Too often life is shaped and influenced by the opinions, judgments, and direction of others. We live in a society that encourages and reinforces approval from external sources. We are evaluated at work, by our families and friends, and by our neighbors and passing acquaintances. Our families want us to succeed, we compete with our friends and neighbors for wealth and status, and we pay close attention to how our acquaintances perceive us. Essentially, we have extreme pressure to gain approval from those involved in our lives, from our closest family members to our most distant acquaintances.
Why do we seek approval? It is human nature to seek approval because it is at the foundation of our early experiences in life. We all work as children to gain approval from our parents and carry this into our adult lives where it is reenacted with parental symbols, such as work supervisors and spouses, and our “siblings” of society, such as friends, neighbors, and acquaintances with whom we unconsciously compete for approval. This pattern continues throughout our lives and robs us of the right to have balance and internal peace.
The dangers of constantly seeking approval have far reaching effects on happiness and meaning in life. When we seek approval, we live for it and lose our sense of self. This drive shapes our work, relationships, and confidence because we are essentially living for other people and purposes when we rely on external means for substantiation, and are at risk for harboring resentment against those parental symbols we rely on for approval and ourselves for needing it to feel worthy of existence. This resentment is expressed in relationships with aggression or neglect and is directed toward ourselves in manners that damage our sense of self. In such cases happiness and meaning escape us.
How do you stop seeking approval and live for yourself? Living for yourself is both simple and complex. It is simple because you only need approval from one person: you. It is complex because you might be your worst critic. You have to dismantle the critic and search for your own meaning beyond that which has been assigned to you by your parental symbols. While it is commendable to please your boss, accommodate your spouse, and help your friends, and exciting to impress your neighbors, each time you attempt to gain their approval you distance yourself from the real you. Only the real you can direct your true purpose.
Dismantling your inner critic requires you to search your psyche for critical self-statements and old patterns of relating with others in manners that reflect your need for their approval. You can begin by asking yourself to believe you have the right to exist without having to prove your worthiness. Next, target your critical self-statements with challenging rebuttals. The statements might sound like this: “I have to get this done or my boss will think I’m incompetent, “My wife will think I’m weak if I don’t do this right,” or “I won’t compare to my neighbor if I don’t have as much money or status as he has.” The rebuttals might sound like this: “I am competent no matter when I get this done,” “My wife loves me no matter how I do this,” and “I am equally as good as my neighbor if I make more or less money or have higher or lower status than he has.” This process will wear away at the motivations for seeking approval from external sources and free up the energy you need to find the real you.
Finding the real you will be exciting. Just think of and embrace all the things you like to do, the feelings you want to express, and reject the inhibitions you have allowed to interfere with your forward motion. When you embrace the things that make you who you are, the need for approval gradually dissipates because you no longer need it to feel real. This new or revived authenticity can be the point from which you shape your relationship with yourself, family, friends, superiors, and neighbors. If you like and value you, there is less need to live and compete for the approval from your parental symbols. So, let the real you rather than your need for approval direct your life and purpose. You do not have to know your purpose now and may find that being you is your purpose, but try living as the person you feel you are and worry less about how you are perceived by others, and you can be sure you will feel more enthusiastic about life and living it on your terms.