Imagine that you have worked very hard on a project. Perhaps you have created something from wood, written a story, or created a rock garden, or whatever it is that you can imagine yourself having created. How do you know it’s good?
Is it because you look at it with satisfaction and pride, or is it only after friends, family or others tell you it’s good?
If you know it’s good because you intrinsically feel pride in it, then you have learned the joy of self- approval. This is what we are striving for—to value and trust our own judgment and to not need to seek out the approval or validation of others.
As counsellors we continuously deal with clients who do not approve of themselves, who judge themselves harshly, who don’t trust their choices, who haven’t learned to be loving towards themselves, and who haven’t learned the importance of self-approval.
When we embrace our inner voice, silencing the voices of the outside world, we realize how truly liberating self-approval can be.
Some people have learned the joy of self-approval while others struggle with the need for approval from others.
Do you like the choices you make, the way you live your life, the way you take care of yourself, your relationships, the way you conduct yourself at home and on the job?
Beatrix Potter, author of the Tale of Peter Rabbit, self- published her own book because she couldn’t find a publisher to publish her work. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, was turned down by 12 publishing houses before she found a publisher.
Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, received 38 rejection letters before finding someone to publish her book.
“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing” ~Aristotle
While it is true that many of us would be wise to listen to honest feedback from others, many of us would have given up believing in ourselves when faced with the repeated rejection that Margaret Mitchell or J.K. Rowling faced.
The need for approval and validation from others can and often does, hold us back from reaching our full potential.
The need for approval can sometimes be so strong that it can create anxiety in some people and keep others from moving forward in their lives. Anxiety and fear may prevent some of us from making important decisions and taking risks that might lead to a more fulfilling life.
We may get stuck in worry and rumination, fearing making decisions that would make us look foolish or silly, or lead to rejection. Needing the approval of others is so pervasive that we may not even know that we are allowing it to rule our lives.
Needing approval from others may be as automatic as breathing—we don’t even notice or question that we constantly seek it. However, if we did stop to question it, we may realize we don’t have to think this way, we can learn to think differently.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that you could learn to see yourself honestly and accurately, and that you could learn to trust your own opinion above the opinion of others?
Clearly, Margaret Mitchell did not believe that the editors who rejected her book had the experience, knowledge or authority to judge her book better than she did, and she was right.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t times she sought feedback from others about her book. She probably made some adjustments based on the feedback she received, and some things she probably left the same because she didn’t agree.
But nothing shook her overall confidence in the book or in herself.
All too often wanting approval from others results in being too nervous to perform effectively. Rather than speaking openly and honestly, we try to anticipate what we think others want to hear. We try to avoid making mistakes or looking foolish. Instead, we may come across as inauthentic, apathetic, withdrawn, wishy-washy, or uninterested.
Wanting approval from others doesn’t always result in poor performance. For some, wanting approval results in the opposite.
Many high achievers are people seeking approval, and they do succeed, but it comes at a cost. Their need for approval means they are constantly doing too much, feeling anxious and worrying about letting others down, trying to please everyone, not making time for themselves, and not being able to say no.
They lose touch with what it is they really want for themselves, and too often the people they love and who love them, must take a backseat. In their need for approval they can sometimes come across as aggressive, pushy, and controlling.
If you find your need for others’ approval results in you being a low or a high achiever, and the end result is that you often don’t know how to be self-accepting, you may want to find out how to change this.
You may want to learn how to trust your own opinion over the opinion of others. Learning to sit quietly with yourself so that you can recognize, hear, and listen to your inner voice is not an easy thing to do, but it can be done. The end result is that it will lead to a more satisfying and richer life.
We will continue to explore the topic of self-acceptance and self-approval in future newsletters. In the meantime, if you would like to explore this topic with a counsellor, contact your EFAP provider.
Jenny DeReis, MC Psych CCC