Tiny Wisdom: Challenging the Need for Approval

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

“Oh no, I said something wrong.” If I had a top-10 list of defeatist thoughts that I’ve entertained most frequently over the course of my life, this would certainly make the cut.

I’ve thought this when I’ve met new people and wanted to make a good first impression.

I’ve thought this with men I’ve dated, when I felt insecure and neurotic about whether or not I seemed confident and charming enough.

I’ve thought this during job interviews; when networking with people in my field; and on various occasions when there’s been a spotlight on me, literally or metaphorically.

It’s a knee-jerk response when I fear I’ve somehow presented myself in a bad light—and that maybe as a result, I will lose approval.

In a perfect world, I want to always say the “right” thing at the right time. But when I dissect this instinct, I recognize that what I really want is to know people will never think bad things about me—that they’ll never question my intentions, or judge me by one comment or encounter.

I’ve realized, however, that this is a fool’s errand, because we simply do not have the power to shape how we’re perceived. More importantly, we’ll never know lasting happiness if it’s dependent on other people’s approval.

Even if we say all the “right” things, there will always be someone who doubts us, judges us, or interprets our words to mean something we did not intend.

I’ve often called myself a recovering people-pleaser, because I’ve made vast improvements in this regard, but I still feel that knee-jerk instinct at times—that fear that I won’t be liked or accepted. I’ve learned that this is okay.

Retaining our power isn’t about eliminating self-doubting, defeatist thoughts; it’s about learning to dispute them so that we can let them go and move on, feeling self-approved whether other people validate us or not.

We may never feel permanently confident. But we can learn what that place looks and feels like so we come back a little more quickly with every challenge we face.

Photo by KittyKaht

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • love this!  Now that I think about it I must have asked this question almost every day of my life – around 18,250 times!  Did I say something wrong/stupid/unkind/thoughtless etc etc.

    A few days ago I suddenly said to my partner – I feel my power is growing.
    No idea where this came from but of course he immediately challenged me – let’s see it then!
    It reminds me of a small child in the playground, backed into a corner, desperately saying ‘well you’d better watch out cos I’ve got a secret weapon and it’s really big and strong and you won’t know what’s hit you when I start to use it….’
    and the other kids taunt ‘ show us your secret weapon then – go on!’
    And the little one don’t know what to do next, feels silly, wishes for something magic to happen, for  a magic wand to appear in her hand so she could show them just once that she’s not really such a failure.

    But actually I do feel the wand is there and my hands are learning where to locate it, using it will take more practice and nothing as important as personal empowerment happens in a flash of light. But, yes it is happening, and your book and web site helps so much.
    Kate x

  • This is the story of my life. Thank you!

  • “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” ~ Bruce Lee

  • Elizabeth

    This is the story of my life as well. I’ve spend the majority of my life trying to get other people’s approval. In the last few years I’ve been learning to just be myself. Once I felt the peace and freedom this brought me, I realized how much stress I had been living under all these years. I still have the knee-jerk reactions as well, but now I can recognize how that feels in my body and start to let go so I can get back to the stress-free place.

  • Akilah Richards

    If they ever develop an app that allows us to beam a blog post into the sky for the rest of the world to see, I’d totally use it for this post! LOVE!! What an excellent reminder–thank you!

  • Whamo!  I feel like I’ve spent a life time acting like this isn’t me.  And for the most part it isn’t when it comes to all of the peripheral relationships.  BUT when it comes to my main relationship, it is me.  And these things keep getting put in front of me right now so that I can work through it.

    Mahalo for your posts.   All of them. 

  • erica

    too true. thank you Lori

  • AE Johnson

    thank you for this…but ohhhhh so hard to do! I fall into this trap so easily and let it consume me.

  • Anon

    “No More Mr.Nice Guy” by Dr. Robert Glover talks a lot on this issue, that how by seeking the approval of others, we end up letting ourselves down.

  • Z. Oviedo

    Great reminder! Thank you! 🙂

  • Christiane Mell

    Love, Love, Love!

  • You’re welcome!

  • Nice. =)

  • You’re most welcome. I spent some time on your site today. How cool that you live in Hawaii and get to help people while also working with animals. Sounds like a wonderful set up! I bet it’s all very rewarding and fun. =)

  • You’re welcome Erica!

  • I know what you mean AE. It’s always hard to apply knowledge than it is to acquire it!

  • Thanks for the suggestion. Sounds like a book I’d like to check out!

  • You’re most welcome. =)

  • You’re most welcome. That sounds like a very cool app! And how wonderful that you’d like to use it to share this post. =)

  • That’s great Elizabeth! It sounds like we have a lot in common. I think that just understanding ourselves/developing self-awareness can go a long way, even if we struggle from time to time.

  • I love that analogy of the wand and the idea of feeling your power growing. I know what you mean. I recently took an inventory of my growth over the past several years, and I thought something similar–that every day, I come into my own a little more. I know there’s always going to be room to grow, but I don’t give so much power away, and it’s amazing feeling to celebrate the tiny successes!

  • Lori,

    You are so not ALONE with these thoughts and there’s so many of us who carry the baggage of our past into the present and the future.

