Do you ever ask why you feel the need to do things to please others rather than yourself?
Perhaps you do and it irks you somewhat. Or perhaps you don’t, because you’re oblivious to the fact that you do it.
This kind of behavior can be so deeply ingrained into our psyches that we just don’t see the reality that’s staring us in the face.
This is a particularly relevant article for me to write. You see, if I’m honest with myself, I am that person!
It all starts with self-esteem (or lack of it).
It doesn’t take a genius – let alone a psychologist – to conclude that the root cause of most approval-seeking behavior is a lack of self-esteem.
This ingrained sense of inferiority arises from many factors. Some relate to your natural personality, while others stem from external influences such as your upbringing, cultural, educational, and even workplace experiences.
As these build upon one another over time, the need to seek the approval of others for pretty much anything we do and say gradually intensifies.
If one lacks self-belief and is generally self-critical, it would seem only natural to seek validation from others.
You may not even realize that this is your default setting. Perhaps you’re unconscious of the ways you downplay or alter your own behavior or opinions in favor of someone else’s.
Clearly, what’s needed first of all is a long, hard look at some examples of approval-seeking behavior.
I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll score a ‘hit’ on more of these than you might have thought (or you likely wouldn’t be reading this article in the first place!).
I scored a rather tragic 7 out of 12 on the ‘validationometer’!
1. Taking disagreement personally.
When someone disagrees with something you’ve said or done, do you take it to heart as a personal slight and end up feeling upset or even insulted?
This is a classic response for a people pleaser because, quite clearly, the quest for approval has failed. It’s unsurprising, then, that you would feel hurt.
2. Changing or adapting your point of view in the face of apparent disapproval.
You’ve voiced your opinion on some matter, important or not, and someone responds with an opposing view.
Do you vigorously defend your position or find yourself softening your argument in order to fit more closely with theirs?
An approval seeker’s opinion changes depending on who they’re talking to because they lack confidence in their own convictions and are keen not to alienate others by adopting a conflicting view.
3. Afraid to say ‘no’ for fear of disapproval.
Are you a serial over-committer? Do you always say ‘yes’ when asked to do something, when your instinctive response is actually to say ‘no’?
The end result of this behavior is to run yourself ragged and ultimately leads to resentment of all the things you’ve committed yourself to doing.
But it stems from that need to please and your quest for approval.
4. Not standing up for your own rights.
Being a human doormat – to be walked over by whoever chooses to do so – is so much easier than saying “hey, no, that’s not fair” and standing up for yourself.
Failing to draw a line and say ‘no’ just reinforces your lack of self-belief and even causes others to think less of you. Ultimately, this intensifies your feeling of inferiority.
5. Gaining attention or acceptance through gossip.
Ah, yes, the gossip demon: the urge to tell tales to make yourself look better or smarter or more knowledgeable.
Being the teller of tales gives you the power to impress others, to be the center of attention, and to gain kudos. This temporarily bolsters your low self-esteem.
6. Appearing to agree with someone (verbally/non-verbally) when you don’t.
How often do you find yourself listening to an enthusiastically expressed opinion that you don’t agree with one jot, but nevertheless adopt the automatic affirmative response?
By expressing support for such a view, either with words or a nod of your head, you’re not being true to yourself. You just want that person to approve of you and like you.
7. Not complaining when you’ve received unsatisfactory service or goods.
How many times have you moaned and groaned about the food or the service in a restaurant, but, when the waiter cheerfully inquires if everything’s okay, nodded your head and said everything’s fine and dandy?
The worst you might do is to leave a smaller tip, right?
Or you bought something which isn’t fit for purpose, but you don’t have the courage to return it to the store.
By not taking issue with these things, you’re reinforcing your own lack of self-worth. You’re telling yourself you are not entitled to the best of anything.
8. Pretending to know or understand something.
That awkward moment when someone assumes that you know something or have a particular skill…
…the approval seeker’s default response in such a situation is to fake it.
The thing is, nine times out of ten, the pretense is exposed.
Sadly, as you’ll probably have already discovered, rather than gaining the approval you seek, you get condemnation or ridicule instead.
You may also like (article continues below):
- How To Say No To People (And Not Feel Bad About It)
- How To Not Care What People Think
- To Grow Your Self-Esteem Over Time, Do These 10 Small Things Regularly
- How To Be More Assertive In 5 Simple Steps
- 9 Examples Of Attention-Seeking Behavior In Adults
- 20 Signs You’re Disrespecting Yourself (And How To Stop)
9. Feeling the need to apologize even when there’s been no disapproval.
It’s always your fault, right?
No matter what has happened and whether or not you had any hand in it – and even if no word of blame has been voiced – the people pleaser will always be the first to apologize.
If there is no error or behavioral faux pas on your part, why should you feel the need to apologize?
10. Expecting compliments or fishing for them and/or being upset they’re not forthcoming.
Few things provide the validation you desire better than a compliment.
An approval seeker may set out deliberately, however, to needle those they’re interacting with into voicing praise.
Often, that praise is neither due nor appropriate.
