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How Approval-seeking Distorts Relationships

I have too many clients who worry about what others think of them and, therefore, get themselves into trouble in various situations. There are several ways that approval-seeking can harm you and shape your decision-making in self-destructive ways. Here are the key problem areas.

Undermining self-trust. Clients often ask how they can develop self-trust. Every time you overvalue what someone else thinks, you automatically devalue what you think. One of the major ways to develop self-trust is to know what you’re thinking and why you’re thinking it, recognize that you know yourself better than others do, and act on your own healthy and irrational thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean eschewing others’ opinions. It does mean making up your own mind to acting deliberately in your self-interest and others be damned.

Becoming dependent on others’ approval. Sometimes I’ll ask a client what she thinks, and she’ll say something like this, “Well, I’m not sure. My sister says I should do this and my husband thinks I should do that.” What is wrong with that response? If you said, she isn’t telling me what she wants, you’d be right. People become so dependent on what others think of and for them, that they don’t even realize they’re losing or having lost their ability to think for themselves. And this, of course, makes them less confident about this ability and more likely to depend on others for what’s “right”—and round and round we go.

Not seeing situations clearly. When you’re so focused on what others think of you, you miss out on focusing on what you think of them. While you’re agonizing about whether a potential beau or your colleagues like you, you’re not considering something of greater import: Do you like them? Are they of value? And then you make decisions based on getting their approval when they may be off base or not worth your time. So, rather than think about how you’re being treated and whether you’re getting what you need, you worry about doing things right to please others. This is why people get into and stay in all kinds of abusive relationships—familial, work, romantic, friendships.  

Approval-seeking goes in two ways. It’s wonderful to be liked, loved, valued and cared for, but only by emotionally healthy people in emotionally healthy situations. If a jerk thinks you’re beautiful, it means nothing. If a bully tells you you’re terrific, his opinion isn’t worth a dime. If a narcissist shines attention on you, it’s only because she’s likely manipulating you. There is only one person in the world whose approval matters: Yours!



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