Why Do We Constantly Seek the Approval of Others?

Falling into the trap of people-pleasing can be a slippery slope.

Posted Jun 22, 2019

Hannah Rose
Social media can exacerbate our approval-seeking behaviors.
Source: Hannah Rose

I've fallen into the trap of approval-seeking for most of my life.

Up until recently, I had a tendency to run most of my decisions by the people closest to me: friends, family, therapists, and anyone in my closest network. I struggled with needing approval from others before feeling secure about a decision myself.

The propensity to seek approval from others affected both my relationships and my career. Even in starting this blog, I was riddled with fear of what others, especially those closest to me, would think.

So where did this innate fear of not receiving approval come from?

I’m sure most of us can trace the etiology of our behaviors back to our upbringing, especially in childhood and early adolescence. We tell ourselves that “time heals all wounds” (which is wildly inaccurate), and that we shouldn’t be this way anymore.

For me, direct and effective therapy helped with making those connections.

But while I can’t determine your behavioral patterns rooted deep in your histories and childhoods in a blog post, I can absolutely write about how I've been able to deconstruct approval-seeking behaviors now, as an adult.

First and foremost, let’s use this checklist to assess whether or not you struggle with this set of behaviors:

  • Do you feel fear before telling someone in your life about a decision you’ve made?
  • Do you change your actions based on fear of how another may react?
  • Can you identify anything in your life that you regret doing or not doing, realizing in hindsight that it wasn’t aligned with what you wanted?
  • Do you struggle with setting boundaries, being direct, or communicating truthfully?
  • Do you inadvertently lie or omit the truth when speaking to someone, due to fear of their response or opinion?
  • Do you let others’ opinions dictate what choices you make?
Hannah Rose
Source: Hannah Rose

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, Mazel Tov! You struggle with people-pleasing and approval-seeking.

Welcome to the human experience.

The reality is that most of us, to varying degrees, feel fear about what others think about us. This can have to do with how we look, what we’re doing with our careers or schooling, or what choices we are making in our personal lives.

What blocks us from getting in touch with our truth, with our insight?

Fear.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with determining what is best for my career. I know what I love to do, which I’m grateful for, but I feel “stuck” in what’s comfortable. The difference in my experience this time, however, is that I’m not trying to seek approval from others before making a decision.

What’s changed for me is this: I no longer need others to validate my truth.

It may sound trivial to some, but for others, you definitely know how big of a deal this is. From personal relationships to career goals, I am able to trust my gut and follow my intuition. Fear of the unknown absolutely comes up, but it is no longer being exacerbated by needing the approval of others.

Seeking out opinions and advice is one thing, especially when it’s solicited, but attempting to manipulate loved ones to support our choices is a completely different story.

What would it be like for you if the people in your life didn’t approve of a decision?

Is the fear of their disapproval about them, or is it about you?

Short answer: It’s about you.

For me, I consistently projected my internal insecurity onto others. When I am wholeheartedly secure about a decision in my life, I don’t look for approval from others. When I am insecure, however, and internally questioning my decisions (either on a conscious or subconscious level), that’s when I start to get bogged down with what others think.

I once told my therapist that I didn’t want to tell her about a decision I was making (to impulsively buy a house, by the way), because I thought she was going to judge me and make me feel bad. As a therapist myself, I am well aware on a cognitive level that therapists (healthy ones, at least) aren’t invested in their patient’s lives. They are solely there to evoke questions, navigate the patient towards their truth, and be a sounding board.

She smiled and asked me why I thought she was going to judge me. She reminded me that I’m literally paying for her services every week, and her job is not to sway me in one direction or another. She essentially led me to my own truth, which was that I was so fearful of what she thought, because I knew in my gut it was a horrible idea. I just didn’t want to admit it or get honest with myself, so instead, I projected it onto her.

This approval-seeking led me to the point of actually leaving my therapist a voicemail telling her that I wanted to quit therapy, and then blocking her number because I was scared of her response.

This was all because I didn’t want to talk to her about some of the decisions I was making at the time.

In hindsight, we both find this hilarious. I was on a mission to cling to my impulsive decisions, and I was terrified of anyone disagreeing with me, because it would have shone a light on my own truth. But instead of acknowledging that, which I wasn’t able to at the time, I projected my internal conflict onto her, and it manifested into a massive resentment. I blamed her for ending my relationship with my significant other, even though I had been struggling with it for months. I told her I felt that she was too judging and shaming.

Hannah Rose
Growing up, I was the youngest of 3. I'm in the middle.
Source: Hannah Rose

We were able to work through the blatant transference that was going on in her office, as I hurled projection after projection at her. She provided gentle psychoeducation about how my interaction with her is a microcosm for my interaction with people in my life. Fear-based, approval-seeking, and resenting when they don’t cosign.

So that’s a somewhat long-winded story about how I began my journey with walking through approval-seeking and people-pleasing.  

Pro tip: Go to therapy.

I encourage each of you to ask yourselves—what is it that you are seeking approval most with? In your innermost gut, how do you feel about the decision yourself? What would it be like for you to let go of the expectations of others and live for yourself?

It’s one thing to do whatever we want and leave a trail of destruction and chaos in our wakes. But it’s another to get in tune with our truth and choose courage over comfort, as Dr. Brene Brown would say. To stand in the light. To listen to that inner voice, and to trust it.

No matter where you are in life, remember that you aren’t stuck.

Be it your work, your path in school, your relationships, and whatever else may be troubling you. We are never stuck, and we are never truly alone. Seek out the people that will listen to you with an open heart, call you out on your shit, but never tell you what to do.

And if you’re still seeking out that perfect, black and white answer, the bad news is that it doesn’t exist. We live in the grey. And no one can make our decisions for us. No sponsor, friend, parent, or therapist.

The most freeing experience of my life thus far has been to be able to rely on my intuition. To be unapologetically myself, and to stand in my own light. I absolutely love my support network and utilize them often, but they don’t dictate my actions today.

So stand in your light. You deserve it.

See the original post at www.hannaheliserose.com.

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