An extension of this type of behavior is to feel upset when the compliments you so desire fail to materialize.
11. Failing to cope with any level of criticism.
Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing. – Aristotle
If your aim is to gain the approval of others, then the concept of criticism is utterly intolerable. It implies you have failed in some way in achieving your goal.
This response is often rooted in childhood when parental criticism or even punishment for failed goals or tasks drove us on to seek approval next time.
If we take note of Aristotle’s advice, though, accepting criticism is actually vital to progress.
12. Behaving in a way that’s contrary to your own beliefs.
This is typical behavior in high school, of course: joining the gang just to be amid the ‘popular’ people, even if, in your heart of hearts, you disagree with what they say and/or do.
That’s one thing when you’re a teenager, but quite another when you’re a fully fledged adult.
An approval seeker can easily find themselves in a situation where they don’t follow their heart. They follow their people-pleasing head instead, even if this creates a conflict with their core beliefs.
Why should you ditch your approval-seeking behavior?
As we’ve established, an approval seeker feels the need to validate their own existence by acting like a chameleon and being all things to all people at all times, rather than being true to himself or herself.
The question to ask yourself now is: Are you the kind of person that you look up to?
Consider the type of people you respect most. One of the strongest traits they’re likely to possess is that they are true to themselves. They stand up for their rights, defend their opinions, and live by their own beliefs.
How ironic is it that your own desperate need for approval results in behavior which prevents you from gaining the respect of others and therefore from being the type of person you admire?
Sure, getting the approval of others is great, but the way to go about it is by having self-respect and actually liking yourself for who you are.
A Brief Guide To Dropping Your Need For Validation
This section is largely inspired by this great article from Adam Eason: https://www.adam-eason.com/let-go-approval-seeking-behaviour/
Bearing in mind that this approval-seeking behavior is an ingrained auto-response, this isn’t going to be a quick fix.
But the following steps will allow you to understand and then gradually change your perspective as you develop self-respect and drop your constant need for validation.
1. Analyze where it all began.
More often than not, as discussed above, this behavior is rooted in early life.
Taking the time to reflect on this period may help you identify the factors that caused your need to seek approval.
2. Let yourself accept the concept of rejection and criticism.
Can you recall an occasion when you disappointed someone or failed to live up to their expectations?
Perhaps a superior rejected something you’d prepared, like a presentation or a project. Or maybe you failed to meet a crucial deadline.
Think about how you recovered the situation and consider what you learned from it. It’s likely that you gained more than you lost in terms of experience.
With that in mind, you can begin to appreciate disapproval and criticism as a form of feedback to help you grow and develop. It means you’re out of your comfort zone and moving forward.
3. Pledge to grow rather than merely exist with a fixed mindset.
The idea here is to free yourself from the need for approval from third parties by prioritizing constant improvement and learning.
In her inspiring book Mindset (2006), the psychologist Carol Dweck noted that those who had a positive and striving attitude toward developing skills and ability were the most likely to reach their ultimate potential. She termed this a ‘growth mindset.’
Those with ‘fixed mindsets,’ on the other hand, who regarded feedback/criticism as a sign of failure or disapproval, would always be limited in their achievements.
If you can begin to understand that the sky is the limit for improvement, growth, and success, your constant need for the approval of others will become a distant memory.
4. It’s not all about the outcomes.
You’re only setting yourself up for failure and disappointment if you pin all your hopes on a particular outcome over which you may have no control.
For example, you may be aiming for a raise and going all out to get it. The company may not be doing so well, however, and there may be no more money in the pot. So you’ll end up feeling worthless and lacking the validation you so desire.
Instead, it’s a better idea to concentrate on the ‘process’ rather than the outcome by making yourself indispensable through increased efficiency or organizational skills.
These improvements may get you noticed and could actually result in the salary hike you were hoping for.
Although it’s not a quick fix, the daily practice of mindfulness – focusing on the present moment – can help you to look toward achievable short term successes.
There’s plenty of advice out there on the subject of mindfulness, so take a look and see if you think it might help you become more self-accepting.
5. Believe that you have every right to be you – stand up for yourself!
If you want to ditch your own approval-seeking behavior, you need to understand that you are entitled to your own beliefs, thoughts, and opinions.
You may not have the same point of view as another person, but that doesn’t mean that either one of you is right or wrong.
You can respect the right of others to their own opinion, but you must also respect your own similar right.
They may argue convincingly, in which case it’s fine to change your view on the subject. However, you’re completely entitled to stick to your guns if they don’t. Your opinion is just as valid as any other person’s.
A Brave New World
If you find inspirational quotes helpful, then I suggest you look here for a whole lot of motivation.
One of my favorite sources of such gems is Ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. He didn’t let me down when I was looking for inspiration in this area:
Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.
So, clearly we need to digest the above, set about changing our default approval-seeking behavior and learn to please ourselves more than pleasing others.
I’m 100% with you on this journey, so let’s step forward smartly into a brave new world where we ditch the self-critical navel-gazing and constant need for approval.
We will doubtless find greater peace and happiness by doing so.