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How to Let Go of the Need for Approval to Start Thriving

“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, being nothing” ~Aristotle

The need for approval kills freedom.

Trust me, I know, because I spent my entire life seeking approval until I realized it was a waste of time and didn’t work anyway. The desire to get people to like me motivated the majority of my choices and actions in early life.

Queen of social chameleons, I mastered the art of telling people what they wanted to hear and being someone they would find impressive—all the while worrying incessantly about what others thought of me, fearing criticism, and holding myself back as a result.

When I first started building my coaching business, this craving for acceptance caused me to hide from opportunities where the potential for reward was high, but the possibility for criticism was equally large.

As an example, one of my first client referrals was to coach the CEO of a major corporation. It’s painful to admit that I told my client I wasn’t the right person for the job and referred the person to someone else.

My need for approval created immense anxiety about the value I provided for my clients and caused me to spend far too much time on tasks in order to perfect them.

It got to the point where I was wasting so much time and losing so many opportunities that I had to make a big decision: either let the business go or learn how to get over myself!

Fortunately I chose the latter option. I created a plan to learn to let go of needing others’ approval (well, at least letting go enough that it would no longer sabotage my success). Here I am, seven years later, running the same business with much greater ease and success as a result.

Can you relate to these issues?

Do you constantly make choices to avoid disapproval or criticism, rather than what is most valuable, effective or important to you?

Do you hold yourself back from speaking your opinions or hide your true self?

This is something you can, and dare I say, must change if you want to be happy in your life and successful in your business or chosen work.

It is possible to change. I have done so myself, and since then have helped many other people through my business to do the same.

How is the Need for Approval Holding You Back?

A. Need for approval / low performance

The need for approval is negatively impacting your performance—you procrastinate, avoid doing important things, feel anxiety and fear, and get stuck in worry and rumination.

Wanting people to like you results in declining new opportunities, being too nervous to perform effectively, and showing signs of avoidance, such as apathy, withdrawal, analysis paralysis, and giving up.

If this rings true for you, focus upon how the need for approval is holding you back from doing the important things. Once you move past this, you will be free to achieve and create what you want in life with much less stress and effort, because you are currently exhausting yourself through avoidance.

B. Need for approval / high performance

Although you’re a high achiever and get great results in your life, it is often at the expense of everything else.

The need for approval in this case results in doing too much, feeling anxiety, worrying, being unable to stop ruminating about challenges, trying to please everyone, not making time for yourself, working too hard, and being unable to say no.

If this is you, focus upon how the need for approval is causing you to do too much instead of only what is important, and to do things for others at the expense of yourself.

C. Self-acceptance / low performance

In this instance, what others think of you has little impact on your decision-making about how to spend your time. However, your performance is low due to other motivational factors, such as being unaware of what is important to you, what drives you, and what makes you happy.

Hence, you may be stuck doing work you don’t really enjoy and have habits that hinder your performance, or alternatively may not have the skills to work effectively at what you are doing.

If this is you, focus your energy upon getting in touch with what really matters to you. Start to listen to what you really want in your life and act upon this to make it happen. Life becomes much more effortless when you are living in alignment with what is important to you.

D. Self-acceptance / high performance

This is the goal I am always working toward with my coaching clients. It’s a place where you make decisions based on what is right for you. You make effective choices with your time, are OK with saying no when it is required, and are committed to only doing that which is important and valuable for what you want to achieve or create in your life.

In this space, you spend much less time in your head worrying about people and situations and more time just getting things done. You don’t need to be busy in order to appear successful. Instead, you choose to see success as measured by doing what matters to you and to your results. This is a collaborative space where you lead and connect effectively with others, without being at their beck and call.

Once you’ve identified where you are, it’s time to do something to about it! Below are a handful of strategies to help you get to “D”—the place where you no longer need others’ approval, as you have a sound sense of self-acceptance and you make choices from this place.

