How to Stop Approval-Seeking Already…

Once upon a time, I was in a romantic relationship with a man who loved Gorgonzola cheese. And because I really liked him, I convinced myself that I should love Gorgonzola too. Like really love it. Just a little white lie then…

Get this: I even started buying Gorgonzola when he wasn’t there, reiterating how much I loved it.  It took me years to admit that I didn’t actually much care for Gorgonzola, or the man, for that matter.

But at the time, this was a little symptom of something much bigger.  There was practically no personal boundary I wasn’t able to override because I wanted his approval.  No hoop I wouldn’t jump through.

My name is Mandy, and I am an approval seeker.  Or I used to be.  It still happens occasionally (please like my Tweet; tell me you like my speech, my dress, or my witty dinner time conversation).  Nowadays, I catch it – and nip it – much quicker.

This post is for anyone who is fed up with their approval-seeking, and all the icky feelings that come with it.

Brené Brown calls this hustling for worthiness – and it is an icky kind of hustle.  Approval seekers give away their time, energy and desires in exchange for a hit of recognition.  This works momentarily, but before long, the need for validation strikes again.

This hustle causes all kinds of trouble.  Not only do you end up eating/wearing/doing things you may not really enjoy.  You also become dependent on the personal rewards you get from over-giving and over-doing.  Even more disturbing is that you can feel heroic, maybe even saintly, while selling yourself short.  But it’s short-lived.  A shot of praise always has a chaser of emptiness.  Then the sorry cycle starts again.

Approval-seeking usually exists in a scarcity mentality, a fear that you must operate this way to get the validation you need.  It’s as if there isn’t enough peace, abundance and acceptance to go around, hence the radical measures an approval-seeker is willing to adopt.

If you’ve ever thought, ‘enough already,’ but don’t know how to pull the plug, here are 3 strategies to play with.

NOTICE:  How does your approval-seeking play out?  In my cheesy relationship, I’d get this clutchy feeling in my chest and stomach (love me; need me; want me; tell me I’m special, tell me, tell me, tell me).  This graspy neediness was a tip-off that I was, well, grasping.  By the way, this is always super attractive in a relationship.

When I believed, deep down, that I wasn’t enough, or that I had to be on board with all of Mr. Gorgonzola’s likes (even if they weren’t my likes), it actually precluded real intimacy.  Little by little, I drifted away from my true self.  I didn’t have my own opinions, or interests that were truly mine.  You can guess how this story ends…

Approval-seeking can be stopped, and noticing is the first step.

ASK: WHAT CAN’T I SEE?  Once you’ve recognized that you’re clutching (or whatever you do), try this question from Byron Katie:

What can’t I see when I’m believing that thought? – in this case, that I need this approval to survive (grasp, grasp, grasp)…

What about you?  It may not be a relationship thing.  Maybe it’s obsessively checking for “likes” on your latest FaceBook post (and feeling crestfallen that it’s being ignored).  Or maybe you’re hurt that your boss hasn’t commented on the stellar quality of your latest project.  You might find yourself checking emails more frequently, or offering to stay late again, hoping to cross paths.

Ok, so you notice that you’re hooked (a bodily feeling or unpleasant emotion is a usually a clue).  Once you notice, ask yourself:

What can’t I see when I believe that I’m not enough?  Or that my work/talent/efforts/skills aren’t enough?

What can’t I see when I believe I need this person’s approval/praise/validation?

Then you can pause and reflect if the morsel you’re hoping to get is worth selling yourself short for.  Is it worth the dignity you might sacrifice?  The time?  The energy?  The potential for angst and pent up rage?

Probably not.

BE YOU (I’VE GOTTA BE ME):  A core need has been triggered when we seek validation.  How could you meet that need in a healthier way, and start self-approving?

After my dysfunctional relationship ended, I started getting really clear on what I liked; what wanted; what I was yearning for.  I started protecting my time and energy as an act of self-compassion.  I stopped bulldozing through my fledgling boundaries.  I started saying, ‘No.’ I started voicing my opinions, and being ok, really ok, if someone didn’t agree with me, or (fasten your seatbelt) didn’t like me.  And it was OK, because I like me!

I like the work I do; the clothes I wear; the foods I eat. That’s ultimately what matters.

When you are really OK with yourself, it’s surprisingly, liberatingly OK for others to have their own, totally different tastes and likes.  I don’t need to say ‘yes’ to the Gorgonzola ice cream, or anything else that doesn’t jive with me.  Neither do you (unless you love Gorgonzola, then by all means…).

The coach, Rich Litvin, played a Sammy Davis Jr. song at a coaching Intensive I attended last year.  I’ll never forget as the refrain rang out in the audience: “I’ve gotta be me.”  It reaffirmed this message so powerfully and gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that I’m on the right path.  I’ve gotta be me.  And you’ve gotta be YOU, the gorgeous, boundaried, self-validating you.  Have opinions.  Speak out.  Be unique.  It’s the real you we want.