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Table of Contents
Overcoming Approval Addiction
How do I stop this approval addiction?
I crave your validation,
Your nod and smile.
Without it, I go wild.
I need for you to like me,
To want to be with me,
To always be my friend.
I can’t help myself; I try.
But when others think I’m nice,
It’s worth my life, including any sacrifice.
People pleasing and approval addiction are terms used to describe the imperative need some people have for validation and approval from others.
This trait may seem easily recognizable in others, but some people may fail to realize that they manifest this habit, too.
The need to please and/or addiction to approval can be defined as a pathological desire to be liked and accepted by everyone.
Here, addiction addicts don't want to just be liked by all but need to be liked by all.
Human beings seek approval in varying degrees, but approval addicts go to extremes to be universally accepted, regardless of their other inherent needs or beliefs.
They very often base their sense of self-worth on what others think of them.
Do you need constant reassurance that you’re doing the right thing? Do you feel lost without others to tell you who you are? Do you feel anxious when you’re not getting enough validation?
If so, it’s likely that you suffer from approval addiction.
Let’s explore the symptoms of people pleasing and approval addiction now. (You can’t end this behavior without knowing you’re exhibiting it!)
Approval Addiction Symptoms
You may not realize it, but many people suffer from chronic people-pleasing and approval addiction.
I know this because I have been there myself.
The truth is, our society teaches us that unless we are popular and well-liked by others, we are destined for failure and we’re undeserving of success and happiness.
This is part of the rationale why approval addiction is so common.
And the need to be approved by others can manifest itself in a variety of ways. You may tab yourself a people pleaser or approval addict if you experience the following symptoms:
- Trouble thinking for yourself. If someone disapproves of your opinions, you might change your mind about them, even if it doesn’t really reflect your own beliefs.
- Difficulty pursuing action unless someone gives the green light. This is especially true when it comes to self-improvement opportunities and activities.
For example, if someone has doubts about your ability to succeed with a certain goal, project, or task, you may hesitate to begin or give up altogether.
- You feel deeply offended if someone disapproves of you or your actions. When receiving condemnation and disapproval, even a touch of indifference, you feel attacked and don’t know how to handle it.
- You rarely think well of yourself and only receive a boost in self-esteem when you gain others’ approval. You often feel that you’re not good enough and you’re uncomfortable being your authentic self.
Here, gaining approval may be the anecdote to your low self-esteem — at least in the short run.
- Taking on other people’s emotional problems as your own. Taking on others’ emotional baggage helps the addict feel they are indeed loved.
It is a way to get emotionally connected with another person and become a valuable confidante and/or problem-solver.
(People-pleasing is hard-wired into the brains of most women who value connection and are taught to be emotionally responsive.)
- You say yes automatically when you want to say no. It’s habitual for you to take on all kinds of unnecessary responsibilities out of fear of hurting other people’s feelings, inconveniencing them or disappointing them.
You habitually sacrifice your own needs, desires and goals in order to make others happy or so they’ll like and accept you.
Often, you live your life at the expense of your own personal autonomy.
- Avoiding conflict at all costs and never stand up for yourself. As an approval addict, you may feel that you have no right to say no. You believe that if you do, there will be repercussions.
“Will they get mad at me? Will they tell me I’m selfish? Is it possible they stop wanting to be my friend?”
So, instead of taking a stand, you become a human doormat, letting others walk all over you.
The problem with this is that it reinforces you not deserving respect or consideration from others.
And it causes resentment to build up inside until one day your anger explodes and you feel out of control.
- Refusing to take credit. You find it difficult to accept praise from others, deflecting compliments because you don’t think you deserve them and you fail to acknowledge your own accomplishments.
As a result, people tend not to notice your contributions, hard work, and achievements.
- You feel like a victim to everything and everyone who crosses your path. You will do anything to not disappoint anyone, even if it means disappointing yourself.
Even when you know that you’re being taken advantage of, you will fulfill others’ requests to keep the peace.
- Approval addiction is a fear-based condition in which you fear abandonment or rejection from others if you do not behave in a certain way. It can cause you to make decisions that are not in your best interest to gain acceptance.
You walk on eggshells around people and try not to upset them by being authentic and vulnerable, giving no one the opportunity to know you and love you for who you are.