How to Let Go of the Need for Approval

1. Build a sound sense of self-acceptance.

The first step is to strengthen your core foundation so that you feel strong enough to go with what feels right for you. This way, you will no longer feel the need to look to others to feel good enough about your choices and decisions.

Keep a self-appreciation journal, where you start acknowledging daily or a few times a week the things you’re most proud of about yourself: choices you’ve made, insights you’ve learned, things you like about yourself, times you’ve stayed true to yourself, or whatever feels right for you.

2. Let go of seeking validation from others.

Secondly, you need to practice letting go of seeking validation for your choices and most importantly, for whom you choose to be.

This means noticing your language, self-talk, and behavior, and identifying when it is coming from wanting someone else to say you’re ok, that you made the right choice, or that you did the right thing.

Instead, when you do make a decision, check in with yourself that it feels right, remind yourself that it is your choice, and give yourself validation for just being you.

3. Evaluate tasks based on approval-seeking efforts.

Lastly, start being honest with yourself when you take on a new task or commitment, whether you are doing it because it is “right” for you or because you want to get approval and avoid disapproval.

Sit down and evaluate your weekly tasks and ask yourself what is really necessary and important, and what is driven by people pleasing. Then slowly work through the “people pleasing” list and eliminate them.

How has the need for approval impacted your life?

Photo by -just-jen

Avatar of Sacha Crouch

About Sacha Crouch

Author of De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort, Sacha Crouch is a business, executive & life coach, and expert in work life balance. Visit her at www.activ8change.com.au.

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  • http://the100percentyou.com/ John Sherry

    Absolutely Sacha! It’s all too easy to fall into the emotional rut of asking for acceptance and permission to live, love, and do things or to simply be ourself. That only permission we need is from our own heart to validate the unique person we are. When that person is allowed to shine, thriving is as natural as breathing.

  • Allisonsaja

    I am so wrestling with this right now! Thank you! The need for the approval of family and friends is controlling even the choices of my heart. I cannot hear my own voice. I appreciate your words and the opportunity for more of my own reflection on this subject. Blessings!

  • Natalie

    Yeah so encouraging- really practical advice. Being true to yourself is THE most important thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=526568263 David St Michael

    “As an example, one of my first client referrals was to coach the CEO of a
    major corporation. It’s painful to admit that I told my client I wasn’t
    the right person for the job and referred the person to someone else.”
    Will you please expound upon this, please? I’m curious about the details in this situation, as I think this sort of thing happens far too often for most of us.

  • http://manifestconnection.blogspot.com/ Kari

    Great post! It really is about being true to yourself and your desires. The disappointing look from my mother long ago stopped being a deciding factor on what I want to do in life; although, it still does a dance in the back of my mind. Stay on course with your happiness and you will eventually find that happiness.

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    I lived my first few decades being shy and introverted. I’ve grown to understand that was all about a need for approval and the fear of disapproval. These days, I feel very self-confident and have lots of self approval and self confidence. But ….

    Working from a need for approval vs wanting to avoid disapproval — I see the two as very different concerns. Even though I no longer do my life in order to get approval or seek validation from others, I still often catch myself doing something in a certain way in order to avoid disapproval. I justify it by thinking it’s because I don’t want to hurt or dismay other people by what I do (or don’t do). But your post kind of made me read between my own lines. I’m *not only* caring about how my actions might affect others, I’m also wasting energy caring whether or not they’ll disapprove.

    So how do we balance the two: taking care of others in terms of how we affect them with our actions and words vs. “caring too much” about what they think about what we do — then letting that concern control what we do and/or how we do it? I haven’t figured out where to draw that “caring too much” line.

    You helped my personal debate, Sacha, by writing, “…when you do make a decision, check in with yourself that it feels right,
    remind yourself that it is your choice, and give yourself validation
    for just being you.” The next part, though, is hard. That’s the part where we let ourselves think, “I don’t mind what they think; I’m going to do this because it’s right for me.”

