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Overcoming Approval Addiction: Stop Worrying About What People Think

“What you think of me is none of my business.” ~Wayne Dyer

Do you ever worry about what people think about you?

Have you ever felt rejected and gotten defensive if someone criticized something you did?

Are there times where you hold back on doing something you know would benefit yourself and even others because you’re scared about how some people may react?

If so, consider yourself normal. The desire for connection and to fit in is one of the six basic human needs according to the research of Tony Robbins and Cloe Madanes. Psychologically, to be rejected by “the tribe” represents a threat to your survival.

This begs the question: “If wanting people’s approval is natural and healthy, is it always a good thing?”

Imagine for a moment what life would be like if you didn’t care about other people’s opinions. Would you be self-centered and egotistical, or would you be set free to live a life fulfilling your true purpose without being held back by a fear of rejection?

For my entire life I’ve wrestled with caring about other people’s opinions.

I thought this made me selfless and considerate. While caring about the opinion of others helped me put myself into other people’s shoes, I discovered that my desire, or more specifically my attachment to wanting approval, had the potential to be one of my most selfish and destructive qualities.

Why Approval Addiction Makes Everyone Miserable

If wanting the approval of others is a natural desire, how can it be a problem? The problem is that, like any drug, the high you get from getting approval eventually wears off. If having the approval of others is the only way you know how to feel happy, then you’re going to be miserable until you get your next “fix.”

What this means is that simply wanting approval isn’t the problem. The real issue is being too attached to getting approval from others as the only way to feel fulfilled. To put it simply, addiction to approval puts your happiness under the control of others.

Because their happiness depends on others, approval addicts can be the most easily manipulated. I often see this with unhealthy or even abusive relationships. All an abuser has to do is threaten to make the approval addict feel rejected or like they’re being selfish, and they’ll stay under the abuser’s spell.

Approval addiction leads to a lack of boundaries and ultimately resentment. Many times I felt resentment toward others because they crossed my boundaries, and yet I would remain silent. I didn’t want to come across as rude for speaking up about how someone upset me.

The problem is this would lead to pent up resentment over time, because there’s a constant feeling that people should just “know better.” When I took an honest look at the situation, though, I had to consider whose fault it was if resentment built up because my boundaries were crossed.

Is it the fault of the person who unknowingly crossed those boundaries, or the person who failed to enforce boundaries out of fear of rejection?

Looking at my own life, I actually appreciate when someone I care about lets me know I’ve gone too far. It gives me a chance to make things right. If I don’t let others know how they’ve hurt me because of fear of rejection, aren’t I actually robbing them of the opportunity to seek my forgiveness and do better?

This leads me to my final point, approval addiction leads to being selfish. The deception is that the selfishness is often disguised and justified as selflessness.

As a writer, I’m exposed to critics. If I don’t overcome a desire for wanting approval from everyone, then their opinions can stop me from sharing something incredibly helpful with those who’d benefit from my work.

Approval addiction is a surefire way to rob the world of your gifts. How selfish is it to withhold what I have to offer to others all because I’m thinking too much about what some people may think of me?

As strange as it sounds, doing things for others can be selfish. On an airplane, they say to put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on a child. This is because if the adult passes out trying to help the child, both are in trouble.

In much the same way, approval addiction can lead a person to martyr themselves to the point that everyone involved suffers.

For instance, if a person spends so much time helping others that they neglect their own health, then in the long run, it may be everyone else who has to take care of them when they get sick, causing an unnecessary burden.

Selfless acts, done at the expense of one’s greater priorities, can be just as egotistical and destructive as selfish acts.

How to Overcome Approval Addiction

The first way to overcome approval addiction is to be gentle with yourself. Wanting to feel connected with others is normal. It’s only an issue when it’s imbalanced with other priorities like having boundaries.

What approval addicts are often missing is self-approval. We all have an inner critic that says things like, “You’re not good enough. You’re nothing compared to these people around you. If you give yourself approval, you’re being selfish.”