The words perfectionism and approval addiction are often used together. Approval addicts usually strive for perfection not only to gain the acceptance of others but also to compensate for their low self-esteem and poor self-image.
- Perfectionism is a defense mechanism for maintaining a false image of being perfect so that people will love and accept you. It’s a way of keeping your shame hidden from others and from yourself. Perfectionism is an illusion; it’s not real! And any acceptance from others because of your perfectionistic tendencies is ostensible.
Are We All Addicted to Something?
Most people are addicted to something. If we’re not addicted to drugs or alcohol, we might be addicted to our jobs, our relationships, our careers, or even our phones.
But if you were to ask someone if they were an addict, chances are they would say no. Why? Because the word “addict” has so much stigma and negative connotation attached to it that most people would rather deny their addiction than embrace it.
The truth is most of us struggle with this issue. Many of us are reluctant to speak up for what we believe in because we’re afraid we might offend someone or be criticized.
So many of us won’t take certain actions because we’re worried that we’ll lose friends or look foolish in the eyes of others.
Furthermore, many of us won’t say no when we really need to because we’re afraid people won’t like us anymore if we do.
To an extent, this obsession with being liked and accepted by other people is natural and normal.
But addiction addicts and people pleasers go beyond this basic human need to be approved in the sense that their lives revolve around how other people perceive them.
What Causes Addiction Approval?
I am a flower.
I seek your approval.
Your approval is needed to grow.
I do not care if my roots are tainted,
As long as you like my petals.
Unfortunately, addiction to social approval is an extremely common human weakness.
It starts early in life. When we are young children, in our most dependent years, we learn to adapt to the people around us in order to gain their love and acceptance.
We observe their reactions to us with keen attention and absorb their every word.
We are especially attuned to disapproval: criticisms, rejection, abandonment and punishment can be extremely painful for a child.
Because of this danger of disapproval, a child begins to unconsciously change her behavior to avoid it. She becomes what she thinks her parents want her to be, or what she perceives them thinking she ought to be.
Her natural self-expression is stifled; instead, she puts on a mask, the “good girl” persona that will win her the praise and acceptance she craves.
Children may alternatively be prone to peer pressure, trying to win the popularity with peers, even if it means to put on a false persona.
This mask gradually takes on a life of its own; it becomes something real for the child - it’s how she thinks of herself - even though it’s only a superficial imitation of her true nature.
We continue to strive to win approval and love as adults.
To summarize the approval addict’s symptoms (above), realize that people who fall into this category have these commonalities:
- They fear criticism, rejection, or abandonment.
- They often say “yes” when they really mean “no.”
- They want everyone to like them.
- They’re uncomfortable with conflict and avoid it.
- They’re often indecisive, since they don’t want to upset anyone by making a choice.
- They lack boundaries because they’re afraid to offend others by setting limits for themselves or for other people’s behavior toward them.
- They withdraw when someone expresses disapproval of them.
Why Do Some Individuals Need Constant Validation?
For some people, being accepted by others is so important that it can eclipse every other consideration.
This need for external approval often serves as motivation to go along with things they don’t believe in and engage in people-pleasing behavior.
It is important to understand the motives behind this behavior, because when you are addicted to approval and validation, your self-esteem depends on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others.
If you need constant validation or approval from others, it may be because:
- You don’t know what you want.
- You struggle to trust yourself and your own judgment.
- You have low self-esteem and a poor sense of who you are.
- You believe you must get the stamp of approval from others before you can make a decision or do something.
- You have an abundance of anticipation anxiety. You fear that any action will lead to a negative outcome (and then you will feel like a failure). Your fears lead you to constantly seek reassurance that things will be okay.
- You are riddled with guilt and constantly try to atone for your perceived sins by doing what everyone else wants.
- When you are not confident in yourself and your ability to do things right, you rely on others to mold your thoughts and guide your actions.
How to Stop Approval Addiction?
We all want to be liked and respected. But what happens when you become so focused on gaining approval from others that it has a negative impact on your life?
You may suffer from approval addiction.
While it’s great to have people in your life who support you, if you’re constantly worried about what others think of you, or go out of your way to impress people, then that can easily turn into an unhealthy obsession.
