How to Curb Your Need for Approval

Weekly Column: Aspire Unplugged, by Cheryl Patterson

“When we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead for authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.” – Shakti Gawain

We all need approval at times. The opinions of friends and loved ones can help provide us with guidance as we maneuver our way through life. However, when we value other people’s thoughts and beliefs more than our own and can’t do without it, we put our well-being at risk.

Research indicates that while depending on others for advice may be a short-term fix for anxiety, it can contribute to feelings of uncertainty and deficiency – low self-regard – impacting your self-esteem.

A low regard for yourself and a healthy self-esteem can’t co-exist; a low self-regard and low self-esteem do. Research by Gary Johns and Alan Saks about the psychology of organizational behavior Indicates, “People with low self-esteem have unfavourable self-images. They also tend to be uncertain about the correctness of their opinions, attitudes, and behaviours.” So, they seek confirmation and approval by adopting other’s views, being “more susceptible to external and social influences than those who have high self-esteem.”

Fear about others rejecting one’s views also plays a role in approval seeking. In his research on social psychology, David G. Myers indicates, “social rejection lowers our self-esteem, strengthening our eagerness for approval.”

In contrast, high self-esteem is associated with a positive self-image, independence, and confident decision making and outcomes. Someone with high self-esteem can assertively express their opinions and needs, can form honest relationships and are not as likely to remain in unhealthy ones.

There’s also a spiral effect at play. Feeling good about oneself leads to fulfilling choices and outcomes, which contributes further to healthy esteem, and vice versa – negative feelings can translate into negative choices and outcomes, lowering self-esteem further, strengthening the need for approval and so on.

The good news is that self-esteem is something that can be improved. The following are ways to bolster self-esteem, contributing to less need for approval:

Reduce or eliminate situations that are impacting your self-esteem negatively (where you’re not feeling good about yourself), in areas involving work, relationships, changes in life circumstances, etc.,

Focus on supportive cues. A study by University of McGill found that people with low self-esteem focus their attention on environmental responses that affirm their negative feelings. For instance, sensitivity toward rejection can cause people with low-self esteem to be more attentive to threatening or rejecting situations. Focus on positive situations (i.e. kind or supportive people) and ignore negative ones. What you focus your attention on will contribute to how good or bad you feel.

Challenge the accuracy of your thoughts and beliefs. Think about whether your perception about a bothersome situation is realistic (based on fact) or unrealistic (based on emotions and/or subjective ideas). Consider what an objective or fact-based view would look like instead. For instance, failing at something means you didn’t succeed at it, and probably for a variety of reasons (time, resources, etc), rather than you being a failure as a person or stupid, etc. We all make mistakes. It’s how you bounce back that matters.

Consider positive interpretations. Every situation has two sides – positive and negative. Constantly dwelling on the negatives, will only result in negative outcomes. Challenge yourself to see the positive possibilities to situations.

Be hopeful. If you believe that things can be ok, they’re more likely to turn out that way (and vice versa). Think of similar situations you’ve successfully encountered before… If you’ve done it before, you can do it again.

Give yourself credit. Acknowledge your efforts, ideas, strengths and achievements. You didn’t succeed at something out of “luck,” it was the time, effort and skills you put in to making it happen.

Define yourself in positive ways. The more you regard yourself positively, (i.e. “I am good enough,” “I deserve to be happy,” “I can handle this,” etc.) the easier and more comfortable it will get, and will lead to greater outcomes.

A tip for gaining perspective about your negative thoughts about yourself: Write them down on a piece of paper and imagine giving them to someone you care about… Would you be able to do it? Are they kind enough to say to someone else? If not, then they’re not kind enough to say to you.

Be realistic about what you can do. Consider external factors like time, energy and other demands. And get words like “should” and “must” out of your vocabulary. They add unnecessary pressure on situations.

Focus on positive aspects of your life (versus dwelling on the negative). A gratitude journal can be helpful for shifting your focus to what you have and want (versus what don’t have or don’t want).

Have a back-up plan for stressful situations. Have ‘go to’ ways to help make your situations less stressful (i.e. a walk, mantra, journaling your feelings…getting your feelings out of the way first on paper will help you respond more positively to situations when you’re ready to deal with them, leading to better outcomes).

Focus on achieving your goals. Researcher Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania believes that the more you achieve your goals, the better you will feel about yourself, indicating, “The feeling of self-esteem is a by-product of doing well,” naturally progressing to greater happiness.

The bottom line is, the more you approve of yourself, the less you’ll need to seek it from others, or as Mark Twain simply puts it, “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

Recent posts:
What’s Your Anger Telling You?
How to Give Yourself the Love You Need
What is Happiness, Anyway?
How to Curb Your Loneliness

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Columnist and Freelance Writer – Your 'go to' for emotional well-being… When we feel better, we do better.