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Addicted to Approval: Reclaim Your Self-Esteem

Happy Woman

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

The past few years have been full of hard but necessary lessons I needed to learn about my relationships with others—their limits, boundaries, what healthy relationships are and are not.

I realized that the foundation for some of my relationships (the unhealthy ones) was my need for attention and approval. This, of course, was futile because we can only truly feel good about ourselves despite outside opinions.

Because I felt inadequate and overly self-critical due to a past full of put-downs and personal failures (real or perceived), I needed “proof” that I mattered and was worthy in the eyes of people who represented the very individuals from my past who had shamed me, abused me, ignored me, and devalued me.

Growing up, I was always the outlier and in a lot of ways I still am—the girl with the wild imagination and unpopular hobbies (art over sports, unique tastes over trends, time alone in introspection over socializing).

I was also the middle child who didn’t quite measure up to the overachieving big sister and gifted little brother—often ignored, humored, my “little” achievements dismissed.

While I was not mistreated or neglected in any major, obvious way, the lack of attention and validation culminated over time to make me feel like a general disappointment as a human being.

Even after many major accomplishments, I felt inadequate. I earned a master’s degree, married a wonderful man, quickly built an impressive career, made amazing friends, moved to my dream town and into a gorgeous home, but I still sought validation from others that I was worthy and wanted (and still occasionally do).

I recently realized that I was holding onto some people not because they were friends I needed (they were actually quite toxic and manipulative), but because they seemed to want or need me. They occasionally fed me a crumb of self-esteem—complimenting me, asking to spend time with me, and telling me how much they liked me.

These friendships were superficial and overall damaging to me because of all the times they made me feel just the opposite, because they were too busy or self-absorbed and I interpreted that as a negative reflection on me.

They reminded me of the people I’d failed to win over in my past. People I was still intent to gain approval from but never will. And I needed to let that expectation go.

I have ended or distanced myself from these relationships and I often feel heavy with sadness about no longer being close to them. But I know that the grief I feel has more to do with the loss of attention (“approval”) I got from them, not necessarily them.

It was selfish that I had held onto them for an (artificial) ego boost and out of a sense of duty, because a relationship had been established; that was unfair to them and unhealthy for me. I needed to be selfish in another way: focus inward and provide myself with that ego-boosting energy.

In approval-addiction friendships, both people seek validation and attention from each other instead of truly being there for one another, unselfishly. That’s a no-win situation.

I am now on a journey toward self-love and acceptance from within. I have developed four “mantras” I repeat to myself when I find myself drifting back into old relationship patterns, clinging to other people and things to gain feelings of self-worth.

Self-Love Mantras

1. No one else can prove your self-worth.

True friends can help boost it, but only temporarily. Authentic, lasting personal validation exists when you value and approve of you.

2. You are who you are, and that’s good enough.

You will have moments, even phases when you’ll doubt this, and that’s okay. Just remember: bad things are going to happen. Some people aren’t going to like you. But these are not a negative reflection of the awesome person you are.

3. Your friendship, time, and thoughtfulness are precious.

Invest these wisely and with integrity. You deserve it, as do your loved ones.

4. Be proud of yourself and all you do.

Depending on others to confirm that you’re worthwhile is a recipe for disappointment. No one will approve of everything you do. You don’t either, right? You have more than enough to be proud of and that pride should come from within and be unshakeable at its core.

Photo by kris krüg

Avatar of Katherine Reseburg

About Katherine Reseburg

Katherine is an editor and writer by pay, artist, daydreamer, traveler, and photographer by play. She also enjoys bird-watching, cooking, and volunteering. She has an MA in mass communication/media studies from the University of Wisconsin and lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two crazy cats. Visit her at http://starryjuneart.wordpress.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “Because I felt inadequate and overly self-critical
    due to a past full of put-downs and personal failures (real or
    perceived), I needed “proof” that I mattered and was worthy in the eyes
    of people who represented the very individuals from my past who had
    shamed me, abused me, ignored me, and devalued me.” This hit me to my core, since it is something that I can relate a lot with…Thank you for sharing your story! :-)

  • MsMaeDae

    This has been one of the main issues I’ve focused on for myself. This read was very reassuring. I am the only one who can and should make myself feel worthy of. <3

  • http://www.simplecapacity.com/ Nikola Gjakovski

    Every step we need to go through begins inside every individual. Great post Katherine, thank you.

