“Confidence isn’t ‘they will like me.’ Confidence is ‘I’ll be fine if they don’t’.” ~Christina Grimmie
No one likes rejection. Some people have gotten comfortable with it, perhaps have even reframed it as something positive, but most of us prefer that other people approve of us and our choices.
It gives us a sense of security to know the people around us like us, understand us, support our decisions, and generally think we’re good people who deserve love, respect, and kindness. It makes us feel confident in our place within a social structure and assured that we won’t be alone when we need people the most.
But the need for approval—from all people, at all times—can be extremely painful and limiting. And it’s a fool’s errand to seek mass approval, since no one is liked by everyone, and no one can ensure everyone they know agrees with everything they do.
We’re all different; we all have different backgrounds, value systems, perspectives, wants, needs, priorities, and goals. And we’re all prone to opinions and judgments, try as we may to remain neutral and openminded.
If only knowing these things made is easy to just drop the approval-seeking habit! As a recovering people-pleaser, I know it’s not that easy. So today I’d like to share with you my top do’s and don’ts for letting go of the need for approval.
To all those sensitive souls out there, like me, who interpret approval as love and safety…
DO make an inventory of your approval-seeking behaviors.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
- You change or withhold your opinion based who’s around you.
- You do things that are against your values, beliefs, and better judgment because you don’t want to disappoint other people.
- You apologize frequently to ensure you haven’t upset people.
- You accept mistreatment or avoid speaking up when someone violates a boundary.
- You say yes when you want to say no.
- You reconsider decisions you previously felt good about if someone questions you or your plan.
- You feel worried if someone disagrees with you and feel like you need to defend yourself to make sure they don’t think less of you.
- You need other people to always see your side of a story and validate that you did nothing wrong.
- You take criticism personally, even when it’s constructive, and worry that the critic is judging you.
- You constantly defend yourself and explain your actions to others to ensure they understand you’re actually a good person.
DON’T try to tackle them all at once.
If you’re a hardcore people-pleaser, there’s a good chance a lot of that list resonated with you, and you might even be able to add to it.
It would be incredibly overwhelming to attempt to stop doing all of those things at once. Instead, pick one to work on today, and work on that daily until you feel comfortable moving onto another.
Here’s a good way to tackle each of these behaviors:
- Identify your triggers
- Identify the thoughts and emotions that usually drive your people-pleasing behavior
- Practice sitting with those thoughts and emotions and self-soothing
For example, I know I often feel triggered to defend myself when I think people are thinking less of me—without having all the facts—and it’s not fair. This triggers pain from childhood, when someone I knew would frequently lie about me to other people, who believed them and then judged me.
This happened recently when my sister, across the country, told my extended family I had a long list of rules for visiting them this year, but she didn’t tell the I was being extra cautious because I’m pregnant, and therefore high-risk (because I was still in the first trimester and didn’t yet feel comfortable sharing that information).
I panicked, thinking they were all judging me as unreasonable and pushy—without knowing the full story—and I eventually let my mother tell them all that I’m pregnant, by way of explanation. But I did it from a place of fear, not joy, which I seriously regretted later that night.
In retrospect, I wish I paused, recognized my “it’s not fair, they don’t know the truth” story/ trigger from childhood, and breathed through the fear of being judged. But oh well, life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice!
DO trust other people to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Previously, I spent a lot of time trying to anticipate people’s thoughts, feelings, and needs to avoid disappointing, annoying, or upsetting anyone.
For example, I might have rushed through a story because I worried the other person felt bored and wished I’d just stop talking. I might have apologized for sharing something from my past because I worried that maybe I’d gotten too personal and the other person might have felt uncomfortable. Or I might have said “never mind” after asking for something I wanted because I worried that the other person may have wanted to say no but didn’t know how.
That last one was really just projection. Because I hated saying no, and I often resented being put in a situation where I had to do it, I imagined other people felt the same.
But that’s the thing: We don’t know what other people feel, want, and need, and we can’t be expected to know unless they tell us. So we don’t have to imagine what’s going on inside their head. We can just own our part, the story or the request, and let them own theirs: their reaction.
We’re not responsible for anyone else’s feelings, we don’t have to anticipate them, and if they want us to do or stop doing something, it’s on them to communicate that.
DON’T believe small things will destroy your relationships.
When we stress over the potential to disappoint someone by saying no or setting a boundary, what we’re really doing is worrying that our relationships can’t handle a little conflict or dissonance.
If we trusted our relationships could weather minor upsets, we’d more comfortable speaking our minds. We’d also feel more comfortable if we truly internalized this anonymous quote:
“Any relationship you have that could get ruined by having a conversation about your feelings, standards, and/or expectations wasn’t really stable enough to begin with.”
In order to trust in these two things, we have to ask ourselves some pretty pointed questions:
- Why don’t you feel confident in your relationships?
- Are you choosing to be in relationships with people who aren’t good for you, and why?
- What past wounds are fueling your insecurities, and how can you work toward healing them?
- What do you get out of staying in relationships that leave you feeling insecure? What do you get to avoid?
- What would you need to do or stop doing to believe you’re worthy of strong relationships that can handle conflicts small and large?
DO practice rocking the boat.
The only way to overcome a fear is to face it, so practice facing your fear of upsetting people and potentially being rejected. Say no, set a boundary, speak your mind, starting in your safest-feeling relationship.
You could also try rocking the boat when the stakes are low. For example, if you get the wrong food at a restaurant, and you’d usually just say, “It’s okay, I like salad too,” speak up and ask for what you actually ordered.