    The only person’s approval we should EVER need is our own – and when we are being our true self, it should not matter what anyone else thinks, but it (unfortunately) does. 

    While we cannot change the past, parents can do their children (our future) a great service by teaching them that self-acceptance is the key to the world, and expressing acceptance within the home.  I believe that the best gift we can give to a child is to help them to grow their self-esteem and self-love!

    When a child grows up with perfection, acceptance, criticism and conditional love as the norm, our inner critic becomes a self-defense mechanism to shield us from the inevitable rejection of the world, and a too-strong internal critic leads to ongoing self-doubt and suicides.  It’s not pretty!

    Great post – you are so much better than your inner critic tells you that you are.  Replace the inner (parent) critic with a loving accepting ideal mother/father (how you are/would be) and nurture yourself. Accepting ourselves is really the only thing that should ever matter and the rest of the world (pardon my French) be damned!

  • Thanks so much Carol! I love what you wrote about nurturing ourselves. I so agree with you about the gift we can give our children. I hope that when I have children some day, I can teach them to love, value, and accept themselves. I’m sure they’ll still have their own inner critics, but hopefully I can provide with them with the tools to be stronger than it. Thank you again. =)

  • “Even if we say all the “right” things, there will always be someone who
    doubts us, judges us, or interprets our words to mean something we did
    not intend.”

    This is something I’m coming to realise, but I’m finding difficult to accept. So, as a people-pleaser myself, it’s good to hear from someone who’s made it out the other side! 

  • I don’t know if there is a complete other side! I have certainly made vast improvements, but I still fight this sometimes. It’s actually provided me with a lot of peace to shift my mindset from “When will I stop caring about what other people think?” to “How can I do my best to focus less on that today?” So for me, it’s less about being on the other side, and more about doing my best, one day at a time!

  • “…a recovering people pleaser”. Me too but I haven’t had a phrase like that to describe it, so thanks, Lori!

    I suppose the analogy can keep going — like recovering addicts in 12-step programs, etc. we probably need to accept that being people pleasers is somehow in our nature and may always be part of us, but that doesn’t mean we need to always act on that urge. One thing we can do is focus on pleasing the #1 Person first — “ME” — and know that it’s ok to please others, IF it pleases our “me” and doesn’t detract from our own self-approval of “me”.

    As a recovering people pleaser who spent decades living my life so as not to displease or disappoint others, I can tell you this. I’m finding that a HUGE benefit of getting older (I’m in my 60s now) is a significant dropping away of the need to please. It’s kind of like “I just don’t care any more”, but not really, because I do care what others think, I’ve just finally arrived at a place where I can acknowedge that That’s Them, and I’m Me and we have different agendas and joys. I can now hear their upset or anger with me as a function of their own preferences and needs, rather than as a signal that I should change or do something differently.

  • Katy

    I’ve never read a blog post and felt that every single word was speaking directly to me. Thank you so much for putting into words the feelings that I’ve been battling for the past I don’t know how many years.

  • You’re most welcome Katy. I’m sending good thoughts your way. =)

  • Elina St-Onge

    Beautiful! Thank you 🙂

  • You’re most welcome! =)

  • get out of my life scumshit!

    What about a that needs a test person that tries to be you? Attacks and terrorizes you brutally to destroying your lifevas beastsvfor people that felt inferior to you? Some heir entire pathetic little lives. Try to lie, cheat, steal, destroy, everything about you. Where they use every form of weaponry in order to try to do it. Where their every form of weaponry keeps bouncing back at them and upon them. Where they start watching people close to them and themselves get murdered and commit suicide and or die due to their actions. These are pwoplenthatbdo know my power as a woman. Indie anger appropriately against these pathetic scum beasts. They all betrayed, they all lied, they all became the sum of their own fears. Each and everyone of them. They made their pathetic little excuses for themselves and what is defined as still inferiority complex by me. I am better, stronger, fiercer, keener, braver, more intelligent, am granted whatever I want as weaponry against them, people have been put constantly in my path to obliterate them out of my life as rejects in it, they caused me to hate them severely as beasts for people, where they know that they are losers for them, they know how pathetic they all are as beasts for people, they know how brittle they are as beasts for people against me, due to telling them the turth about themselves, they are dying for their actions of terrorism, look it, caused themselves severe illnesses due to their actions, while they already had severe mental illnesses, where their own weaponry used against me keeps attacking at them with more and more fiercerocity, where I kept telling them of what they caused, they are dying people. They caused me to be unkind to them and tell them the truth about a themselves. Nothing about me is stupid. Where they are very stupid people. Very desperate people. Very wrongful people. Very false people. Very thoughtless people. Very unstable people. My power is that strong vs all of their destruction. Where all of their destruction keeps bouncing back upon themselves. It ricketshays around them at times and at times it is a direct hit upon themselves. The more fierce they became the more they started to see each other fall. Where I did tell them specifically over and over again that they did have a larger microscope upon all of them. And they do. They wanted not be vicious people. They find themselves over and over again with their same vicious bouncing at them, boomeranging hate right back at them. Its a loop of self destruction upon them. They will discover what the encountered be as everything I have stated. Theybtry to bring everyone down into their pits of what they are. They are the beast within them.