If you’re an “approval junkie” or people-pleaser, the idea of not caring about what other people think sounds like freedom. You could do what you want, be who you really are, and say what you’re thinking, all without concern for other people’s opinions or judgments.
Approval isn’t all created equally
Even though not caring sounds appealing, it’s not really going to make you happy. We’re social beings and we crave connection with each other. As primitive cavemen and women, our survival depended on being accepted into a group or tribe for protection. Approval ensured our survival. We learned to follow rules and social norms or we’d be left behind to become dinner for a saber tooth tiger.
While those life and death struggles are long gone, we still crave connection and approval from our families and communities. Remember the pressure to fit in you felt in middle school? Well, deep inside we all still fear being ostracized and cast out. That need for approval doesn’t just go away; now we worry about offending our bosses or priests or neighbors instead.
Those of us who are people-pleasers or approval junkies have taken it a bit too far, however. We’re seeking approval and validation from everyone and anyone. Of course, this doesn’t work because it’s impossible to please everyone. It’s also unnecessary. We only need the approval and acceptance of a particular small group of people – those with whom we have close relationships.
We’re seeking approval from the wrong people
I don’t need 500 strangers to like my Facebook post. Even the opinions of my distant Aunt Joan or old acquaintances from high school really don’t matter because I don’t have close relationships with these people. We’ve confused ourselves and started acting as if everyone’s opinion matters equally when in fact the opinions of people who we have close relationships with are the ones that matter. I should care more about my husband’s opinion than I do about the cliquey group of perfect-looking moms at my son’s school.
Whose opinion really matters?
Figure out whose opinion really matters to you. It’s not that hard – consider the five to ten people you are closest to. When you notice that you’re worrying about what other people think of you, ask yourself: “Are these people on my list?”
Now that you have your list narrowed down, you can get to work reducing your approval seeking further.
Being in committed relationships means we do care about others’ opinions, feelings, and needs. Honestly, if you have no concern for what anyone else thinks, you might as well hike into the solitary wilderness, pitch a tent, and get comfy. Relationships mean we have mutual concern for each other’s feelings and needs. They require compromise: I dog sit for my sister (even though I don’t like dogs) and she drives me to work when my car is in the shop. My sister’s opinion matters because we have a meaningful connection, and therefore I’m willing to do things to make her happy.
You get into trouble pleasing others when it comes at your own expense
Healthy relationships don’t mean that we compromise our own values and beliefs to please even those closest to us. If you start to worry more about other people’s feelings and disregard your own, you are diminishing yourself. You deserve to have feelings and needs and desires and they’re just as valid as anyone else’s. They don’t have to be the same as your spouse’s or those of your parents. You can take their opinions into consideration, but you don’t have to live your life pleasing them. This is the freedom of being an adult. Healthy adults individuate from their parents. You continue to care about your parents’ opinions if you have a close relationship with them, but the relationship now reflects that you are a completely separate person.
A healthy adult relationship withstands differing opinions and disappointments and criticisms. When you become a whole and separate person, you accept responsibility for your own feelings and meeting your own needs. You can learn to validate yourself and give yourself praise, acceptance, and approval that means more than any gold star you could get from your parents, friends, or boss.
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© 2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
photo by pixtawan at freedigitalphotos.net