For the first 30 years of my life, getting other people’s approval was the primary motivator in my life.
I got great grades. . .mostly because that earned the approval of my parents and teachers.
I practiced the violin a LOT, got two college degrees in performance, and made that my first career. . .mostly because playing well earned the approval of parents, teachers, conductors, and audiences.
I was really nice to everyone all the time because. . .well, you can guess. (Curious how big a motivator this is for you? Take this free, personality pattern test to find out.)
Lucky for me, the means by which I won approval were mostly beneficial to me. But, I started to see the downside when I learned that getting approval was just a way to survive with the feeling that there was something wrong with me. As long as everyone liked me, I could mostly ignore the voice deep within that played “there’s something wrong with you” on eternal repeat. But, that survival mechanism carried with it the cost of ignoring other internal voices, like the one that could tell me what really mattered to ME.
I’ll never forget the time that someone close to me was having another of their constant dramas, and I was preparing to jump in and do whatever I could to make it better. A friend asked me, “Do you want to rescue her, again?” It was such a perplexing question to me, nearly incomprehensible, actually. The words, “Do you want…,” just didn’t make any sense. I realized then that I was so dependent upon others’ approval, that I rarely (if ever) stopped to wonder if I was doing something because I wanted to. It was hard to even connect with what I wanted.
I work with clients on this issue all the time, too. When I suggest that this survival mechanism is something they can unlearn, they get scared.” Am I going to turn into a competitive jerk? I don’t want to be THAT guy!” But that never happens, because the alternative to this mechanism is to express one’s uniqueness, and our uniqueness is the part of us that is connected to everyone and everything else in the world. So, expressing uniqueness actually invites others to express their uniqueness and well-being. It’s a win-win.
One of my clients recently had a big breakthrough in this realm. Someone in her work group suggested a strategy that seemed like the group would agree to, but my client thought it was a bad idea. It’s a situation she’s been in with this group before and disagreeing hasn’t gone well for her, but she did it, anyway. And to her great surprise, the strongest voices in the group immediately agreed and said they were thinking exactly the same thing.
This is a phenomenon I see a lot—when my client makes a fundamental change in how she feels about herself (this time in the realm of expressing her opinion), the people around her actually shift their behavior towards her. It’s not that my clients are actually changing the people around them, but that people are always responding automatically to how we feel about being ourselves. So, when we make a deep internal shift from “I don’t matter,” to, “I do matter,” other people automatically change their behavior accordingly.
As for myself, I can say that life is so much easier now, not having to constantly guess what might make someone happy at any given moment. When someone asks me what I want to do, I can actually answer and feel comfortable saying it out loud. And that friend who was always in crisis? When I stopped jumping in to rescue her, she started to find more inner strength and resilience, and she seems happier. Like I said, it’s a win-win.
Does this ring a bell? You can find out how much your need for approval factors into your survival mechanism and what unlearning that intense need would feel like by taking this free, personality pattern test. The the people around you and the world deserve to experience the real you, not just the one you’re putting forth to try and get them to like you!
Sara Avery is the Executive Director of Quanta Change, and she’s been guiding people through this process for the past 16 years. Click to get your free, personalized SQ report and to sign up for a free, 30-minute call with her to learn the kinds of positive changes you will see by unlearning your need for approval.