“Most people think everybody feels about them much more violently than they actually do; they think other people's opinions of them swing through great arcs of approval or disapproval.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
What do you think of me? What do you think of Darren Shields? Half - decent guy? Attention - seeking prick? Goes on about mental health too much? Maybe he hurt you? Maybe he helped you? Maybe you've known him for a long time. Maybe you've never met him.
But what do you think about him?
Because he cares.
Though he's getting better at not caring.
That's enough about him though. This blog is about you. It's entitled "approval" but it's really about you.
I wonder what sort of reputation you have. Are you cool? Are you attractive? Are you a loner? A screw up or a success? How do people see you? Do you pass whatever metric they're using to judge you? Do you care?
Approval is a funny thing. In many ways it is essential for almost every aspect of our lives. I mean you can never get a job unless someone approves you. You can never pass a test unless someone approves you. If you are in a relationship someone has obviously approved you enough to fill a portion of their heart.
Yet approval - or rather the pursuit of approval can be a harmful practice. This blog will ask three questions and I will simply share my musings and perhaps it will begin a fruitful conversation within you. That would be the aim.
1. Why do I/you/we seek approval?
2. How do I/you/we seek approval?
3.How do I/you/we stop seeking approval?
1. Why do I/you/we seek approval?
This is a pretty deep psychological question. It a pretty philosophical one too. As much as I enjoy both of those I realise they may not be everyone's cup of tea so i'll be as succinct and non philosophical as I possibly can.
So why do we seek approval from other people? Here are a few possibilities. I deliberately won't go into detail on any of them but would encourage you to apply them to your own life.
- Life is easier when you fit in
- You get more if you're liked
- Maybe you don't like yourself or lack self confidence
- You've been rejected in the past
- You fear being rejected in the future
- Maybe you've been conditioned to seek approval from a young age. Parents? Teacher? Religious figures?
- Approval often comes with prizes while disapproval comes with punishment
Perhaps you can relate to some of the above mentioned concepts. Perhaps there are things that you would add to this list. If we are going to challenge our need for the approval of others we must first explore why we crave it. The why comes first. Then the how.
2. How do I/you/we seek approval?
The following list is by no means comprehensive but perhaps you can identify some of the following behaviors in your own life.
Suppressing your opinion when it contradicts those around you
Are you someone whose views and opinions seemingly change depending on the room you are in?
I'll use the example of faith. Maybe you're the most on fire Christian when you're on the mission trip but you're much quieter in the office? Perhaps you're the opposite? Maybe you know deep down you no longer believe your faith but you play pretend in the right company.
Different groups of people will naturally draw out different aspects of our characters and personalities. But if you feel you can't truly be yourself in a certain group then perhaps you are wrongly seeking their approval.
Covering your physical imperfections
Don't worry - this is not going to be a "don't wear make - up rant. Do whatever the heck you want! But why are you doing what you are doing in regards to appearance? Why are you spending so much time, effort and money on your appearance. Who is that diet for? Is it so you can feel better in yourself? Or is so other people will think you are attractive and tell you so.
Many people define their appearance by how other people describe them. And so they spend most of their time trying to present themselves as something they're actually not.
Gossiping about others
Gossiping about other people is absolute poison. We all know that. We are all self- righteous when it comes to someone gossiping about us but we don't hold ourselves to the same standard. Gossiping is fun. It's juicy and interesting. And it makes us feel better about ourselves belittling other people right?
Those who spread gossip ( I include myself) are seeking approval. By belittling someone else we think we are presenting ourselves as better than that person. But instead we are simply presenting ourselves as untrustworthy and quite frankly nasty.
Requiring praise for your work
How do you know if you've done a good job? Maybe you've painted a picture or sang a song or submitted a piece of work for college? How do you know if its good? Well you wait for someone to tell you of course. We wait for the validation of others before we can feel good about our work. If other people are critical then it must be bad.
Sadly many people are unable to objectively assess their own work. This unfortunately leaves them mercilessly at the hands of others for approval.