  • http://twitter.com/SaRaHOrMoN Sarah Ormon

    Thanks for the advice. Seems so simple when put into a nice little list. Obviously this will be a work in progress for me…but this is one project I will not and cannot say no to. Thanks for the initial push in the right direction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dreadpiratejoe Joe Morris

    Very timely…. ‘C’ is me….   will give your steps a try….  Thank you.  

  • http://FourLeafCloverBlog.com Eva @ Four Leaf Clover

    I recently noticed that I constantly ask for opinions and approval from all of those around me. Ever since I’ve been doing myself just to trust myself and be happy with who I am. This article came at the perfect time, thank you!

  • Sacha

    Wrestling can be a good thing Allisonsaja – can help trigger change :) What a perfect time to start listening to your heart, even hearing a quiet whisper to begin with is a great beginning. Blessings back to you! 

  • Sacha

    Beautifully said John! Keep shining :)

  • Sacha

    You’re welcome Eva. Great self-observation, because its so specific it will be easier to let it go (keep listening and choosing differently!). Trusting ourselves to be enough as we are is a beautiful journey — and a doorway to deep contentment. Joy to you…

  • Sacha

    Joe, thats wonderful to hear you’re accepting of who you are. Good luck discovering what makes your heart beat loudly and puts a spring in your step! (and enjoy the process) :)

  • Sacha

    Pleasure Sarah, I love your commitment. A work in progress for all of us!! I try to align with who I really am in a small new way every day…

  • Sacha

    You pose some beautiful questions and distinctions Kate. And first of all, congratulations for being able to do the internal work to get to such a place of self confidence after a shy, introverted childhood.

    Some thoughts for you to play with:

    Start with really checking in and listening as a first step. Dont put any pressure on yourself to “get it right” there is no right and wrong, only doing your best in each moment with each choice. Noticing and observing will over time help you make the distinction between the two.

    Set yourself the long term goal to find that nice balance that feels right for you between caring for others and honouring yourself. But, allow yourself to take time (and make some oopsies) to find that balance. I find that most of my clients go to the opposite extreme when they first start to try to improve things like this – becoming a little too superassertive. Its just part of the learning process.

    Remind yourself that you’re inherently a caring person, who respect others needs. Continue to come from this place in your choices as its lovely. Just start to choose to place yourself at the same importance level.  

    How do you move to “I dont mind what they think, I”m going to do this because its right for me?” You only need to do this in this moment, with each new choice that arises. At first it will be a gentle reminder to yourself, and you may or may not let it go. The more you repeat this choice the more you will let it go. Repitition is the Queen of change!

    Good luck :)

  • Ramesh A

    100% true in work and family life I am constantly doing this and seeking approval, even for saying some thing, going some where for almost every thing, most of the times I have experiences its painful. Thanks Sacha your artcile is very helpfull and just in time… God bless you…

  • http://www.facebook.com/tyneybubbles Christine Benitez Piedad

    i really love this blog! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/rozfruchtman Roz Fruchtman

    Wrestling… I’ve not called it that.  Someone I thought was my friend said something that did not quite offend me as much as how and where she said it.  I said as much.
    - Oddly enough it really got me going and made me realize 1) My decision was right for me, 2) I had some deep-seeded baggage I had to deal with.
    - It took me almost a year to come to terms with my baggage and I thanked my friend and we agreed to disagree and remain friends! That’s what real friends do and we both like each other, we just did not agree on something, but I felt it could have been said privately, but now… none of that really matters as it was a GIFT as it made me take a look at the bigger picture.
    - I’ve made some new decisions which are in process now and I feel much better emotionally and hope that my new decisions will make a difference to others, but I know for sure they will to me and in reality, that is all that really matters!