Or, if you’d usually stay quiet in a zoom meeting because you’re afraid your ideas are stupid, try saying, “I have an idea, I haven’t fully fleshed it out yet, but…” The second part may give you permission to say something that may or may not be well-received, because hey, you told them! It’s just a seed of an idea!
And if you’re feeling really bold, practice noticing when you’re acting from a sense of fear—when you’re afraid of being rejected, or losing someone’s affection, or being ostracized from a group—and see that fear as a challenge to be honest. To feel the fear and do it anyway, knowing you are strong enough to handle the outcome.
DON’T be hard on yourself if this is hard for you.
It sounds simple enough—just rock the boat! But this will probably mean going against every instinct in your body, and doing something that triggers deep childhood wounds, leading you to feel incredibly vulnerable and unsafe. Just like you may have felt, as a kid, when you were rejected by your parents or peers for being different or imperfect.
If you struggle to respond to old triggers in new ways, or fall back into old patterns, approve of yourself anyways. Practice loving yourself even when you fall short of your own expectations.
The more we approve of ourselves, the less it will hurt when other people disapprove, because we’ll know that even if they disagree with our choices or opinions, we don’t deserve disapproval for who we are as people. The only way we’ll ever believe that is by going first—by approving ourselves unconditionally, even when it’s hard.
This is something I’ve always struggled with. I often conflate my opinions and choices with who I am as a person, which means that rejecting anything about me is rejecting all of me. Which brings me to my next suggestion…
DO change your perspective on rejection.
It’s easy to take rejection personally, like a statement about our worth—even if someone is rejecting an idea or opinion or even something as trivial as a joke. By not laughing. Or not laughing loud enough. (Was that a pity laugh? OMG, my joke was so dumb!)
Instead, practice seeing rejection, when it comes to ideas and opinions, as one of two things:
- Reinforcement that we’re all different, and that’s okay
- Reinforcement that it’s okay to be imperfect, and an opportunity to level up
Using a simple example: When I accept a post for the blog, I usually send edits and new title ideas. Occasionally authors reject my title ideas and I realize they were a little clunky, and then feel somewhat embarrassed for not offering a better idea.
I’ve tried to see this as a reminder that it’s okay if my first idea isn’t a winner because I can always try again and do better. It doesn’t matter if I do everything perfectly right away, it only matters that I stick with it long enough to bring out my best.
And now speaking to the kind of rejection that almost always feels personal—when someone doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you, for example—I love this powerful piece of advice from Tiny Buddha contributor Amanda Graham:
“When someone rejects you, for whatever reason, it’s because you two aren’t a good fit—they just saw it first. Eventually, you would have seen it as well.”
Not a good fit. Which means rejection doesn’t say anything about who you are. It says something about the two of you together. Neither one of you is wrong or unworthy or inadequate. You’re just not a good match for each other. But in order to fully believe this, you have to commit to the following…
DON’T believe that you deserve to be rejected.
This is really what it all comes down to, I think. We want to gain approval because we want to avoid reinforcing the deep-seated belief that we’re plain and simply not good enough. But many of us reinforce this belief through our choices, without conscious awareness.
We hold onto relationships that aren’t good for us, trying to prove ourselves to people who don’t deserve us, because deep down, we believe we don’t deserve to be treated better.
We stay in unfulfilling jobs, accepting less than we’re worth for our time and talents, because we don’t believe our time or talents are valuable.
In doing so, we get caught in a rejection loop—we put ourselves in a position to be rejected because we reject ourselves, and we see the rejection as proof we should reject ourselves. And through it all we keep seeking approval. From people who don’t value us, in situations that are beneath us.
So really, in a way, seeking approval is seeking rejection, since people-pleasers often gravitate toward people who don’t value them, because we’re adept at working hard for approval where we’re least likely to get it. Maybe because this feels familiar.
The only way to break the cycle is to decide we don’t deserve to be rejected, even if we were rejected in the past, and to reinforce this belief by practicing not rejecting ourselves.
That means not rejecting our needs—taking a break when we’re tired, feeling our feelings instead of stuffing them down, and doing whatever we need to do for our physical, mental, and emotional health, without waiting for anyone else’s permission.
This means not rejecting our values, beliefs, and priorities—doing what’s best for us, whether other people agree or do the same, knowing we don’t need someone else to validate our choices as “right” to know they’re right for us.
And it means not rejecting who we are at our core—reinforcing, through what we choose to accept, that we are worthy, valuable people. Even if we’re imperfect. Even if we sometimes upset other people. Even if we say or do things that we later regret. Because we are always learning and growing, and that’s not something to be ashamed of, it’s reason to be proud.
I wrote earlier that I am a recovering people-pleaser because I am not completely free of the approval-seeking habit. I don’t know if I will ever be, and I wonder if anyone ever is, since this is such an intrinsic part of human nature—and to some degree, it shows consideration and respect for others.
While people-pleasing often stems from trauma or rejection, it’s also a sign that we care about other people—their wants, needs, and feelings—and we’d rather see them happy than upset.
But I think it’s possible to feel anxious less often in relationships, to stop fearing potential rejection, and to become less controlled by the need to gain approval at all times. And that’s what I strive for: to please from a more emotionally healthy place, so I’m acting from love, not fear.
I hope this help you do the same so you can feel more confident in your relationships—and yourself.
**This is the second post in a five-part series on letting go, echoing the themes in my guided meditation/EFT tapping package ($99 value)—available as a FREE bonus with Tiny Buddha’s Mindfulness Kit until January. 31st, 2021. You can find the first post here.
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