Feeling insulted when you are disagreed with
How do you feel when someone disagrees with you. Maybe they challenge your opinion on religion or politics or something more important like your favourite ice cream flavour.
Some people love being challenged. They love getting to defend their opinion or belief. Yet many cannot accept challenge. They interpret challenge as a disapproval of them as a person. "If someone disagrees with me then maybe they don't like me" we think. If someone is narrow minded enough to dislike you because of your opinion on a single issue then their approval is not worth a second of your concern.
3. How do we not seek approval ?
1. Put yourself out there.
People have told me I'm brave for starting a blog like this and being real or vulnerable or insert whatever adjective you wish to. Maybe initially but by this stage 99% of what I write requires no vulnerability whatsoever. It's easy - it's stuff people probably already know or I know it will get lost in the overall blog.
But every now and again I do care. I do wonder what you'll think when you read a certain sentence. I do wonder if you'll make it to the end of the blog. If you'll like it? If it will make you think?
I kinda want you to go back to Facebook or Instagram and hit the like button. I kinda want you to write something nice. I want you validate me in that way. What can I say? I still seek approval sometimes.
2. Save your f~#ks for things that matter
Some of you may have read "The subtle art of Not Giving a F~#k" by Mark Manson. The premise of the book is pretty clear based on its title. Its message is as you would expect it to be.
Let's be honest. We care about a lot of things. Image, reputation, social standing, career progression etc.
We care. To borrow Manson's terminology we "give a f~#k"
We give a f~#k if other people find us attractive. Otherwise we wouldn't filter so much. We give a f~#k if other people like our blogs ( speaking for a friend obviously :) We spend a lot of time, money and mental energy trying to control opinions that exist inside other people's heads. What a waste of time!
Imagine if we saved our f~#ks for things that actually matter. Imagine if we channeled the energy wasted on seeking approval for ourselves into showing approval towards others. Into showing kindness and a generosity of spirit. Into campaigning for things that actually matter.
Imagine if we saved our f~#ks.
3. Learn to approve your own behaviour
Despite the fact that I've already covered a lot of material this whole blog could be condensed into this one point. This is the gold - in my humble opinion.
Scratch just a little below the surface and it becomes clear the reason why people constantly seek the approval of others. It's to try and fill the void left by their own inability to approve themselves.
Modern self - help says "Love yourself" I personally have some issues with that but that's not so relevant right now. I believe a better approach though it sounds a little less sexy would be "Accept Yourself."
Accept that you are not perfect. Accept that there are things you are not sure about. Accept that you are not yet the person you would wish to be. Accept that your past contains screw - ups and things you regret. Accept that you are not the most gifted person in every room.
Let me give you a real life example. A few weeks ago I cycled 100km and put a post on Facebook about my journey in regards to my eating disorder. 151 people liked it or reacted or whatever the fudge you call it. The cycle was easy, the post was easy - there was no vulnerability involved.
Almost a year ago I wrote my most vulnerable piece.
Only 9 people liked it on Facebook and in almost a year its had about as many views as that cycling post got in 2 days.
What's my point.
In terms of others' approval the cycle was the achievement. It got the attention and the likes and the approval. Yet for me the blog about guilt was the more significant achievement by a country mile. Whenever we learn to validate and approve our own behaviour the reactions of others become so much less important.
P.S. All social media likes are very welcome. You know purely for helping to spread the positive message. Not for my confidence (cough cough)
Please accept that you are worthy of acceptance. There is good in you. And there is capacity for more good. When we begin to accept ourselves and the people we are then other people's assessments become irrelevant. We don't require praise to feel good and criticism doesn't cripple us.
"An amazing thing happens when you stop seeking approval and validation: you find it." (Mandy Hale)
Read that again
If you spend your life living for the approval of others you will be tossed from side to side and never know peace.
Because no person can be liked by everyone. And if you are liked by everyone? Trust me there will be one person who doesn't like you for precisely that very reason.
Thank you for reading