It is possible that seeking approval is the single most common, and possibly the most painful addiction ever created by mankind. It can be more devastating than heroin, more addictive than cocaine, and more ubiquitous than food. If this sounds too dramatic, consider the following:
• Wanting to end the feeling of not being loved or accepted by others often is at the heart of addictions, depressions and desperate actions.
• Reflecting on your own life, notice when you have said “yes” when you meant “no,” in order to earn the approval of someone else.
There is no reason to feel bad about seeking approval. Everyone does it. However, the degree to which approval-seeking is harmful can be directly proportional to the extent to which we need someone else’s love or approval in order to feel okay. In my own case, the more I wanted to be loved and approved of, the more toxic the approval seeking was for me.
Children raised in healthy loving homes tend to have high self-esteem. In terms of seeking approval, this means that they are able to self-validate. However, this is not to say they do not need approval from others in order to feel good about themselves. They just need it to a lesser degree than children who have lower self-esteem.
Survivors of sexual abuse who have not gotten help to deal with the consequences tend to have very low self-esteem. I certainly did, which can create a powerful addiction to the approval of other people. Since I was incapable of loving myself, I needed other people to do it for me.
Because many abused children lose their sense of self, they tend to seek external validation, and may even become dependent on it as a surrogate sense of self. Seeking approval from others can be incredibly painful. By needing other people to approve of us, we are sending ourselves the message that our opinion is not good enough. Constant approval-seeking sends ourselves the message that other people’s opinions about us are more important than our own. It reinforces the horrible belief that we need to suppress our own desires, personality and needs in order to win approval from others.
Because I did not get any validation or approval of any kind from my mother and stepfather, I started seeking that validation and approval wherever I could find it and I found it with those that were drinking and drugging. Unfortunately, this is what led to the beginning of a 33-year run of alcohol and drug abuse, which in no way helped with my self-esteem
Because I so desperately needed the approval and validation of who I was as a person, for a time, I sacrificed all my morals and ethics. I knew that drinking and drugging was wrong. I just didn’t care anymore. For the next 30-plus-years, I sacrificed my morals and ethics countless times to fit in with others. I would change who I was, and how I acted based on whom I was with and what I was doing — I had become a chameleon.
Five years into my recovery I was faced with my toughest challenge. This challenge would test my need for approval in a way I had never imagined. I had spent 21-years building a very large and successful construction company. When the economy crashed in 2008 I was fortunate enough to have had two-years worth of work on the books. As I watched multiple companies’ fall around me and several people I knew commit suicide as a result of financial ruin, I managed to keep my business stable and liquid. However in 2011 things would take a turn for the worst.
I had always been a competitive bidder, being the number one or two bidder and often times getting last look. However between 2008 and 2011 I was no longer getting jobs from some of my loyal contacts, it seemed that my numbers were no longer competitive. No matter how much I shaved off my bottom line, I was always getting beat by thirty, forty, and even fifty percent. People were getting desperate and literally giving their work away. Being financially okay and the business being liquid it was time to make a decision.
I was no longer willing to sacrifice my morals and ethics to get work and essentially make others happy by caving into their demands. After spending literally a month in my office, exhausting all my resources, and talking to countless business men I trusted about my options, my wife and I made the decision to close the business we had put so much blood, sweat, and tears into. I was walking away from my biggest accomplish in my life and little did I know how much my identity was tied to that business.
The next year was the hardest year of my life. I had achieved a level of success I never thought possible. I had eighty employees who loved working for me and I was well known in the community. The best thing of all was that I proved my mother and stepfather wrong, I was not an idiot that would amount to nothing. I had no idea how much I had tied my identity to my business. Approval seeking had become a covert means of validating my importance and I was totally unaware of it. Suddenly there I was, standing naked in front of the whole world with nothing externally left to validate me. Now what? All that was left was to learn to love myself.
I can honestly say that after working on my self for the past several years, I no longer need others approval to survive. I have learned how to love myself and do what makes me happy, even if others do not approve. Do I still want the approval of others? Absolutely. I believe it is an innate desire of human beings. However, I no longer need that approval in order to feel comfortable in my own skin.