You can’t get rid of this voice. What you can do is choose whether or not to buy into it or something greater.

You also have a part of yourself that says, “You’re worthy. You’re good enough. You’re just as valuable as anyone else.” The question becomes: “Which voice do I choose to align to?”

This often means asking yourself questions like, “Can I give myself some approval right now? What is something I appreciate about myself?” The next step is to then be willing to actually allow yourself to receive that approval.

To break approval addiction, remember to treat yourself the way you want others to treat you.

In much the same way, you can overcome approval addiction by equally valuing other important things, such as your need for significance and control. While wanting to control things can be taken too far just like wanting approval, it is the Yang to approval-seeking’s Yin. Both are necessary for balance.

Questions that typically help me are: “Do I want other people’s opinions to have power over me? Would I rather let this person control me or maintain control over my own life?”

Finally, there is the ultimate key to overcoming approval addiction. It’s by using the greatest motivator— unconditional love.

Worrying about what other people think masquerades as love. In reality, when you really love someone, you’re willing to have their disapproval.

Imagine a parent with a child. If the parent is too concerned about the child’s opinion of them, they might not discipline their child for fear of the child disliking them.

Have you ever seen a parent who lets their child get away with anything because they don’t want to be the “bad guy?” Is this truly loving?

To break approval addiction, I realized I had to ask one of the most challenging questions anyone could ask themselves: Am I willing to love this person enough to have them hate me?

If you really care for someone, telling them, “You’re screwing up your life” and having them feel the pain of that statement might be the most loving thing you can do.

This comes with the very real possibility they will reject you for pointing out the truth. However, if you love someone, wouldn’t you rather have them go through a little short-term pain in order to save them a lot of pain down the road?

On the upside, many people will eventually come to appreciate you more in the long term if you’re willing to be honest with them and prioritize your love for them over your desire for their approval.

If you have to share a harsh truth, a mentor, Andy Benjamin, taught me that you can make this easier by first asking, “Can I be a true friend?” to let them know what you’re about to say is coming from a place of love.

I’ve found that everything, including the desire for approval, can serve or enslave you depending on how you respond to it.

Do you use your desire for approval as a force to help you see things from other people’s perspective, or do you use it as a crutch on which you base your happiness?

Do you use your desire for approval as a reminder to give yourself approval, or do you use it as an excuse to be miserable when others don’t give you approval?

Finally, are you willing show the ultimate demonstration of genuine love—sacrificing your desire for approval in order to serve another?

About Derek Doepker

Derek Doepker is the author of the #1 best-selling personal development book Why You’re Stuck and founder of the blog Excuse Proof Fitness. You can connect with him at facebook.com/derekdoepker

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  • Filitech

    Thanks for this Derek, I needed to read this today. Whilst reading this sentence today “treat yourself as you would like others to treat” something struck me. Although I have been reading countless articles with similar essence, it hit me today.

    “Why do I crucify myself and complain about a certain part of me, whether it is physical or mental? How do I respond when others treat me in this way? Do I get offended and angry? YES! So why do I do it to myself?”

    Seemingly so simple, but today it really hit me! Yes, indeed, why the h*ll do I allow myself to treat myself like that if I get furious when others treat me like a piece of sh*t? Do I get furious at myself? No, I don’t! Instead I reinforce these thoughts, worries, obsessions by worrying, obsessing more!

    The truth is so simple but can be so far away sometimes!

  • Hey Derek
    Loved, loved, loved this post so much. It touches on a topic that is near and dear to the hearts of many that are really trying to forge their own path.

    Like you said, it is a basic human need and understandable. But, like anything, we can take it too far in a direction that messes with us in countless ways. Having made some pretty bold changes in my life, and actually going after what I truly wanted, I came up against this issue big time at points.

    One of the things that helped me most was taking that time to really think about what I wanted and gain clarity about who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and have. This really makes it easier to act in spite of others questioning, judging and what have you, because you know you are doing what is right for you, and that part of you that doubts and is triggered by others shrinks. It may still pop up, but it is easier to power through and keep doing what you know you should be doing.