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Awesome! Thanks Sacha for taking the time to write some great advice for me! I especially like:
    - the oopsies idea
    - that I only have to make the choice once. At this time, in this moment.
    - The Queen of change. I’m all over “affirmations”, they’re my personal magic formula, and they definitely wear that particular Queen costume. ;)

  • Ajomalls

    This is a timely post for me, thank you! Over the years I’ve done lots of work on making choices that are good for me and feel good to me. Recently though, I’ve really been feeling the old tug of “wanting to be liked” and “approved of” by others. And I am very aware of negative self talk that feels old and out dated. Professionally, I’m an executive director of a non profit and I am moved by the work that we do and the positive impact we have on people’s lives. My challenge is in satisfying all the different constituents and building support (financial & leadership) for the organization. I’ve been doing this work for 3 years and am feeling like I never stop “rattling the cup” which is becoming exhausting, even though I believe with every fiber of my being in what we’re doing. My self talk is saying that I’m not the right leader because I haven’t been as effective as I think I should have been by now. Those negative  thoughts are getting in the way of attracting the talent and funds we need. Any suggestions?

  • http://jakyastikblogs.blogspot.com Jaky Astik

    The need for self approval is a real trouble. It keeps you depressed. The best way to deal with it is stop thinking too much. Usually, thinking too much is the only reason we do this stuff. When we think less and fret less, we become free and take less stands on approvals.

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  • Palmersykes

    I had an epiphany tonite..was sitting wondering why I am the way that I am. I get very defensive at the slightest inkling that someone disapproves of me or decisions I have made. Then a voice said to me “stop looking for validation!” I now realize that I am my own person and have to live my own life..the only person whose validation I need is my own! In any choice I make, whether wrong or right, ultimately I will be the one forced to live with it, so who cares what other people think of me… From this point forward I am truly living my life for me! Either you can come along for the ride or exit stage left!!!

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  • http://twitter.com/robinplemmons Robin Plemmons

    I really REALLY needed to read this. I’m not going to allow my performance anxiety to paralyze my true voice. Thank you for the push & encouragement. 

  • Mary

    Thank you so much for your wisdom.  I suffer from the need for approval and find I become more independent in the workplace and don’t want to work with co-workers that are self centered, unfortunately they are my superiors and I need to be part of the team.  I look at them negatively, and avoid them.  

  • jennifer

    I am the oldest of five and feel that I deserve respect from my brothers and sisters. I do from those siblings closest in age but my youngest sister who is 25 and 20 years apart in age competes with me or at least I think she does and there is this constant struggle with her and I. My mom i feel has perpetuated some of this I think and I feel like she listens to my little sister more than me. What is wrong with me?

  • ojrc

    A very good article here.
    Thanks,
    Oliver

  • jen

    I am starting a new business and this is very relevant to me right now. Thank you.

  • Miss Approval Addict

    Thank you so much for this beautiful article! I am an approval ADDICT and it is slowly eating me up inside. I was blessed to be given talents and instead of using them to their fullest and showing them to the world—I shun away.

    For so long, the approval of others have dictated my actions. I was afraid to excel because of the fear that they might not like me and when I excelled at something, I had to make sure that EVERYONE agreed that I did well indeed. :( Reading this has inspired me greatly and I badly want to change because it is very, very tiring but I know this doesn’t happen overnight. My condition is severe and I have to act on this fast before it gets the best of me. This came at the right time. I am truly grateful.

  • jmlooremeta

    Thank you for guiding me on how i can live in alignment with what is important to me.

  • briana silly person

    this is literally the definition of me right now sadly, but i know that only i have the power to change that…thank you for this article, its really hard facing all those people pleasing demons, and literally dehibilitating tendancies…my anxiety and fear of what others opnions are of me have kind of gotten to the point where i hide upstars and hardly speak my mind…any more advice on getting out of myself? its kind of silly….but much love to everyone!

  • Dan

    Great read, this is definitely has been a problem in my life, probably one of the key issues in my social well being. Being a hyper sensitive introvert, it has been hell approaching people with this mindset; it created social anxiety over time.

    It’s gotten to the point where it became overwhelming because it created an illusion of deep relationships with people when they actually weren’t.

    Anyways, I have taken time to reflect on myself and have begun to take things in stride. Stopped trying to entertain people, and just speak my mind on issues, applying natural thought and emotion to my actions and it’s been working wonders.

