No amount of approval can be enough

I was one of three presenters during a weekend workshop on self-esteem and personal empowerment. The leader of the workshop was a trained speaker and presenter. At the time, I had just started my career as a self-esteem author and speaker and thought working with a pro would help me learn the craft and hone my skills.

“As much as we thirst for approval we dread condemnation.” — Hans Selye, pioneering Hungarian endocrinologist

“Remember to cite your accomplishments.”

I was one of three presenters during a weekend workshop on self-esteem and personal empowerment. The leader of the workshop was a trained speaker and presenter. At the time, I had just started my career as a self-esteem author and speaker and thought working with a pro would help me learn the craft and hone my skills.

He had plenty of suggestions for me.

“You’re being a little too humble.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You need to earn the right,” he told me.

“Earn the right to . . . what?” I asked.

“To be worthy of speaking to these people, of course.”

I was a little uncomfortable with that piece of advice. My self-esteem in tatters, I had spent most of my life earning the right to be considered worthy: worthy of my father’s approval, worthy of friendship and trust, worthy of being heard, cherished and loved.

You name it; I was always selling myself, and the less interested the recipient, the more effort I put into promoting myself. There was a term for what I was doing — it was called seeking validation, and it was exhausting.

I remember falling in love with a beautiful young woman and trying everything I could think of to have her consider me worthy. Sadly, she wasn’t interested and probably wondered why I kept talking about myself.

I often felt like a child bringing something of value to a parent so she could pat me on the head and tell me I was a good boy. If I went for long periods of time without a compliment or word of approval, I sank into a state of depression and self-loathing.

Behaviours associated with seeking validation often include constantly looking for the reassurance and approval of others, excessive sensitivity to criticism and disapproval, depression, being overly polite or rapid shifting of opinions when faced with opposition.

I wanted to live life fully — free from guilt and shame — but kept thinking someone else held the key to my sense of self-worth. Back then, even when I received the validation or approval I desired, the “buzz” didn’t last.

It was only a temporary fix and before long I was off in search of another validation hit. It was affecting both my personal and professional life. It took me years to overcome my compulsion and even today I still struggle with it occasionally.

According to experts in the field, our need for validation is a sign of insecurity and must be addressed and overcome if we are ever to accept ourselves and reach emotional maturity. We must learn to satisfy our own needs rather than relying on others to satisfy them for us.

We can start by recognizing irrational beliefs.

A need for approval and praise from everyone we encounter is an irrational belief. If we believe that we need approval in order to love ourselves and feel we have value, we will be depressed and feel worthless every time we don’t receive approval.

To stop these irrational and self-limiting beliefs, we must learn to replace them with new, rational beliefs. An example of a rational belief might be, “Though I appreciate positive feedback from others, it’s not necessary. I can accept myself for who I am.”

Joyce Meyer, author of Approval Addiction: Overcoming your need to please everyone, claims that a constant need for validation stems from insecurity, which, in many cases, is the result of past physical, verbal or emotional abuse. Meyer says that seeking validation (or approval) and the resulting feelings of guilt, shame and anger can be addictive. The more we seek validation, the less validated we feel and the endless cycle begins.

This may actually fuel an unconscious belief that we are unworthy and therefore should be devalued and made to suffer.

Meyer believes that validation-seeking often covers up and encourages feelings of worthlessness. He notes that confusion lies in our belief that receiving love and approval is the same as having personal worth. If we base our value as human beings on the approval of others, we are in essence saying that self-worth and a sense of personal value are not intrinsic but must be earned.

In fact, others cannot give us intrinsic value — only we can decide to have it.

A big step toward overcoming a need for approval and validation comes from answering the question “What is truly important to me?” I have found another good question to be, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”

A willingness to take calculated risks and to learn from our successes and failures will help us to learn that approval and validation are not based upon perfection. It doesn’t always matter what others think. What matters is what we think about ourselves. Use this simple realization as a starting point to find acceptance from within.

“To seek approval is to have no resting place, no sanctuary,” wrote Rachel Naomi Remen, American best-selling author and Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California School of Medicine. “Like all judgment, approval encourages a constant striving. It makes us uncertain of who we are and of our true value. Approval cannot be trusted. It can be withdrawn at any time no matter what our track record has been. It is as nourishing of real growth as cotton candy. Yet many of us spend our lives pursuing it.”

Over time, I came to understand that there was a difference between presenting my qualifications, so as to garner interest and a positive reputation and seeking approval and validation to bolster a poor sense of self.

At the end of the weekend workshop, most people claimed to have enjoyed the presentations and a few even commented that — unlike the other presenters — I was humble, approachable and genuine. Maybe that’s a better strategy for earning the right and ultimately, keeping it.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca

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