    When we find ourselves caring what someone thinks of us and our choices, I also find it helpful to question why we believe this person’s opinion matters or why we would value what they think over what we think about our own lives. This often helps quell the discomfort a bit.

    Great post!

  • Derek895

    I’m happy to hear it helped! I have to constantly remind myself of this. If I wouldn’t want someone else to talk to me a certain way, why would I talk to myself that way?

    Many times we can be our own worst enemy IF we’re not conscious in realizing we’re not our thoughts.

  • Derek895

    Such a great insight Kelli! You pointed out something really important, and that is getting clear on what you value. I believe rather than try to “eliminate” something like a desire for approval, we “cultivate” something greater than it.

    In this case, it’s cultivating an awareness and appreciation of what matters to you so that the desire for approval from others has less of an effect. While the desire for approval may still exist, you can confidently act in spite of it when you’re aligning yourself to something greater.

  • Nitebug

    In the past I have talked to myself the way other people have talked to me. Especially the negative. Now I have learned to love myself the way I am and tell myself so.

  • Talya Price

    Thank you for posting this. Again I have felt this way. I am working to be an actor and I am always trying to get the approval of casting directors, film, directors, producers, agent and the like. I have beaten myself up mentally because of it. And now I am broken because I feel that I am not good enough, like what happened to me the other day at the so-called “casting”.

    I am taking steps to love myself,and to stand up to what I believe in. I no longer will allow myself to be taken advantage of my some sleazy director, or anyone for that matter. I had to learn the hard way. But I still learned. Hopefully this will not ruin my life and my career, because that is all I have left.

  • Derek895

    Thank you for sharing openly and honestly Talya. You’ve already chosen to free yourself by the fact that you recognize this challenge and are taking steps to work on it. Like most things, it’s a life long journey.

    It’s important not to beat ourselves up over our desire to want approval because like I said, it’s natural. The key is to recognize it and gradually work towards cultivating greater self-empowerment.

    I’m still very much on this journey myself and struggle with it each day. What I’m grateful for is how far I’ve come over the years. I’m sure you’ll find the same as you keep taking these steps to love yourself.

  • Loz

    Love it. Don’t know what others will make of this but I have even begun to find some confrontations quite okay, if not very slightly enjoyable. I used to back down or avoid confrontation and try to please the other person, but now I am just fighting my ground. Not being horrible I don’t think, but I’m not being all cheery ‘don’t worry everything’s fine’ either. And it seems to come from my principles and beliefs about reality, it really isn’t just some ego-trip. So whatever people think of this (ha – guess I shouldn’t care based on your post!), I am even starting to find some confrontations quite tolerable, ok, even enjoyable in one sense of the word. Because I get a bit of adrenaline and I get a bit passionate, and I care about something for a few minutes. Maybe the old ‘me’ would have been scared by what I am doing now, they might not approve of it. It doesn’t involve being nice and smiley 24/7. But I tell you what…as a way of being, as a way of living, man, it’s powerful and strong. And I think that having been yin for so long, I can be yang for a little while. One day maybe I’ll have a tiny bit of yin in that yang, but for now I might play full-on yang for a bit. 😀 Just to practise the part of me that never got practised.

  • Jbean

    Thank you!

  • Shanker

    I appreciate your boldness in letting people know that you’ve taken advantage by sleazy Directors in the past. I salute you for it!
    As you have come to this much, I’m sure that you find not so difficult to say ‘No’ to anything/anyone you dislike!

  • Shanker

    Hi Derek,
    You have dealt with one of the crucial problems people face. We always want to be comfortable and approved. Though it might be considered normal, we need to choose, as you say ‘What is Right’ over ‘What’s scaring’!

  • Derek895

    Right on! I noticed this too as well. It can be exciting and energizing to be standing your ground. When it’s not done from a place from attacking or defending, but rather simply standing firm in what you believe in, it’s like you’re tapping into a power inside of you that can often get repressed when we’re too caught up in others’ opinions.

