Do you have a hard time saying “no” to people? Do you fear conflict? Do you take things personally or impose exceptionally high standards on yourself? Have you found yourself taking on extra obligations at the request of others, only to feel resentful of them later?
Are you hesitant to respond to any of these questions because you fear I may be disapproving of your answers?
Take it from this reformed people-pleaser: approval is not all it’s cracked up to be. So, why is it that the desire for approval from those around us is so strong? Why are we wired to be eager to prove our worth to those closest to us? Well, it turns out that mammals are programmed with a need to bond with our clan, and that little dopamine release that comes with being recognized and approved of sure isn’t an easy thing to pass up, either.
Like all habits, the need for approval is a tough thing to break (did I mention the dopamine rush?). Breaking this habit or addiction begins with some honest conversations with yourself, and it’s important to note that things may feel worse before they start to feel better.
I know – you wanted me to tell you that boundaries set themselves, and the word “no” just magically rolls off your tongue the second you convince yourself that you no longer need the approval of others. Well, as much as I want you to approve of my article, I cannot write such falsities. To prove that I myself am working on breaking the approval addiction in my own life, I’m not sorry that I cannot break this vicious cycle for you, nor will I offer to do so. That’s my boundary – do you approve of my progress?
All joking aside, the risk of being addicted to the approval of others is that you’ll end up living your life for everyone else. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes that when she began working on breaking these habits in her own life, she felt like “every day was a walk through a gauntlet of gremlins…” Those gremlins asked questions like, “What if I think I’m enough, but others don’t? What if I let my imperfect self be seen and known, and nobody likes what they see?”
Let’s counter those gremlin questions with some of our own: Could I let go of wanting outside approval? Would I? When? Could I allow myself to give myself approval (love) as best that I can? Be patient and persistent as you work through this cycle of questions, and you may soon find you’ve taken a vital step in letting go of wanting the approval of others.
As we celebrate Women’s Health Month in May, I leave you with a message that we can all approve of: loving and accepting yourself is one of the best methods of self-care (but schedule your checkups with your doc, too!).
Mallory Moser is a freelance writer