    Its scary how much the mind can drift away from your soul over time, I think its important for all people to have time to themselves on a frequent basis.

  • Mahetem

    The need for approval is a paralyzing thing. I can’t move forward because I don’t know what I want to do, and when I ask myself all want seems people’s approval. Now a day’s I found out it is not possible or it is not some thing that make sense to me(may true self), but it has been so hard for me to let it go. When I say to myself ” I want to be my self. My self is pretty” I find some part of me saying ” you will defiantly be accepted when you are yourself. People will like u now when you are your self”, and I will just be back to where I was.

  • valentina

    thank you so much for your story and help. I felt so stuck from wanting to please everyone around me. Now I can truly live!!! Thanks <3

  • Nobody

    I often wonder what your ‘purpose’ might turn out to be if there were no one around to acknowledge your successes or failures at all. If you were the last person on the planet and stuff.

    I would explore nature and join a pride of lions.

  • Vince

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve recently started a grand, personal development after some giant interludes to another chapter of my life. So many things have happened that it was impossible to bear not knowing the cause of all of the negativity that has been happening. But after reading your article, I’ve found one of the deepest roots to all of the problems.

    I care too much for what others think and will think of me If I decide to do anything at all.
    Not only did it take a long time for me to balance the opinions of my friends and family to please or sate them, but a lot of times I wouldn’t do anything at all because It would make me receive less criticism and would be easier to consume the thought that less people would care If I didn’t do anything.

    A perfect but simple example would be the times where I have to buy clothes. I would ask my friends if the colors fit me or not even if I already know what fits me. I do it because at that moment I’m thinking subconsciously that I don’t want anyone to disapprove of my choices, and therefore choose to let them make decisions for me. I can’t exactly help it. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember.

    Another one would be when it comes to working or not. (I’m now 19 and unemployed. Without very good qualifications and I’m path finding.) People are telling me to just work and work and eventually I’ll get somewhere. But I’m not the type who would just throw myself all the time into an abyss and hope I’d land somewhere as soft as a sponge cake.
    But because I’m afraid that people will conclude that I’m just a slob and clueless as to what to even do, I lean towards working just for the time being because I fear ‘disapproval’

    I find myself in more successes when I plan even lightly and brace for the impact..
    I don’t really care much about material things and the salary when it comes to work. I want to know what I want to do as my career and get to know myself more before I go forth completely into the real world.

    I’ll take your word for this and I know it will work out! It has been fear of disapproval’s and insecurity all along.

    Cheers.

  • Anna

    I can completely relate to your situation. I am 19 and unemployed as well, and have recently begun to look inside for the answers about what I want to do with my life rather than to society’s or my parents’ expectations. This is a challenging time full of pressure to “do something, anything” and just make decisions. However, I have realized that self-knowledge and looking within is the key.

    We are realizing only we are responsible for our lives. We need to listen to our inner voice and follow that, no matter what others may think or say. Best of luck on your journey. :)

  • http://nomadicsamuel.com Nomadic Samuel

    This is a wonderful article! My need for approval was high in my early 20′s and I suffered immensely from it often self-sabotaging and avoiding certain social situations. As I’ve become older (and hopefully a little more wiser) I see criticism as a sign of success – especially when it relates to my blog: http://nomadicsamuel.com

  • Parselmouth

    How is it possible to keep on validating yourself and giving yourself approval when you try your very best and still manage to muck things up, forget things and generally get everything wrong? Even the most basic routines of life.

