“Lean too much on the approval of people and it becomes a bed of thorns.”
— Tehyi Hsieh, Chinese educator,
“That was the day,” Jerry told me. “The day I gave up seeking my father’s approval.”
Jerry’s family owned a hog operation and keeping the barn clean had become one of Jerry’s chores. After school and every weekend Jerry was in the barn cleaning. It was a job Jerry took seriously — especially on this day.
Jerry desperately wanted to hear the words, “Good job, son.”
On this particular Saturday, Jerry was up early and down to the barn by first light. He cleaned like he had never cleaned before.
He even restacked the straw bales and all but measured the distance between scoop shovel, fork and broom when he stood them up in their designated spot against the wall.
Jerry checked his watch. By his reckoning, his father would be finishing breakfast and could be expected to stroll into the barn in about five minutes. Time for one more quick inspection.
Noticing that one of the pens could benefit from a little more straw, Jerry carefully broke open a bale, carried an armful to the pen and tossed it over the feeder. The wiener pigs scurried through the fresh bedding like happy children prompting Jerry to laugh out loud.
When I began working on my self-esteem, one of the aspects I found especially challenging to overcome was my perpetual seeking of approval. When I began working with clients in a clinical setting, I soon discovered that was one of the biggest issues facing most people.
Seeking approval can be painful and cause tremendous suffering for the one seeking it — especially when approval is not forthcoming.
Like Jerry, if I believe that I need someone’s approval I begin to say the things I think they want me to say and I begin to do the things that I think they want me to do.
I turn into someone I am not. I turn into the person I think the important “someone” wants me to be and in doing so, I lose myself in the process.
There are plenty of strategies for dealing with excessive seeking of approval and they range from positive affirmations to building a personal success portfolio. I think before any strategy is going to work we need to ask ourselves, “Why is approval so vitally important to me?”
I began to seriously reflect on how I act when I believe I need someone’s approval. I compliment them when I don’t mean it.
I exaggerate about my life so they will find me attractive or interesting.
I say what I think they want to hear. I agree with them even when I don’t agree at all.
It became clear that the underlying cause of my seeking approval was low self-esteem. I was motivated by fear and the equally damaging belief that I was in reality unworthy.
When I began to wake up, I began to realize that people either approved of me or they didn’t.
When I stopped seeking the approval of others I began to notice that I started gaining my own approval. I began to like myself and other people began to like that authentic self that I was becoming. For the first time, I began to see who people really were and not who I needed them to be and that included members of my own family.
This realization gave me a life free from manipulation, games, facades and unrealistic expectations.
Upon arriving at the barn, Jerry’s father took a cursory look around. When he got to the pen where Jerry had added the extra bedding he stopped and peered into the metal feeder bunk. He shook his head, cursed, reached inside and then withdrew a small handful of straw.
“How many times have I told you to be more careful when bedding the hogs?”
Jerry stood there for a moment dumbfounded before walking over to the perfectly ordered stack of straw bales and dropping onto one. His father stomped outside.
Jerry sat on the bale trying not to cry. When his father was out of sight, Jerry walked over to where the perfectly placed scoop shovel stood, grabbed it and with a loud curse, threw it down the alleyway.
When other people approve of us, our egos soar but it doesn’t last. Ultimately, it is we who must learn to approve of ourselves.
We can never truly know the mind of another, and even apparent approval may be untrue or, at best, transitory.
Jerry thought he could win his father’s favour by doing good deeds.
Much to his dismay, he learned it was simply untrue.
Yes, boys often seek the approval of their fathers and many go without receiving it. It is important to note that sometimes approval is not spoken but demonstrated by actions.
You may be longing for something that was always there. Even if approval was never there, to live a life based upon a deep and unfulfilled need for approval or anything else for that matter is incredibly damaging to our self-esteem.
Today, when people approve of me, I believe them because I did absolutely nothing for it. The bigger question is, “Do I approve of me?”
“I have found my own approval,” wrote Byron Katie Mitchell, creator of The Work. “And that is really what I have been looking for and I didn’t even realize it.”
Ask yourself the question, “Can I live my life without the approval of (name)?” I think you know the answer. Of course you can, and once free of the need for approval you just might become who you were meant to be: free, learning, growing and approving of yourself.
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