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Releasing the Need for Approval and Making Peace with Yourself

At Peace

“Lean too much on other people’s approval and it becomes a bed of thorns.” ~Tehyi Hsieh

In the face of a conflict with another, the wisdom that most often brings me peace is the reminder that the only thing I can change is how I react. Whatever or whoever else is a part of the conflict, that is outside of my control.

While I certainly advocate using your excellent communication skills to work through problems with the ones you love, I am a firm believer in finding my own way to cope rather than being a victim of circumstances.

These are three powerful tools on the road to doing just that:

1. Realize that no one else is paying attention.

Back in high school, I faced the typical struggles of being a teenage girl who was well outside of the in crowd. It was no fun to feel like such an obvious misfit, and I remember more than once worrying about what my peers would think of something or other that I’d done.

It was then that my dad spoke one of the most liberating truths into my life, harsh as it may sound: “Who says they care enough about you to have an opinion in the first place?”

And what a revelation it was. Humans of all kinds (even, and perhaps especially, teenage girls!) are obsessed with themselves. Each of us lives in a universe that revolves around me; you, if anything, are a mere blip on the radar.

In my adult life, this same wisdom continues to guide me.

Too often, I find myself thinking that I’ll do something to “prove” something to a person I’ve been in conflict with.

I’ll think that by staying single and being obviously happy and fulfilled, those who’ve expressed sympathy or tried to set me up will realize that their efforts were unnecessary. I’ll be tempted to pursue a job or another degree because someone, somewhere will be impressed by it and maybe realize they underestimated me.

And then I hear my dad’s words again, and I remember that no one is paying that much attention.

No one but me cares that much about the direction my life takes, the principles I stand on, or the lines on my resume. Any fraction of this life lived for the approval of someone else is wasted; “they” will never notice, and I will be unfulfilled, waiting for something that will not happen.

The only one whose opinion matters is the only one I have to look at in the mirror at the end of the day. If she is not okay with who I am and what I’m doing, then I have failed.

2. Do what you can, and then let it go.

In the last year, I met the first person who was really difficult for me to be around in a long time; probably since those troublesome teenage days. We didn’t get along and so I avoided him. I was not unkind, but the feeling of dislike was unfamiliar, and not one I enjoyed.

One day, I got the idea in my head that I should “make peace.” At a gathering for a mutual friend, I said the things I felt needed to be said, in the best way I could say it, and was disappointed that the result was not what I had intended. We did not become friends, but rather he continued to treat me in a way that made me uncomfortable and left me feeling disrespected.

For a while after that interaction, I wondered if I should try the conversation again with a different approach, hoping for a different result. I think even then I knew I was barking up the wrong tree, but I suppose it’s  a part of human nature to want to be liked and understood.

I then remembered another valuable image that helped me make peace with the matter. Everything we see or experience is filtered through our own unique personality and worldview. How can we say for certain that a color we see or a flavor we taste is the same for anyone else on the planet?

The same was true for my conflict. No matter how many different ways I tried to send the same message, I could not control the way it would be received by this person. I had to trust that I’d done my part as best as I could, and if and when it was ready to be received it would be.

No one likes to be nagged. I’ve found wisdom only makes sense when you’re ready to receive it, and the pushier the message-bearer, the more resistant the recipient. Do your part, say your piece, and leave it alone.

3. Be kind to yourself.

In all of this, we walk away from the need for the approval of others, focusing on finding our wholeness in ourselves. But this journey will not be a peaceful one if we step from the disapproving voices that surround us to a similarly unkind voice that comes from within.

I’ve caught myself more than once berating myself for making a mistake. “You colossal screw-up! Way to go, moron!”

Imagining someone else speaking to me that way opened my eyes. If a friend or coworker talked to me the way I was talking to myself, I’d walk away. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I do not deserve to be treated that way.

So why would I treat myself that way?

There is a quote attributed to Plato, that I aspire to live by: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” If we are to give others the benefit of the doubt and treat them kindly regardless of their actions, should we not do the same to ourselves?

I challenge anyone reading this, myself included, to tread carefully the next time you make a mistake. If someone you loved had done the same thing, wouldn’t you respond gently? “That’s alright; you’ll try again another time. No worries.”

