How to overcome your need for approval
Christina Adamidou | May 23, 2018 | Photograph by: Gabriel Matula
We all want to feel liked and accepted. As humans, this is what led to our survival; especially in prehistoric times, being rejected from the group posed a real threat to people’s lives. Because of the extreme consequences, our brains and behaviour have been conditioned to avoid disapproval from others at all costs. So much so, that researchers in recent years have discovered social rejection activates parts of the brain that are linked to physical pain.
Though we have evolved from our spear-hunting days, our desire for approval still runs deep. And while it’s perfectly normal to want to be accepted, problems can occur when we need to be accepted in order to be happy. Feeling valued or successful only when receiving validation from others can become an unhealthy habit, and it is especially common in the workplace.
I too have ridden the rollercoaster of despair from trying to seek for approval from others. Like for many writers, a lot of my professional life seemed dependent on other people’s approval, whether from a writing group, a supervisor, or an editor. Inviting others for comment and then waiting to hear from them made me feel like I was in limbo until they finished reading my work and passed their verdict.
Over the years however, I’ve learned that constantly seeking approval in the workplace can seriously undermine your self-confidence and hinder your professional development in the long run. Always trying to please your boss or co-workers can lead to burnout at work and consequently unhappiness at home, as your self-worth becomes so dependent on external factors.
Signs of having a need for external validation include the following:
1. Befriending people who almost always agree with your opinions
2. Believing something is wrong with you when someone disagrees with you
3. Taking negative feedback personally
4. Feeling that success is tied to acceptance and approval from other people
5. Having a hard time saying “No” to people
6. Being overly responsible and taking on other people’s responsibilities
If any of the above resonates with you, it might be time to take responsibility and overcome your need for external validation. Here are a few steps to help you get there:
1. Discover where this need comes from
According to Joyce Meyer’s book, Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone, a constant need for approval stems from low self-esteem, which, in many cases, is a result of past physical, emotional, or verbal abuse. This often occurs during childhood, where the natural tendency is to want to comply with parents’ or teachers’ wishes.
Feeling liked or accepted in your professional and personal life masks this insecurity and other emotional needs you might have. Being able to reflect and identify where this need comes from is an important step in shedding your approval-seeking ways.
2. Develop a growth, not fixed mindset
People who adopt a growth mindset recognise that skill and ability can develop over time, whereas individuals with a fixed mindset believe that these things are innate and unchangeable. Having a growth mindset helps you focus on improving processes that you can control, like becoming more organized, rather than achieving one particular outcome that may be outside your control, such as receiving a promotion or a raise. By doing so, you recognise that every step counts and there’s much room and time to improve. Understanding this helps you let go of that constant need for approval.
The other great thing about cultivating a growth mindset is that it leads to a passion for learning and self-improvement, rather than a hunger for constant approval. Learning to focus on the process, instead of the outcome means you’re more likely to learn from feedback in a constructive way, rather than viewing it as a sign of disapproval and failure.
3. Accept that you can’t please everyone
No matter how hard you try, there will always be people who dislike, disagree, or disapprove of you or your actions. This does not make you less of a person, or less valued. People will always have their own biases, agendas, and insecurities, and it’s impossible to control what they think of you. Many times, the ways people perceive you have a lot more to do with how they think and perceive reality, rather than with how you behave.
Therefore, focusing all your energy to say and do the right things to win their approval is not only time-consuming and emotionally draining, but it can also make you loose your self-esteem in the process. Allowing yourself to be so easily bruised by external remarks and opinions restricts you from achieving your full potential at work and in life.
4. Practice inner validation
That’s why the most important form of acceptance is self-acceptance. Approving of yourself, without the praise of others, is incredibly liberating as it gives you the inner peace to build your self-esteem from the inside out, instead of the outside in. External validation is only a temporary “fix” to an incessant need, whereas the ability to accept who you are and where you are today is a constant that no one can take away from you.
Channel your energy on freeing yourself from approval-seeking behaviors, and you’ll be sure to feel more fulfilled and happier with yourself in the long run.
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Natalie Hughes founded Miss Independent in 2017, to educate and mentor women and help them make their best career and business decisions. Natalie is an experienced business woman and non-executive company director focused on organisational design, strategy, growth and innovation. Her goal is to help you think differently, work differently and feel in control of your own destiny.
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