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Dr. David Fawcett

Many addicts manifest what mental health professionals call approval-seeking behavior. This typically is rooted in a lack of self-esteem and can be exacerbated by many factors, including one’s inherent personality and external influences such as upbringing, culture, education, and even experiences in the workplace. People who exhibit approval-seeking behavior are often self-critical and lack belief in themselves and their abilities. This thinking can seem so natural that it becomes the default setting for those individuals.

Here are some examples of approval-seeking behavior:

  • Taking Disagreement Personally: When someone disagrees with something you’ve said or done, do you take it personally and become insulted? If so, your self-esteem (and your effort to win approval) is lost simply because someone has expressed a contrary opinion.
  • Changing Your Point of View in the Face of Disapproval: When you voice your opinion about some issue (whether important or not) and someone disagrees with you, how do you respond? Do you defend your position, or do you find yourself softening your beliefs and starting to conform your opinions to fit more closely with those of the other person? People who manifest approval-seeking behavior often change their opinions depending on who they’re talking to because they lack confidence in themselves. They fear their beliefs are wrong, and they don’t want to alienate others with a conflicting view.
  • Afraid to Say “No” for Fear of Disapproval: Do you say yes when you are asked to do something, even when you want to say no? This can result in becoming worn out, anxious, and even depressed, and can cause you to feel resentments toward the tasks and people involved with that commitment.
  • Appearing to Agree with Someone Even When You Don’t: Do you sometimes appear to agree with someone, through either verbal or nonverbal expression, even when you don’t actually agree? In most cases, this is an automatic response that derives from a lack of self-worth and self-confidence.
  • Pretending to Know or Understand Something: Sometimes it appears that everyone else at a gathering is familiar with a concept or idea that may seem unfamiliar to you. This may cause you to question your knowledge about the topic or to fear that you lack a particular skill. If so, you may tend to fake it rather than ask for clarification.

What can you do if you recognize yourself in some of these patterns? Recovery begins by dropping your need for validation.

Here are some useful steps:

  • Analyze Where Your Need for Approval Started: Approval-seeking behaviors are almost always rooted in early life. Our experience as children in our families of origin and around other early caretakers shapes our self-image and therefore the ways in which we seek approval and validation. Perhaps you were introverted as a child and had difficulty making friends and became fearful of rejection as a result. Perhaps your parents were perfectionistic in their expectations and nothing you did was good enough. In such cases, you would naturally turn your focus toward pleasing others at all costs while disregarding your own inner feelings.
  • Believe in Your Right to Stand Up for Yourself: An essential starting point for avoiding approval-seeking behavior is to understand that you are entitled to your own beliefs, thoughts, and opinions. It is perfectly acceptable to have a different point of view. It doesn’t mean that either you or the other person is right or wrong. Building a tolerance for conflict is useful in standing by your beliefs and opinions and expressing yourself appropriately. It reflects respect not only for yourself but for the opinions of those around you.
  • Learn to Accept Rejection and Criticism: Inevitably, there will be an occasion when you fail to live up to someone’s expectations. Maybe a boss will reject something you prepared or maybe you will fail to meet a deadline. In such cases, disapproval and criticism can form the basis of a learning experience and, ironically, create a corrective experience. It’s useful to step out of your comfort zone and take in the criticism, examining where it is and is not valid.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, help is available. Seeking Integrity offers inpatient treatment for sex, porn, and substance/sex addicts, as well as low-cost online workgroups. At the same time, offers a variety of free webinars and drop-in discussion groupspodcasts, and more.