  • Bec

    Thank you so much for this article! I’m just starting on a journey to break down my need for approval and this really helped :)

  • Bec

    I would say don’t be so hard on yourself, re-evaluate who it is who is saying you get things wrong (is it you or someone else?) and remember you are only human. Speak to yourself like you would a best friend – you’d tell them that they’re doing ok wouldn’t you? So say that to yourself :)

  • Radiance

    This is where I am right now, and avoidance at all times high. Possibly writing here is a way of avoidance too. I am in uncharted territory in key aspects of my life. How do I know I am doing it right? It is so tough not to ask others what they think… although it just came to me that the ones I am asking have not done what I am trying to do either.
    But I still look like crazy to see if my idea A is the right one, versus B, C, D
    Or if my approach if idea A is the correct one leading me to success. If I came up with the idea, how can I also ask myself to validate it? I am afraid of exercising my choice.

    Maybe I need to keep ongoing until I decide if it is wrong? So confusing!

  • Jay

    What a Crouch of B.S.! Simple advice from someone who is probably a simpleton herself. It certainly isn’t anything original. No offense.

    My wife and I have both been working with therapists/coaches as our marriage dissolves (neither was particularly helpful.) We’ve been meeting with the therapists individually and together. In fact, she’s been working with 2 different therapists. One thing I’ve learned from the experience is that therapists are very subjective and lack the perceptive skills and insights necessary to truly understand their patients. (What is a coach anyway? A social worker? Someone who has 3 or more letters after his/her name because they completed a few classes?)

    They think they understand, but they really only see what’s on the surface and fail to recognize the underlying issues, like a personality disorder. One of these therapists encouraged her to find ‘her happy place,’ ‘to focus on her.’ What everyone is talking about including Ms. Crouch is empowerment and entitlement. The feeling that you are entitled to be happy and that everything you do is okay, if it makes you happy. Ultimately and simply put, it’s okay to be selfish even if it adversely impacts others. Sound bitter? Nope, Not bitter. Just disappointed with the lack of expertise and competence in the field. I have a great deal more respect for MD’s and I’ve even admonished a few MDs in front of entire staffs for being incompetent.

    Sorry to tell you the truth, but no one is entitled to anything. If you aren’t happy, then start exercising and work with someone, ideally a CBT therapist to develop behaviors that will help you. Because you are probably paralyzed by irrational thoughts, which are the result of negative experiences. If you examine how you feel about something, then write down what contributes toward you feeling that way, and finally examine each of those issues, you will probably find that your feelings are irrational. They aren’t based on your real experiences. Maybe 1 bad thing happened, but 5 good things happened, but your mind focuses on the one bad thing – and this is what paralyzes you. But if you examine the issue, you will likely find that the sum of your experiences doesn’t support your feelings.

    FYI – A close relative of mine is a clinical psychologist with Ph.D. and even he says he’d prefer to work with a priest vs. a psychologist. You might find that more useful too.

  • http://twitter.com/adityamenon90 aditya menon

    Thank you for the practical tips on how to get over what appears to be “exactly my condition” :)

  • chris

    I agree Sacha. Sometimes we have to wrestle! I know someone who performed his best in life after being told the truth about himself. In a way to prove something to every one, that anger that came from being told a truth motivated (or as you say “triggered”) him to make different and more constructive choices. I know many people like this, but I believe more than anything, people get angry because they haven’t accepted the reality of things or have made a decision that they swore never to do and, by being angered, go back to that decision and “destroy” it by actually doing what they didn’t want to do in the first place. What they don’t know or realize at the time is that they really prove to THEMSELVES that even if they’ve decided NOT to do something; usually powered by some kind of “fruit” of fear( resentment, bitterness, insecurity etc.)…that they indeed CAN do it and live to tell a story littered with wisdom. Ask me how I know! :-)

  • Samara Adhara

    I’ve been really busy with REAL LIFE so
    I’m sorry I haven’t been around for all you peoples.

    It’s not so much that we have to do
    things now but rather that we balance our decisions with attention to
    time and long-term strategy rather than just an overbearing deference
    to doing things now. We could try and play it cool when being busy
    is going down. New number message me.

  • mike

    anyone who found this article helpful or insightful should definetly read anthony de melo’s books or look him up on youtube

  • Martha

    I had to let go of my family in order to be happy. I could never please them and they would never treat me with respect. When I let them go, I found happiness and peace.