tend to have weaker personal boundaries, which can be breached by people who want to make you do things their way or who want you to conform to their will.
How to shed the need for approval
Find the source
Why do you need approval? Really take some time and think about it. Where did the need first start? How did it first start? How did it grow?
Only by deconstructing the root causes of our insecurities can we begin to remove them from our lives. After that’s done, then you can begin replacing them with healthier and more balanced core beliefs.
So, take a few hours and really think about the source. You may want to chat to a counsellor or a psychologist to help you through this process.
Once you’ve found and examined the root cause, you can begin to deconstruct it. After that, come up with a replacement belief, like “I am worthy”. Tell yourself this whenever you feel the need for approval rise up. Repeat and repeat it.
Remember, your old core belief took time to build, so will your new belief. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
Make yourself the boss
Do you really want other people to determine the outcome of your life? If not, you have to get into the drivers’ seat and take control.
Write down a list of all the things that you value and enjoy about yourself. Your list could look something like:
Let these qualities be the compass for your actions, not what other people think and say.
Also, make a list of what you want and where you want to be. This list will help you to tread your own path, and not follow where others lead.
Find your tribe
Not everyone in this world is going to like you, and that’s okay. You need to know that’s okay.
Don’t change yourself to fit in with people who wouldn’t like the real you. That is a recipe for a miserable life.
Instead, invest time into showing people who you are and finding those people that really, truly like you for exactly who you are.
It’s less exhausting, you will be much happier and you won’t dread having to leave your house and mingle with people.
Is it all that bad?
If someone doesn’t like you, what’s the worst that can happen? Is it all that bad? Will your world end? The answer is a firm no. The worst that can happen is you feel bad for a while.
But that’s the key: our whole lives are spent running from negative feelings. We don’t like them and our brain tries to protect us from feeling them by putting insecurities and fears in our way to stop us pushing out of our comfort zones and potentially feeling bad. It’s a strange form of protection.
What you need to do is feel the pain and feel the fear. Sit with the uncomfortable feelings for a little while. Realise that while it feels uncomfortable, it actually poses no threat to you. Your world isn’t ending.
Then after you’ve handled the discomfort, pick yourself up, give yourself a healthy dose of self-care and compassion, and think of three constructive ways you can begin to move on and look after yourself.
Just do it
There is something wonderful about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Make a list of the things that you fear judgement over. For instance, if you fear people will dislike you if you speak your mind, pop it on your list. Or if you are concerned that someone will think you are selfish if you say no, add it to the list.
Your list may start to look something like this:
- Speak my mind about something I believe or think.
- Say no when Jess asks for money again.
- Wear that jacket I love, but think people will hate.
- Stay home and read instead of going to Friday night dinner for a change.
Begin to systematically tick things off your list. This will be scary and uncomfortable at first, but sit with it, feel the discomfort, tell yourself that you are worthwhile, and do it.
No one actually cares
We really think that people take a lot more notice of us than they actually do. In truth, people are all too fixated on themselves and the 50,000+ thoughts they have every single day, to really pay you much attention.
Often what we think others are thinking about us, or how they are judging us, is just a figment of our imaginations.
You can’t change them, you can only change you
You cannot change how a person views you, you can only change how that affects you. Don’t let what others think decide your happiness. Brush off their opinions and know that you are valuable regardless of what they think.
Where is your focus?
We only have a limited focus capacity. If you are constantly trying to read people and what they think of you, that’s where the majority of your focus will go. If you do this you will find that there is very little focus left for doing the things that you enjoy, or for achieving your goals in life.
Refocus your attention on what will make you happy, on what you need and on where you want to go. Focus on the things you can control instead of worrying about things you cannot change.
Remember, these things take time. It took time to build up your insecurities, and it will take time to dismantle them.
Don’t expect results right away, but with time and a commitment to change, you will see a change.
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