  • Michele

    Very insightful…thank you for sharing!

  • cherishka@nomnomnomads.com

    This is exactly what I need to read, thank you!

  • krutika

    nicely written Katherine loved your article. you can not always depend on others approval but you should always approve what you are doing

  • amy

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. I cannot tell you how much I identify with it. Especially this part: “These friendships were superficial and overall damaging to me because of all the times they made me feel just the opposite, because they were too busy or self-absorbed and I interpreted that as a negative reflection on me.”

    I feel like you wrote this from my head if that makes any sense! I will be keeping this handy for future reference.

  • http://imanidealist.com Wan Muhammad Zulfikri Bin Wan

    “Growing up, I was always the outlier and in a lot of ways I still am—the girl with the wild imagination and unpopular hobbies (art over sports, unique tastes over trends, time alone in introspection over socializing).”

    This resonates with me. I am also an outlier and I tend to question about people’s approval of myself. Being someone who people see as ‘weird’ can be good because it filters out those who judge us superficially.

    In the end, it’s not other people’s approval that’s making us feel bad…it’s actually self-approval that we are lacking the most. Thanks for the post, Katherine.

  • ellie

    This story could basically be mine. It helped me to gain perspective on what has always been my biggest struggle – self-acceptance.

    I am so glad that you wrote about how despite gaining so many things in life, you still struggled with feelings of inadequacy.

    I am living in that same delusion now. I have this underlying belief that once I finish my graduate degree, start my practice, find the perfect partner, have a family, etc, this lack of self-acceptance will fall away and I’ll finally feel accomplished and worthy. This post was the wake up call I needed to learn that in spite of all those possible future successes, I may still suffer and search from approval from outside.

    My present and future self thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Just a Girl

    I’m in the process of breaking this habit in myself. This article really speaks to me.

  • HHPDA

    I’m feeling like this lately….. I’m really struggling today…

  • CEJ

    I don´t know why, but your comment made me want to reply. I am feeling like this too, and I was really struggling today as well.. I don´t know if this is of any help, but hang in there! It might be comforting to know that there are people like you out there, people that are going through similar experiences, so you are not the only one:)

  • HHPDA

    Thanks sweet, sorry to hear you’re also feeling low…. Don’t know about you I just feeling really overwhelmed….. Then if people act in a certain way I doubt myself….When I feel down, my confidence gets a hit and people don’t understand why I am overly emotional or negative about things….If you want feel free to message me on my FB Page ‘Horses Helping People with Depression and Anxiety’ – HHPDA

  • Erica

    Hi there. I just have a question: Are you me? *grins* You just told my story. As a serial approval seeker myself, this resonated with me in a huge way. Thanks for the reminders – I need them from time to time. x

  • http://www.masterplanlife.com/ Veronica Nguyen

    Great post to remind us that “we are who we are”. Thank you!

  • Joel Valle

    A very thoughtful and inspiring message that can give courage to anyone; in a society that devalues an individual, based on ever changing superficial parameters.

  • NavaneethaKrishnan A

    Yes it is very unhealthy to wait for approval from people around you , it could lead to disappointments , worthlessness and low self esteem . We just have look within and be happy & content with whatever you are . Thanks for the article Katherine :)

  • Lilly

    Again a situation I know all too well. I have a heavy heart too thinking I have ‘abandoned’ people over the past month or so however they were toxic to me. The way I try and see it when I feel sad is that I have made room for light in my life. There’s space now for other to move in and add something special to my life. Thank you for your story.