If this is something you struggle with, these tips can help you break the cycle and get yourself back on track:
1) Seek the Core Emotional Issues That Drive Your Need for Approval
Why do you seek approval so desperately? Are you aware of the core emotional issues that drive this behavior?
Perhaps it stems from low self-esteem, a need for attention, or some other core issue that needs healing.
Start by practicing self-love and recognize that you have traits and attributes others will love, too.
Start small with daily affirmations like “I am beautiful,” “I am loved,” or “I can do anything.” Write these down on sticky notes and put them all over your house where you will see them every day!
To truly enjoy life and live the best, happiest version of yourself, you need to know that you are worthy of love and deserving of respect.
People who have self-esteem also are more productive, successful in work and relationships, emotionally resilient, and confident when trying new things.
They also give up addiction to approval.
2) End the Pursuit of Perfection Once and for All
Accept that you’re human. We all make mistakes. We all have flaws. And we all have problems sometimes!
It’s unrealistic to expect you’ll never make a mistake or never struggle with anything in life. Accepting you are human is an important step toward forgiving yourself for your “failures” and the issues or difficulties you face.
In our pursuit of perfection, we are looking for validation from others.
We want people to approve of us—not just as we are, but as the best version of ourselves that we could possibly be.
This causes us to push ourselves harder and work harder to achieve perfection.
But it’s a never-ending cycle that often leads to self-contempt and even disfavor from others.
We are not defined by how perfect or imperfect we are; rather, we are defined by what we do with our imperfections and shortcomings.
3) Take a Reality Check
If you are addicted to seeking approval, you may have a distorted view of reality. You may see yourself as always being wrong, while everyone else is right.
You may also see yourself as weak while everyone else is strong. If someone criticizes you, it can seem like the end of the world because it confirms that reality.
You may also be defensive and fearful of confrontation. While this behavior will keep people happy on the surface, it resolves no issues or disagreements and only leads to resentment and bitterness later on.
4) Stop Worrying What Other People Think or Say About You
You cannot control what other people think or say about you; therefore, it is pointless to worry about their opinions or try to change their minds.
The only way to stop worrying about what others think is to focus on the opinion that really matters: yours.
You need to learn to trust yourself and your judgment and accept that your decisions are made with the best intentions possible.
Here, learn the word “no” and not worry about the fallout. You must give yourself permission not to fulfill everyone’s requests, even if that means disapproval.
Your sanity and quality of life depend on deciding what’s best for yourself, free from outer-directedness worry.
And don’t always apologize for exercising what’s in your best interests.
5) Set Boundaries for Those Who Are Critical of Your Choices
When someone tries to manipulate or criticize you, set boundaries for them so they know you will no longer put up with their behavior.
For example, if someone criticizes an outfit you wear, instead of agreeing that it makes you look fat, say something like, “I feel uncomfortable when you make derogatory remarks.”
If someone’s opinion of you has a big impact on how you feel about yourself, it’s important that you limit the time you spend with them, or at least limit their influence over you.
In the scenario where a friend or family member disapproves of your choices, ask them not to comment on those choices in conversation.
If they violate your boundary, kindly remind them you asked them not to talk about it. This will help you get clear on what you value and what you’re willing to defend.
Setting boundaries for people who disapprove of you can help you gain confidence in your own decisions, which helps end approval addiction.
6) Don't Use "Should" Statements
Using “should” statements when talking about yourself—or even thinking about yourself—is a surefire way to set off your approval addiction.
This kind of language is often used by people who want to criticize or control others, so it’s important that you avoid letting these phrases sneak into your own thoughts.
Instead, try using phrases that focus on your preferences, such as “I would like,” “I appreciate,” or “I find.”
When you’re trying to break free from approval addiction, try replacing “should” statements with “could” statements.
For example, instead of saying “I should feel bad about that,” try thinking “I could feel bad about that.”
When we use “could,” we’re letting ourselves know that there’s a choice in how we feel about it. This can help us take control of our thoughts and emotions.
7) Focus on Your Goals and Values
Reflect on your goals and values. They are yours, not other people’s.
Start by listing your goals and values. Then, allow yourself to truly own them—that means no one else should be able to tell you they’re wrong or unimportant.
If people try to do that, tell them politely that these are your goals and values, and it’s not open for discussion. Don’t get defensive; just state the facts in a calm, confident way.