Let’s use that same voice the next time we talk to ourselves, whether we feel we deserve it or not.

Photo by echoroo

About KC McCormick

Karen McCormick Çiftçi writes and collects stories about intercultural marriage and relationships at borderlessstories.com.

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  • Out of all three, number one is something that hit me hard a while back. Holy —-, how do we NOT see this?! Everyone out there is the protagonist of their own story and I’m just a support character (if that.) Why am I worrying about the approval of others?

    That’s something I sometimes forget and I begin to worry, but once I remember, all is well.

    I hope your article inspires others because all three are amazing, KC. Thank you for the reminder. 🙂

  • friend forever

    Hey KC 🙂

    Point 3 was the one which rang the most with me. Forget about others, do I even remember to be kind to myself? Do I even think about stretching a helping hand to my wounded self? I just expect so much from myself! No wonder, real happiness is fleeting. I had a great conversation with my friend today where I let my guard down and she said ‘At the end of the day, with whom are u?’ It’s me! And so, it;s becomes my responsibility to take care of my own happiness and direct, with kind attention, my whole life. Thank u so much for an important reminder such as this. It helped me.

    Have a great day ahead! 😀

  • Very wise advice. The older I get the more I understand that in certain situations there is only so much I can do. And there are people who will remain very difficult and we have to let them be sometimes. Do what we can to make peace and if they don’t want it, that is their problem. And we cannot make it ours. And as you say so well, most people really don’t care. We think they do, but they are often focused on themselves.
    Though we must give back to the world in love and service we can never expect anything in return. It’s all a gift.

  • Wonderful post! Thank you.

  • Jade

    I think the first point is a very important one! I didn’t
    realize it until I was in my mid-twenties and taking a social psych course. It
    somehow occurred to me that we tend to attribute people’s behaviour and
    attitudes towards as something we personally created, whereas in reality it’s
    usually situational to the other person’s life. (i.e. my roommate isn’t being
    curt because I did something wrong, but because she had a bad day at work.) My
    motto after that was “we are smaller players in the universe than we assume to
    be”.

    I struggle on a daily basis with the idea that I don’t have
    to make everyone happy all the time, I’m an approval junkie. 😛

  • sikosonik

    Wow. You could have reached right inside my mind and pulled out this article. There is someone (perhaps many, many someones) out there who understands you. 🙂
    One of your lines reminded me of my favorite quote: “All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” E.A Poe
    Please keep writing…you have my approval! Ha Ha!!

  • Prabha

    I love the sentence: ‘Wisdom only makes sense when you are ready to receive it’.

    There is no point in wasting time and energy advising someone if they are not wiling to receive the advice.

  • graham gunn

    wonderful article thank you very much

  • I am hoping the same best effort from you in the future as well.

  • This is a awfully perceptive and original article.

  • Your content has created American state admit the points you’ve got got got created. I agree on several your info. Thank you.

  • Deb

    Very well said!

  • be kind yourself is the most important. i hope it will be acepted by almost people

  • Releasing the Need for Approval and Making Peace with Yourself, pretty impressive post. Hopefully what will be sharing more in the future.

  • I agree on several your info. Thank you.

  • One of your lines reminded me of my favorite quote: “All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” E.A Poe

  • One of your lines reminded me of my favorite quote: “All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.” E.A Poe
    Please keep writing…you have my approval!

  • I am definitely bookmarking this page and sharing it with my
    friends.

  • Anonymous

    This is why I avoid relationships.
    Who needs drama?

  • Catherine Todd

    Excellent article, except for the Plato quote. Plato didn’t say it. Check Wikipedia for the author (can’t remember it off-hand). And not everyone is “fighting a hard battle.” Some people ENJOY battling others – it makes their day! So I need a better reason than that to “be kind to everyone.”

  • Human@Play

    I accept your wonderful challenge 😀

  • Baiju

    I really loved the Article..thanks..We are all the same in so many ways..We have to always keep on track of the thoughts we generate..If we are in peace with our Own Self(“being: as Eckhart Tolle says) we would not need the approval of others to make us happy. Thoughts are not us and we only allow us to become us..We all are in a learning phase and thats what we need to keep on doing.

    Thanks for the wonderful post