  • Katherine Reseburg

    I agree the ‘weirdness’ is useful at filtering out the people who aren’t good for us, who won’t accept us as is. I’d rather be “weird” than boring or usual!
    Thanks for commenting, Katherine

  • Katherine Reseburg

    You’re welcome – thanks for reading :)

  • Katherine Reseburg

    You’re SO welcome :) It is also redeeming for me to see how many others are struggling with this same issue. It’s good to have reminders that no ‘friend’ is often better than a bad one.
    ~Katherine

  • Katherine Reseburg

    I’m glad I did – clearly I am not alone! Hugs, K

  • Katherine Reseburg

    Amen! Easier said than done, but we must keep working on loving ourselves first. Hugs, K

  • Katherine Reseburg

    This is a very positive way to think of it – one door closes so a more positive one can open. TRUTH.

  • Katherine Reseburg

    “it could lead to disappointments , worthlessness and low self esteem” – does not could. But we have to learn the hard way sometimes, then grow stronger as a result. Hugs, K

  • Katherine Reseburg

    You’re welcome :)

  • Katherine Reseburg

    You’re so right – some of our unhealthy and unnecessary dependance on others stems from society’s expectation of us to have lots of friends and to be popular. Not realistic!!

  • Katherine Reseburg

    Hope today is better? ~Katherine

  • Katherine Reseburg

    No, I’m not you but we are kindred spirits! This site is so good at pointing out the obvious but need-to-hear points. ~Katherine

  • Katherine Reseburg

    All we can do is keep trying, right? ~K

  • Katherine Reseburg

    Thanks :)

  • Katherine Reseburg

    I think this comment touched me the most and made me SO happy I shared my experiences. Good luck in all you do, I am sure you will succeed. Another reminder: never take all we achieve for granted. Sometimes the grass is greener in another’s pasture, but ours is full of wildflowers…

  • Katherine Reseburg

    You’re welcome!

  • Katherine Reseburg

    Amen to that. ~K

  • HHPDA

    Thanks for asking sweet. Unfortunately no change, it is coming up to 5am here in the UK, and I have struggled to get a rested night’s sleep again. Can’t stop thinking that someone who I considered a friend has gradually distanced herself from me over the last few weeks, and now barely speaks to me. She has been so supportive, that change of circumstances feels like she has washed her hands of me…. Prob considers I am a not her problem, and that I have ‘issues’ as I am going through a bad depression/ anxiety episode…. Having been so nice for over a year to suddenly change… It’s really hurtful :’(

  • http://imanidealist.com Wan Muhammad Zulfikri Bin Wan

    ” I’d rather be “weird” than boring or usual! ”
    Same here.

  • Flo

    A brilliant article that could’ve been written by me. Not a middle child but an only child whose mum was so busy working that I was constantly told to go away and play. I’ve pushed away so many good friends who don’t need to be impressed in order to focus on trying to impress the wrong people who didn’t give two hoots about me. Thank you for a great reminder.

  • Radhika

    Thanks Katherine. I recently let go of some of those friendships. Still feel weird but I feel a load is off my chest

  • http://www.gameligit.com/ Vishal

    Nice post Katherine.
    Some points I would like to add…

    Self esteem = Doing what’s right (Shown by your heart)
    Have you read – “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho?
    It is true for self esteem as well…

    Follow your heart…. and you will have Unshakable self esteem.
    I wrote “follow” deliberately. Cause self esteem is a result of the ACTIONS that we take on daily basis.

    check out a comprehensive guide on self esteem on http://gameligit.com/self-esteem-foundation-joy-peace/

  • Katherine Reseburg

    Have things improved at all? Maybe you simply need to tell this friend you understand how difficult it must be for her but that just knowing she cares is enough if that’s all she can ‘do’ until you’re in a more positive place. That may ease some of the pressure off her and let your relationship have a safe place to rest and then regrow when the time is right.

  • Andrea Di Tomaso

    You could have taken those words right out of my life! Great food for thought, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one with this affliction either.

  • Andrea Di Tomaso

    Yup, I got teary-eyed reading that…

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    You are not alone! :)

  • thatgirl

    Thank you, I really needed this.