Breaking the Addiction to Approval

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Someone recently asked me, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned this year? I realized mine was how often I sought approval from others. I have been learning to pay close attention to what I feel and what I want and then choose accordingly; something I teach is at the heart of personal responsibility and authenticity. It’s easier said than done.

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

One recent catch phrase I hold in my mind that really helps me is, “If it’s not a “hell yeah” it’s a “NO”. To listen to myself and act from what I know, requires courage especially when my inclinations defy conventional thinking and “common sense” as prescribed by many. This notion of following our own internal GPS is simple in theory but frightening in reality. We were taught our entire lives to do the opposite; to fear our own feelings and impulses; to do what we’re told; to trust others to know best; to follow the rules for what we can and cannot do, and who we can and cannot be. 

What makes this conditioning so powerful is that we’ve internalized so many expressions of it. Also, it’s so seductive and heady because we love the boost we get when we receive love, approval and acceptance from others for doing what they want. The praise and outpouring of love, while conditional, is easy to get addicted to, even when intermittent. We come to crave love, acceptance and approval like a street drug.

One of my greatest challenges has been to be myself rather than be someone I think others want to know and accept. When I remember this, I am free and filled with wellbeing. When I forget, I become discouraged and lost; I suffer. This is why a reminder to me of what I’m here to support is my own mission statement: To create a world in which all people love their lives. Today, we are called to be ourselves and follow our internal guidance systems to an unprecedented degree. We have come here with a mission and are needed in finding and living it.

I recently watched the movie “On the Basis of Sex” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, including her groundbreaking body of work and her incredible personal life. As a woman born in the 60s, I appreciated the specifics about the plight of women in America, then and now. And yet for me, there was striking and equally meaningful wisdom and modeling in this movie that deeply moved, inspired and healed me. They include that:

  • Ruth and her husband Marty chose a healthy, mutually respectful and supportive love that remained consistent and strong despite its unconventionality and challenges
  • When triangulation occurred in the family, gaps in relationship were bridged rather than exploited, love was increased and everyone was valued and recognized as good
  • Ruth respectfully defied what was approved of and accepted by others to be herself: a reserved, highly intelligent and task-oriented woman who pursued her calling despite being rejected regularly for her purpose, values and vision. She was not living to win a popularity contest. Rather, she was deeply determined to live her calling and make her contributions, despite barriers of many kinds
  • The recognition and encouragement of the unique gifts, strengths and callings within one another by each

Authentic people living authentic lives are the change agents needed at this specific time in our evolvement. Consider breaking your addiction to love, approval and acceptance from others so you can get busy listening to your calling and living your own right choices, in service to yourself and to the greater good. You are needed. Release the shackles. I pray every day that my need for such love, approval and acceptance is released. If you decide to do the same, let me know if I can help. It would be my honor to support you in loving YOUR life!

This article was published nationally in the column Emotional Intelligence in The Women’s Journal, July/Aug 2019

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