The Pointless Habit of Seeking Approval from Others

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If your personal validation primarily comes from getting the approval of others, you may notice that your thirst is rarely quenched.

Sure, you get a gush of good feeling when someone says you look cute today. Or maybe they say the project you did was excellent, or you have the snazziest car… but it dissipates soon after. It doesn’t sustain you. Before long you’ve got to go find more approval.

If you can’t find approval when you go looking for it, you might have to resort to going negative. You’ll then get your validation by cutting on the Kardashians, or criticizing a book or movie. Many even shift to criticizing close family members or “friends”. If you don’t get high by getting lifted up, you’ll lift your leg and relieve yourself at someone else’s expense, gosh-darnit.

Why Do We Do This?

The above behaviors are so common. Our caregivers have socialized us this way. Through praise and punishment they have taught us how to walk/talk/go potty. We have been ranked and graded over and over. Upon reaching adulthood, we remain oriented in the same way – seeking praise to know we are valid. And alternately feeling invalid if we aren’t regularly getting it.

If you had a particularly punishing caregiver that never truly helped you feel safe or worthwhile, it’s likely you’ve had a very thirsty life so far. You might find yourself wandering through relationships, careers and hobbies perpetually trying to get your insatiable need for validation met. Then you feel disappointed when others don’t ever adequately show you how special you are.

Or if you had an overly doting caregiver who communicated that you’re more special than others, outer validation is likely still an issue. You might notice that the rest of the world isn’t quite as obsessed with uplifting you. So you feel ripped off from never getting that same level of praise.

How Validation Really Works

Now I must highlight the fundamental flaw here: in general others don’t treat you how you hope they will treat you. Others will treat you how you expect to be treated. So if you have essentially low self-worth, others will treat you accordingly.

Oh my gosh did it take some diligent practice for me to kick this pattern with romantic partners. After some rough teenage years with my dad, I was magnetically drawn to men who would treat me like leftovers. Lots of wonderful men were attracted to me, but I had no interest in them. I only liked the guys that would show up late, eat all my food, then disappear for days.

It’s actually difficult to treat someone well, if they expect you to treat them poorly. Have you noticed that? People with low self worth have a sort of vacuous energy that sucks you in and makes you think poorly of them for no particular reason. You’ve got to work extra hard to not buy into the vibes they emit, and hold a different image of them.

Making Space for a New Possibility

As a yoga teacher, it is my job to see the potential in others that they don’t believe yet… to do my job I must not get sucked into their negative concept of themselves. I must raise them up! I must see the big oak tree in the little acorn. I love it. It’s so satisfying to watch their self-perceptions shift through this practice. But I’ve only really done my job if I can show them how to tap into that validation in themselves – so they don’t actually need me anymore. If I’ve done my job well, I become obsolete. Because they’ve shifted to accessing their worth from within as opposed to looking for it in my (or anyone else’s) praise.

This incredible thing happens when you stop seeking validation from others: You stop worrying what they think. Instead you feel like everything is just as it should be. You don’t need to feel better than others. Actually you don’t want to feel better than others. You can’t fathom feeling like you’re less than others. The whole ranking system, the whole idea of being valid or invalid seems completely ridiculous.

The other bummer about getting your validation from outside is you can only grow and expand as much as others believe in you. They might think you’re swell, but may not have dreams for you that are as big as yours. To reach your peaks, you must first envision your peaks. Rarely do others spend so much time pondering someone else’s greatest potential.

What You Can Do Kick the Habit

So how do you reroute your source of self-worth if you’ve been in the habit of perpetually seeking it outside yourself?

• Make it a practice to do high quality, personally fulfilling things by yourself every single day. Consciously practice pleasing yourself, and noting what good feels like when no one else is around to approve or disapprove.

• When you are out in the world and feel that sickening swell of desperation for someone else’s affection or approval stop, drop and roll the hell out of there as soon as possible to do something caring by and for yourself.

• Take note of how you get back what you are giving off by noticing the connection between your inner thoughts and others’ treatment of you. As you track down your negative thoughts, inquire whether they actually have any truth to them. Then, experiment with new, more positive and self-affirming thoughts. See how the world reacts.

Just like doing physical yoga poses is a regular practice to condition your body, the daily practice of building your feelings of self-worth from within will recondition your mind. (Actually doing yoga poses will likely increase your inner self worth too… it sure did for me.)

As you stoke these inner reserves, you’ll notice the outer world validating you more and more. And it’ll be nice, but you won’t really care that much. You’ll see that they’re just reflecting what you already know.

*Please pass this along to anyone who could use a little boost in the department of self-validation… xoxo

Photo: Andrew Branch


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