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Handling the Need for Approval

Chapter 5: Handling the Need for Approval

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


How does the need for approval manifest itself?

People who have a need for approval:

  • Work hard at being good: (1) at their job, (2) in their home life, (3) with their spouse, (4) as a parent, and (5) as an adult child with their own parents
  • Wait for others' permission to give themselves recognition for what they do.
  • Depend on others to give them a sense of self-worth.
  • Are poor at solving problems.
  • Avoid conflict because of the fear that the other will not approve their point of view.
  • Work hard at keeping peace at any price in a relationship.
  • Are People Pleasers doing, acting, and being for others what they think the others want.
  • Have a problem in letting others know how they think or feel about things.
  • Have a tendency to be over responsible, taking on the responsibility of others (children, spouse, coworkers) in order to get things done.
  • Lack confidence in their skills, abilities, and knowledge. They tend to see themselves as incompetent.
  • Have a tendency to hide the truth when it is more convenient to tell a lie, especially when they think conflict will arise by telling the truth.
  • Do anything to avoid hurting the feelings of others, even if it means swallowing their own feelings or denying the reality of things.
  • Fear rejection, neglect, abandonment and disapproval so much that they give up their own wants, needs, and rights subjecting themselves to the wants, needs, and whims of others.
  • Have a keen sense of obligation and act on this sense in all aspects of their life.
  • Suffer from paralysis of analysis and fret so much over what the possible consequences of a decision will be that they never make a decision or take a stand.
  • Are convinced no matter what they do it isn't "good enough" to gain approval so they either work harder or give up.
Why does the need for approval exist?
People who have a need for approval have:
  • Low self-esteem due to: (1) lack of positive feedback as a child, (2) lack of sense of worth due to no reinforcement as a child, (3) sense of rejection and emotional abandonment as a child, (4) sense of neglect as a child.
  • Denied that there are any problems in their families of origin or in their current nuclear families, yet they cannot get enough affirmation of current self-worth.
  • Never become emotionally independent enough to positively affirm themselves.
  • Dependent personalities and a need for others' affirmation.
  • Been driven compulsively to seek approval from any source for any good they do as a learned role from their families of origin.
  • Felt they were misfits as children, different, not in the social swing of things.
  • Been peer group oriented as children and have become dependent on group norms to measure their worth.
  • Been stuck on fantasy role models of what it means to be a good adult, spouse, parent, or worker. These role models are often unrealistic, idealistic, and too perfect ever to be emulated. Such role models can come from TV, movies, books, or any fantasized real life situation.
  • A limited vision of what freedom to be who you are actually is. They are bound up in a list of musts and shoulds that restrictive and inhibiting supposedly lead to approval.

How do others respond to people who have a need for approval?

In response to those who have a need for approval, people:
  • Take advantage by implying that greater effort will be needed in order to gain such approval.
  • Feel uncomfortable with being so neededand flee the relationship.
  • Enjoy the position they have and become unreasonable in the exercise of power and control.
  • Ignore this need and never grant approval.
  • Respond in a guilt-ridden way for not giving enough positive strokes to improve the others' lives.
  • Respond in a nurturing way and rescue them so as to reduce their sense of frustration and stress.
  • Become overwhelmed by the obligation to always be there for them and suffer burnout in the relationship.
  • Become anxious about saying the wrong thing and become tongue-tied, frustrated, and find it easier to simply avoid the person.
  • Become convinced that no one could satisfy this deep need and stop trying.

What steps can be taken to reduce your need for approval?

In your journal do the following steps:


Step 1:  Identify and refute the irrational belief that the approval of others is necessary in order for you to feel good about yourself.


Step 2:  Identify your fear of: rejection, neglect, abandonment, disapproval, and look for the origins of these fears. Identify rational means to desensitize yourself to these fears.


Step 3:  Develop an inventory of the positive attributes you possess. Ask others to assist you in making the list all inclusive.


Step 4:  Develop a list of positive affirmation self talk scripts you can use to affirm yourself on a regular basis.


Step 5:  Reflect on your feelings about conflict events. Do not avoid conflict situations, but use positive assertiveness to maintain your position and protect your rights. Emphasize how you feel about the issue by using “I” statements.


Step 6:  Answer the question: What do I gain if I am agreeable and pleasing to everyone in my life and never take a stand on how I really feel about things?


Step 7:  Develop a list of issues important in your life, those you never let others know about for fear of their reaction to them. Develop a plan of action by which you systematically let others know your beliefs concerning these issues.


Step 8:  If you find you are still working out of a need for approval, return to Step 1 and begin again.