What is approval seeking?
Approval seeking is a behaviour which helps you respect yourself. In this behaviour, you try to make others respect you. When others respect you, you respect yourself. For example, you will try to impress someone so that they respect you. When they respect you, you respect yourself. This behaviour is driven by the lack of self-respect. Self-respect is your respect for yourself. It is natural for you to need to respect yourself as it gives you confidence in your fitness as a human being. Without self-respect you will feel like you are dying. You are not born with self-respect. But you are born with a need for it. From a young age, you look for ways to respect yourself. You try respecting yourself unconditionally but it doesn’t work as you don’t trust your judgement. You realize that you trust the judgement of others. So you try to use others’ judgement to respect yourself. It works. You are able to respect yourself when others respect you. But others’ respect only improves your self-respect temporarily. So you need more and more of others’ respect to maintain your self-respect. Thus approval seeking becomes a never-ending project. Your need for respect becomes so strong that it becomes a major driver of your behaviour when you reach adulthood. Approval seeking becomes the ultimate objective underlying of most of your objectives in life.
Examples of approval seeking behaviour
Trying to get liked
You try to make others happy to get their respect. For example, you will try to please your boss. You will laugh at his unfunny jokes. You will never disagree with him. You will be eager to help him. You will enjoy delivering good news to them. You will despise delivering bad news to him. You feel happy when he is happy. You feel uncomfortable when he is unhappy. Your wanting to please your boss doesn’t arise from empathy for him. You do it to make him like you. You respect your boss. You believe that if he likes someone they must be worthy of respect. So when your boss likes you your self-respect goes up.
Like to conform
You conform to societal norms. Your opinions conform with the majority opinion in society. Your choices are based on societal standards. You choose the most popular career. You choose your spouse based on societal standards of beauty. You buy gadgets which are popular. You choose ambitions which are valued by society. You like to conform because you fear being disrespected by society if you go against it.
Trying to get admired
You showcase your successes to get compliments. You post on social media about your job promotion or new girlfriend to fish for compliments. Compliments increase your self-respect as they are direct proof that people respect you.
You post beautiful pictures of yourself on social media to get compliments. You like to wear outfits which gets compliments from others. Compliments increase your self-respect as they are direct proof that people respect you.
You showcase your intelligence to get admiration. You like discussing intellectual topics with your friends. You post intellectual articles on social media. You like to feel intelligent. So you like watching intellectual movies and reading intellectual books. You like listening to speeches of intelligent public figures as it makes you feel intelligent. Your self-respect goes up when you display intelligence or feel intelligent as society respects intelligence. You don’t need direct compliments on your intelligence for your self-respect to go up. Just the act of displaying intelligence or feeling intelligent is enough as you are convinced that society respects intelligence.
Displaying virtue/Virtue signalling
You showcase your virtues to get admiration. You publicly display your outrage on society’s injustices. You publicly display empathy for victims of natural calamities. You take part in protests to fight injustices. You change your profile picture in social media in protest to fight an injustice. The virtues you showcase are never genuine. Their only purpose is to get admiration from others. Your self-respect goes up when you display virtue as you are convinced that society respects people with virtues.
Trying to feel superior
You like finding mistakes of others. You readily point them out at every opportunity. You don’t care about hurting others feelings by doing it. You do it even to a friend or family member. You feel superior for putting others down for their mistakes. Your self-respect goes up as feel superior for not making those mistakes yourself.
Insulting and making fun of others
You like to insult others. You insult people for not being smart, beautiful or successful. You make fun of people’s misfortunes. You like it when people are hurt by your insults and jokes. When they express their hurt you feel superior for making them sad. Your self-respect goes up.
Proving others wrong
You like to prove the opinions and beliefs of others as wrong. You like to point out logical inconsistencies in their opinions and beliefs. Your self-respect goes up when you do this as you feel superior for being correct. This is why you are not a good listener. Instead of using conversation to understand someone, you use it to prove them wrong. You love to argue as it gives you a chance to win arguments and feel superior. You hate to lose arguments. Your self-respect goes up when you win arguments, it goes down when you lose arguments.
Superiority through association
You associate yourself with people who are respected by others. Your self-respect goes up as you allow yourself to take partial credit for their respect.
Feeling happy when others fail
You are happy to see other people fail, even when it is a family member or friend. It makes you feel superior as you think that the person failing is inferior to you. You are also jealous of others’ success. You hate to give credit or compliment for others’ success. You feel inferior when others experience success as you feel inferior for not being successful yourself. Your self-respect goes up when others fail as you feel superior for not failing yourself.
Buy expensive brands
You buy clothes and gadgets of expensive brands. You don’t care if the clothes are comfortable or gadgets useful. You feel superior for owning these products as society uses them as an indicator of success. Your self-respect goes up instantly when you buy these products.
Sensitive to criticism
You are easily hurt by criticism. It makes you feel inferior as you think that when others criticise you they are devaluing you as a person. So your self-respect goes down instantly. To save your self-respect you try to reject criticism. You get defensive. You never concede your mistakes.
Sensitive to disrespect
You are easily hurt when others disrespect you. It doesn’t matter if it is from a stranger, friend or a family member. You get hurt more if a person you respect does it. Disrespect hurts you as it plummets your self-respect. This is because you directly tie your self-respect to other’s respect for you. You always fight back to disrespect to save your self-respect. You disrespect the person disrespecting you.
Hate to lose
You hate to lose any competition. You see every competition as a competition for respect. When you lose a competition you think society will lose respect for you. Consequently, you lose your self-respect. You will never accept responsibility for your defeat in order to save your self-respect. You will blame everyone and everything else other than yourself for your defeat.
Why is approval seeking not good for you?
When you seek approval from others you become proficient in getting respect from others, but still always have low self-respect. This is because respect from others only increases your self-respect temporarily. It won’t even last a day. It is easy for you to doubt any respect you get from others. For example, you got a compliment from your boss, you will doubt it by thinking that he gave you a compliment for just being nice. So respect from others is never enough. You seek more and more. But still, you always have low self-respect. So you will waste a tremendous amount of energy in trying to achieve an impossible goal.
Approval seeking puts your self-respect at the mercy of others. Since self-respect is very important for you, putting it at the mercy for others is not good for you. You can’t control others. So you can’t control their respect for you. So the outcome of approval seeking is always uncertain.
People also have a motivation to not give you respect. Since they themselves have a low self-respect, they try to refrain giving respect to others. They think that they will lose their own self-respect by giving respect to others. So it is tough to get respect from others.
Thus seeking approval is futile, uncertain and hard.
How to stop seeking approval
The first step in stopping approval seeking behaviour is understanding that your self-respect should be intrinsic. You should respect yourself unconditionally. Understand that there is no objective standard to respect yourself or anyone else. Any standard for respect is man-made and artificial. So you don’t have to attach importance to the standards of respect which society approves. Everyone including yourself deserves equal respect for just being a person.
Understanding that everyone deserves equal respect will not stop your approval seeking behaviour. It will continue because of habit. It will be a difficult task to stop it. To stop it you need awareness, grit and forgiveness. Use your awareness to identify your approval seeking behaviour. Then use your grit to stop yourself from doing it. It will be difficult and seem risky. No amount of thinking will help you. You just have to use your courage to do it. You will fail often. Forgive yourself for failing and then try again. Never disrespect yourself for failing. It will completely sabotage this endeavour. Keep trying until you are able to easily stop your approval seeking behaviour. It will be a life-long endeavour as there will always be moments where you will be tempted to seek approval. Always be aware and stop yourself.