Seeking approval. The most normal thing in the world, right?
Maybe you ask how dinner is — after two hours of prep and cooking time — but the response from your husband or wife is a grunt, a grumble, or an inattentive “uh-huh.” (You hoped for a good word, an acknowledgment, or a thank you.)
Maybe you pulled out all the stops on a romantic evening for two — candlelight, her favorite Brazilian tunes, and nada.
No reaction, no response, no appreciative nod.
Or anything else.
Maybe you tell your longtime friend you won a coveted prize in your field. “That’s nice,” she says, then excitedly describes her latest book club selection or her dog’s newest trick.
In any of these scenarios, you think some expression of approval is in order. And its absence hurts.
Acknowledgment, Approval, Admiration
Is seeking acknowledgment the same as seeking approval? Is the need for approval the same as the need to be liked? What about the yearning for admiration?
Acknowledgment may be defined as a show of thanks, appreciation, or recognition. I see it as more cut and dried than approval or admiration, and we might even perceive it as a social construct, which is often important.
Dictionary.com’s definition of admiration offers concepts of affection, pleasure, esteem, regard, and yes — approval.
Yet approval seems basic, a need rooted in early childhood experience, and it carries stronger emotional connotations steeped in sentiments of reassurance and value. Consider the Cambridge Dictionary definition of approval:
… the feeling of having a positive opinion of someone or something
I would expand that definition to include the notion of favorable acceptance.
Of course, if we go the extra mile for a friend or spouse and we find ourselves repeatedly denied acknowledgment or approval, disappointment is a rational outcome. And it’s a far cry from obsessing over the approval of others, working triple time to curry favor, or, as this Psychology Today post elaborates on a “pervasive” demand for approval, pinning our self-esteem to the behaviors of others.
Do you tell yourself that you must have the approval of others, and that if you fail to get it, you are somehow not a worthy person? Are you making your value as a person dependent on what others think of you?
Clearly, that’s a common issue and understandable for most of us. Approval can come in a variety of forms, signaling that we will likely retain our jobs and clients, while affirming that our performance is being well received and that the all-critical paycheck is continuing as usual.
If we deal with challenging personalities, let’s keep an eye out for those who seem desperate for reassurances from us:
… some of the most common [approval-seeking] offenders:
- changing your position to gain approval
- insincere compliments; soliciting compliments
- fear of saying “no”
- asking permission unnecessarily
- constantly apologizing
The Need to Be Liked
Wanting to be liked? Listen. I’ll cop to that.
Sure, we encounter irascible characters like the infamous Dr. House (who didn’t care what anyone thought of his shenanigans), but most of us are more social creatures. A yearning to fit in, to belong, to be held in some sort of agreeable esteem for a personal quality or behavior seems “normal” enough.
Needing everyone to like us? The birth of people pleasing in extremis? Aren’t these behaviors noticeably heightened in adolescence? Don’t they scale themselves back as we mature?
As for likeability, we would probably agree that it is useful in the workplace.
A child wanting parental approval seems reasonable, but when a 40-year-old requires endless reassurance from a spouse or a friend? What about the 60-year-old still seeking approval from an elderly parent? How many of us have yet to confront issues in childhood that denied the approbation we needed?
For some, the longing for approval is more than run-of-the-mill anticipation of being accepted or feeling comfortable. It’s a matter of craving approval and feeling inferior without it; being hungry for approval on important decisions, and the thought process leading up to them; chasing approval on mundane actions and ordinary choices; demanding approval from those close to us and equally, from people whose opinions shouldn’t count.
This brief Psych Central post offers a quick view of how we arrive at this approval-seeking state:
Since the need for approval, love and acceptance from our parents is strong, we become conditioned over time to seek approval from others as well… When we aren’t met with approval, we no longer feel safe and protected… we can begin to doubt our personal worth…
Speaking of worth, in my experience, what differentiates seeking approval in personal from professional relationships is this, as we consider the demanding manager, the curmudgeonly colleague, the client that keeps raising the bar…
In our workplace examples, we can content ourselves with the fact that we know we’re producing, and of course, we’re pocketing a paycheck.
Managing and Maturing
When we find ourselves soliciting or anticipating affirmation of the most routine activities, isn’t it time to rethink our expectations? Are we dragging childhood insecurities into everyday interactions?
At some point, as wholly owned adults, we must eschew the approval of those who are not in our spheres of control or personal influence. This may grow easier for some of us; as the years pass, we become more confident in who we are, what we need, what we consider important, what we know, our contributions. Even so, might we do well to scrutinize the number of people from whom we hope for approval?
Expecting approval from our intimates — even if only a knowing smile — is neither excessive nor much to ask. Acknowledging a special effort, likewise. Admiration — knowing that we are valued — in moderation, isn’t this reasonable as well? And the simple thank you is a matter of Manners 101.
If we aren’t getting these responses from those closest to us — a partner, a sibling, a friend — shouldn’t we speak up?
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