12 Examples Of Approval-Seeking Behavior (+ How To Drop Your Need For Validation)

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Do you ever wonder why you seek the approval of others so much?

Or why you feel the need to do things to please others rather than yourself?

Perhaps you do and it bothers you. 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.

But where does it come from and what does it look like?

It all starts with self-esteem (or lack of it).

The root cause of most approval-seeking behavior is low self-esteem.

This sense of inferiority arises from many factors. Some relate to your natural personality, while others stem from external influences such as your upbringing, cultural experience, education, and work life.

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.

12 Approval-Seeking Behaviors

Here are 12 examples of the types of behavior that are common when we are trying to get approval and validation.

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 feel upset or even insulted?

This is a classic response for a people pleaser because the quest for approval has failed.

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 to say ‘no’?

Physical and emotional exhaustion is the end result of this behavior and leads you to resent all the things you’ve committed to.

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.

5. Gaining attention or acceptance through gossip.

Do you feel the urge to tell tales to make yourself look better or smarter or more knowledgeable?

Sharing gossip 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, but appear to agree with nonetheless?

By expressing support for a view you don’t agree with, 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 discovered, rather than gaining the approval you seek, you get condemnation or ridicule instead.

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9. Feeling the need to apologize even when there’s been no disapproval.

You say sorry too much.

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 coerce 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 desire fail to materialize.

11. Failing to cope with any level of criticism.   

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.

12. Behaving in a way that’s contrary to your own beliefs.

This is typical behavior in high school: joining the gang just to be among the ‘popular’ people, even if, in your heart of hearts, you disagree with what they say and/or do.

That’s forgivable as a teenager, but not so much when you’re an 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.

How To Stop Seeking 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 response, it 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, this behavior is rooted in early life.

Perhaps it’s related to parental influence or maybe you had difficulty making friends in school and became fearful of rejection as a result.

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.

3. Pledge to grow rather than merely exist with a fixed mindset.

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 in your job 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.

5. Believe that you have every right to be you – stand up for yourself!

If you want to stop 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.

Still not sure what to do about your need for approval and validation? Speak to a therapist online today. Simply click here to get started.

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About Author

Working as a freelance copywriter, Juliana is following a path well-trodden by her family, who seem to have 'wordsmithing' in their DNA. She'll turn her quill to anything from lifestyle and wellness articles to blog posts and SEO articles. All this is underpinned by a lifetime of travel, cultural exchange and her love of the richly expressive medium of the English language.