    Also, like many things, the more you do something, the more comfortable and even enjoyable it can become.

  • Meg

    I love that you wrote this. Far too many people are domesticated to put themselves aside for the sake of another’s view of them. This is a prevalent symptom of co-dependence. I see this a great deal with my clients. A great book to check out is Co-Dependent No More by Melody Beattie.

  • Derek895

    Thank you for the book recommendation!

  • Anon

    Thank you derek, the last question really made me think about my actions. I usually think Im a honest person… but lately I have found that Im not. As weird as it sounds.
    All my life I have been seeking approval from friends and sometimes my siblings, I tend to withhold my opinions towards them because I feel they will instantly reject me and get angry. I mean, it happens, nobody really likes to hear the truth, not even me… sometimes.
    But I guess trying to avoid your loved ones to feel pain can probably cause a lot more in the future. As you said, on the long run.
    It is hard to stop pretending but I guess I would not like somebody withholding me from the truth either (even if it hurts). I mean, because in the end, the truth always liberates you and helps you to change to a greater good. I really need understand that.
    Thank you for sharing this. It was really helpful.
    🙂
    One more thing… I wanted to ask you, I usually reject myself when other people do. Even if I don’t do anything bad. I don’t really understand why I do that to myself. Is it that I hate myself to gain others approval?
    Is it because I have to gain some self-confidence or Self-integrity?

  • Maryam Hosseinzade

    it was really something Derek!! i set up my first love relationship on this wrong way!!! But it’s good to know That i was wrong and try to make every thing right.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    People are entitled to their opinions. I feel it’s okay to be yourself, despite the objections. What others think of me is none of my business, so I could careless. I know who I am as a person, and approval isn’t needed.

    I remember getting smart with my former classmates back in high school. Image was EVERYTHING, according to some students’ so-called “standards.” My ex-best friend made a comment about my outfit, as well as my hair. I asked her what was her problem, and why does my appearance concern her. The girls’ locker room grew quiet. She suggested that I should do a different hairstyle, and to expand my wardrobe. I told her that she can take me on a shopping spree, and pay for the weekly beauty salon visits. She shakes her head, and explains that she couldn’t afford it. Some of my former classmates came to her defense. I was letting everyone know that their opinions were irrelevant, and it didn’t matter to me. I walked away from her, shrugging my shoulders, knowing that I stood up for myself. Friendships shouldn’t have to be based on appearance.

    Standing up for myself is an invigorating feeling. I don’t have to be a doormat to anyone, especially when they’re insecure. At least everyone know that I’m NOT the person to be messed with.

    Thank you, Derek, for writing an excellent article.

  • You’re absolutely right LaTrice, people are entitled to their opinions and we can take or leave what they say as simply feedback.

    This actually brings up the whole topic of offering our opinions to others. It can be helpful OR counter productive depending on context. While a person’s criticism could be part of their own insecurity, at times it could be their genuine desire to help. I have to remind myself not to judge them and see it as potentially their way of trying to offer valid assistance.

    The issue, as you may have felt in high school, was when that “feedback” wasn’t asked for or needed. This is why I’m a little put off when people come up to me and offer me advice I didn’t ask for. It would go much smoother if they would open the conversation with a question like, “Would you like me to share something with you that could be helpful (regarding XYZ)?”

    Then I have to remind myself of the importance of asking permission when I feel tempted to help someone by telling them what they could do different.

  • Mich Gali

    HI Derek. I have been trying to deal with this problem for about 9 months because that was when I started to realize this problem. I have days where I don’t care what others think and I feel great but sometimes I make myself feel like crap. It goes along with wanting approval and comparing myself to others. I know others have far worse problems than me but I can’t usually get my head around it on a consistent basis. U got any advice? It is so hard to battle this but i know my life will be great when I overcome it. That’s why I’m so motivated to keep pushing