4 Strategies to Overcome Approval-Seeking Patterns

anxious, insecure, approval seeking

Everyone wants to be accepted and well-liked.  We are social creatures who crave connection with others, whether it’s one special person at a time or a whole group of friends.  But there is a difference between feeling accepted for who you are and needing to put on a false front for others’ approval.  True acceptance leads to a sense of security and intimacy, while approval-seeking leads to great insecurity and isolation.

So often the desire to be liked by everyone else becomes a measure of our own self-worth.  We turn on different parts of our personality in different situations to seem smart, witty, impressive.  We tell people what we think they want to hear, all the while fearing criticism and rejection.  This all takes an incredible amount of effort and comes at a cost.

When we focus on others’ approval, we feel badly about ourselves if we even suspect someone may not like us.  We are always on guard for any signs of rejection and often try to mind read what others think about us.  We loosen our boundaries and take on extra work to please others, even at our own expense.  Constant approval-seeking weakens our sense of self and leaves us exhausted.

Letting go of the need for others’ approval is liberating.  It takes regular practice to notice these patterns in ourselves and focus on the values that really matter in our relationships. 

Strategies to Break the Pattern:

1.       Build a foundation of self-acceptance. It takes daily intention to fully accept yourself just as you are.  This means noticing your own strengths and struggles without judgement or criticism.  Soften into who you really are with a gentle compassion.  Take time to recognize your own value without having to DO anything.  Many people find it helpful to note personal qualities or behaviors that made them inwardly proud or gave them a sense of satisfaction.  This is how we build the clarity of mind to know what feels “right” for us versus what is a pressure to please others. 

2.       Focus on internal measures of validation. Identify the values that matter most to you and use them as a guideline for how you spend your energy.  If you are living in a way that is consistent with your own deepest values, then you will not feel the need to seek validation or permission from others.  You develop an internal barometer for when you are on the right track.  Following this internal sense of what is “right” for you may feel difficult at first but becomes clearer with practice.  It’s not that we abandon a desire for appreciation or wanting to do good for others.  In fact, generosity can be a value that guides our choices and behaviors.  The difference is that we focus on what feels good and right personally, rather than seeking reciprocation or praise.

3.       Evaluate tasks for their underlying purpose.  Notice when you find yourself looking for approval and evaluate what you really need in that moment.  Be honest with yourself about why you’re making the choice to take on a new task or make a new commitment.  Are you doing it because it feels authentic and right for you?  Or are you doing it because you want to please others?  Perhaps you can begin to eliminate the people-pleasing tasks in your life.  As you do so you’ll find you have more energy for the tasks that are truly rewarding.  You’ll have less resentment and bitterness when you choose to put effort into the things that matter most to you. 

4.       Spend time with the people and activities that bring out your best self.  Seek out the people who accept you in your rawest form and nurture these precious relationships.  Make time for the activities that feel like the “you-est” you, whether that’s painting alone, running a meeting, or sharing a meal with friends.  You can feel it when your guard is down and you can relax into your authentic self.  And try to carry this feeling with you in other situations as well.  Tap into the centered, grounded part of you as you move through the day, even when stepping outside your comfort zone.

Approval-seeking patterns often begin early in life.  These old patterns may be difficult to break when they have become deeply ingrained.  This is when psychotherapy may be beneficial to understand this history and begin creating new thought patterns based on self-acceptance.  Professional care can help you achieve lasting change.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.