Tell me something… do you like pleasing others? Do you hate conflict? Do you find it hard to make decisions on your own? Well then you might be an ‘approval seeker.’
In general, wanting to have the support of your family and peers is a relatively innate thing. Nobody likes to feel rejected. However, if your happiness, security and peace of mind are determined by the mood and approval of others, then there’s a problem. I know this because I have the problem.
I like to please others and always have done. In theory this is a lovely idea, who wouldn’t strive to make others happy? In reality, it’s draining, stressful and completely unattainable.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a push over and I’m more than capable of standing up for myself if under attack. Nevertheless, 90% of the time I will sacrifice my own happiness and judgement in favour of others.
Here are some examples:
- No I didn’t want to go to that bar, but you do so I won’t rock the boat.
- No I don’t want to go to that university, but you think I should so I will.
- I’m nervous about tonight because if he’s stressed then he’ll take it out on us and mainly me. Which restaurant will he like? Where would he prefer to sit? I feel sick I’m so stressed. I just want him to be happy.
- Why am I pretending to be like the people at this party? They’re horrible.
I could go on.. but it might turn into a soap opera. The point is, I value other people and their opinions above my own, which is absurd. Why do I treat myself so badly? Low self-esteem I suppose and negative conditioning over the years. It’s a tricky habit to break, but I’m working on it.
So, where does the need to approve start? I hate to reference school repeatedly in my blog, but in my case it’s the truth.
I was a bit of a ‘goody goody’ and wanted to please my teacher, (no matter how horrible.) High marks gave me great pride, I never missed homework and the one time that a teacher told me off for being late, I cried all morning. (I know.. that’s pathetic. But all you good kids out there will feel my pain. It was the shock.)
We’re conditioned to view our teachers as being; ‘all knowing and just’ – to even disagree with your teacher was enough to get you a detention. It’s a fear tactic; Do what you’re told, when you’re told or you’ll get into trouble. Don’t offer your opinion without seeking permission and ultimately any decisions will be taken out of your hands. That was my experience of school.
Disclaimer: I’m sure that the educational system has changed since I left ten years ago. Some of my friends are teachers and I don’t want to cause offense. (You see? Bloody approval seeking again.. I can’t help it!)
During my adolescent years, this need to be approved extended to my home life. My parents were very over protective of me as a teenager and in many respects I can’t blame them, they just wanted to keep me safe like all good parents do. However, it would’ve been good to have been allowed to make a few mistakes. Then perhaps I wouldn’t be so afraid of making them as an adult. Things I did were blown out of proportion a lot of the time and it definitely had an effect on me.
Additionally, I never really had to make a single decision for myself, which I initially liked. Not having to think for yourself is lovely! But it definitely had its disadvantages. All the important decisions were made for me via ‘strongly asserted opinions’ and any disagreement on my part resulted in horrendous arguments and days of silence. I dreaded the silence more than the arguments, it was misery.
Anyway, things changed dramatically in September 2009 when I left home for university. As a young girl who’d been completely protected from life, I promptly smashed like a China Doll when we finally collided. I couldn’t cope with anything because I’d never had to.
I’ve been gluing myself back together ever since.
To be clear I don’t blame my parents, not in the slightest. They are truly the best and I’m very lucky to have them. They raised two children whilst holding down stressful jobs and maintaining a home life. I can’t imagine a harder task and they did an amazing job.
Nobody had the perfect childhood.
So where am I going with all this I hear you ask? Well it’s taken me 27 years to realise how much of an approval seeker I am and I’m going to try and make some changes. It definitely adds to my anxiety, at least the fear of disapproval does.
I could blabber on about tons of different theories, but I think the most important thing to accept is the following statement:
You cannot expect someone to agree with you 100% of the time. Disagreements aren’t pleasant, but they’re natural and shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. Don’t be so afraid to say the ‘wrong’ thing (I’m talking to myself here.)
Now, as things are easier said than done, I’m going to make a plan. It’s always best to start off slow and build steadily I think. So starting next week… on two occasions I will be honest and go with my own opinion. That’s right, a whole two times and I shall make a note in my diary when I do, (I have to measure my success or I won’t do the task. I’m terrible like that!)
Obviously I won’t just do something for the sake of it e.g; “No I will not use toilet roll, it’s against my beliefs.” It needs to be relevant.
If I had to guess, It’ll probably be one of the following phrases:
- Actually I’d rather not have sushi for lunch, can we try somewhere else?
- It would be great if you could pick me up, I think I’ll struggle on the bus
- I can’t ring right now, I’m really busy. I’ll try later.
They all seem quite trivial, but it’s a good place to start. If I can get used to the discomfort and awkwardness that comes with disagreeing with someone then I can build to other things. E.g. Miley please stop showing your tongue. I know you ‘can’t stop’ but please bloody try!
I need to grow some balls and do what’s right for me… and if you have the same issues then you need to grow balls too. Let’s all grow balls together!
I’ll leave you with something from the spunky Lilly Allen who always manages to capture a mood perfectly…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPmH1fzZ-zk