If people try to make you feel bad about your goals and values (or anything), tell them that their behavior is unkind or disrespectful.
Let them know you won’t tolerate it anymore. If they don’t stop, walk away.
(Caveat: You don't have to immediately dismiss others' perspectives. Weigh them, see if there are any merits to their opinions, but know any final decision rests with you.)
8) Stop Defining Yourself Using the Prism of Other People's Judgements
You are not defined by others’ opinions of you—you are defined by the actions and deeds that make up the story of your life.
This is how people with a high degree of control over their lives think.
These are people who operate on their own terms, who act according to their own values and judgments of what’s best for them.
Think about someone in your life who seems to be above needing approval from others. They probably seem confident and in control.
It’s likely that they’ve made a habit of refusing to take other people’s opinions at face value—and that’s why they’re so successful at managing their own lives.
Remember that everyone has opinions and preferences about everything in life—and their opinions are just opinions! They are not facts about who you are.
9) Limit Your Time on Social Media, Especially if You Feel Worse After Visiting Your Favorite Platforms
Social media can be a double-edged sword: it can make us feel part of a community and connected to people who share our interests, or it can make us feel like we’re falling short.
Too many of us feel internally compelled to present the perfect version of ourselves on social media, but that “perfection” doesn’t exist, and it’s just as unattainable for others as it is for us.
When we’re judging ourselves by an unrealistic standard and feeling like we don’t measure up, we succumb to negative judgements about ourselves and look to others for validation.
So limit your time in any endeavor where you fall into a “comparison trap.”
10) Show Unconditional Love for Yourself Each day
Once you have this self-love, you won’t feel the need to seek approval from others. Here are some ways to practice self-love:
* Show yourself compassion. Speak kindly about yourself and avoid any negative self-talk.
* Take time for yourself every day. Do something that brings you joy, whether that’s reading a good book or taking a nice bubble bath. The important thing is that you’re doing something that makes you happy.
* Accept your flaws and mistakes as part of who you are.
* Spend more time with people who make you feel good about yourself. Over time, you’ll realize that you don’t need other people’s approval in order to be your best self.
* Be patient with yourself as you work on overcoming your addiction to approval from others.
11) Get Counseling and/or Assertiveness Training
If you are struggling with approval addiction, there are several treatment options available to you that can help you make progress and move past the condition.
First, it may be useful to take part in counseling. A trained therapist will help you identify thought patterns that are symptomatic of approval addiction, as well as provide tools and strategies to overcome them.
Another option is assertiveness training, which can also be helpful for people who struggle with approval addiction.
If you find you go out of your way to please others and put your own wants and needs on the back burner, assertiveness training can help you learn how to express yourself in a healthy way while still being true to your personality.
People pleasing is characterized by an inherent concern with what other people think about you.
When you people-please you often feel anxiety about not meeting other people’s expectations and you ignore your own needs in order to focus on others.
Although not a medical illness, in the classical sense, approval addiction is a problematic people-pleasing condition that leads people to seek approval from others in order to feel good about themselves or to feel secure in their relationships.
The causes and symptoms of approval addiction are the same as for other types of addictions.
People who struggle with approval addiction have low self-esteem and may also deal with underlying issues like perfectionism, depression, anxiety, or trauma.
They want to be liked by everyone and desperately need validation from others in order to feel good about themselves.
In order to stop being addicted to approval, it’s important that you validate yourself internally rather than looking for external sources of affirmation.
This can help you boost your self-esteem and gain confidence.
You should also try to focus on meeting your own expectations rather than those of others and set healthy boundaries in your relationships.
You’re not alone in this struggle, and it is possible for you to break free of this cycle.
You can overcome approval addiction in ways that are healthy and sustainable—and hopefully, this article will be that first step toward that path.
End Approval Addiction and Live Your Own Life
I know it’s hard to hear, but I think you need to know:
You don’t have to be right all the time.
You don’t have to say “yes” when you want to say “no.”
You don’t have to apologize for being who you are.
It’s okay to make waves. It’s okay to rock the boat.
It’s okay not to care about what everyone thinks of you.
It’s okay not to be liked by everyone.
It’s not your job to make people happy.
Your job is to live your life, and no one else’s.