You know what I’m talking about. Remember that time your parents praised you for cleaning your room? Or when you told your friends something they’d never heard before? Or that post that got so many likes and shares you still have no idea what was so special about it?
Yeah, we all are familiar with that good feeling of others’ approval – because it’s part of our nature.
How It Works
It all comes from our brains (as so many other things we have no idea about, honestly, what the heck is going on inside our heads?).
You’ve probably heard about it already, but let me remind you – we have a whole system inside our brains that rewards us for actions it sees as “good” and punishes for “bad” behavior.
Heard about dopamine? Yup, that’s our bodies’ candy. And we get a lot of candies for being loved and appreciated.
And that’s understandable! We live in a society. Society is built on social connections. And even if you prefer solitude, you still need these connections. And what can be better than praise? Than feeling needed and accepted, be that in real life or through social media?
Not even gonna lie, I’m looking for approval while writing these lines. I wouldn’t write it if there was no hope in me that someone will read and agree, right?
How It Affects Us
So, we established that the need for approval is universal and perfectly natural for us.
It even helps us, especially when we are still kids: we avoid things that will upset our parents and struggle to be better to receive praise and a warm smile.
But the older we get, the more complicated things turn out to be. Parents put even more expectations on us, friends’ approval becomes more important, and now, with that thing called the internet, there’s also a whole world to please.
Of course, some people need approval more than others – say thank you to our brains again – and, sorry to admit, it looks like introverts get into this category more often. Who would’ve thought that anxiety can be linked to your sense of self-worth, huh?
We are so used to evaluating ourselves through the reactions of others that silence after a not-so-good joke or zero likes under a post can seem like a total disaster. As a result, we don’t forget that one unfortunate situation, no, no, we’ll dwell on it for days and nights, imagining that if our voice was lower, if the tags were more detailed, if we waited a couple more minutes, everything would be just perfect.
Who knows, maybe it would. But isn’t it better to spend your time thinking about something actually important? I know it might not be easy to focus on yourself instead of others, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Your mind will be grateful.
Sounds good enough? Great, then let me guide you through the first steps!
1) Determine Your Weak Spots
Remember that anxiety vs. self-worth I mentioned?
The need for approval comes from all kinds of insecurities we bear inside.
If you think you aren’t looking good enough, you’ll be craving for compliments and likes. If you doubt your intellectual abilities, every “wow, you’re smart” will be like honey to your ears. Are you afraid everyone thinks you’re too shy or boring? You’ll be looking for a way to entertain others, to show that you have something to offer.
We all have weaknesses that push us to search for validation from others because we can’t get it from ourselves.
So, as a first step, take your time and think it through. You probably already know the answer, just dig a little deeper.
Go through your insecurities, fears, dreams; analyze your social interactions; think about the last time you felt good – or bad – after a conversation.
Found it? Great, that will be our starting point.
2) Look at the People Around You
Try to understand which interactions make you more anxious, whose approval you’re looking for.
From my own experience, it’s usually people not so close to you or even strangers on the internet.
Your friends had already chosen you. You already have their approval.
Family is a bit different.
I already mentioned how the reactions of your parents (or any other close family members) encouraged you when you were a child – and how, with time, these relationships changed. And then everything became complicated. I mean, we’ve all been teenagers, right?
Ideally, your family should be the first people to support you – and if it’s true for you, then it’s great! You’re very lucky, let me tell you. But for the rest of us family’s acceptance may become an unattainable goal.
Ever had a feeling like whatever you do, it’ll never be enough? The amount of fears and doubts I had to go through thanks to this mindset, phew.
So, pay attention to the interactions within your family, you’ll most likely find something off there as well.
Now that you have your weak spots in one hand and people that poke at them in the other, you can see where to start.
First, determine which interactions you can change or reduce. Talk to the people you know, try to explain that some reactions or words hurt you. Besides, saying it out loud will help you accept it yourself.
If some things can’t be explained or some people are not as close to you, see if you can reduce the amount of time you spend with them. And yes, I’m talking about the internet.
Limit. Your. Social. Media.
Trust me, it helps a lot.
If any social media makes you feel bad about yourself, if you focus on your followers/friends/other users more than yourself, if you feel like you need to be fake to be “likable” – log out immediately. One day offline won’t change the way others see you, but it’ll help you with the way you see yourself.
4) Accept Yourself First
You saw that one coming, right?
We talked about the ways you can change things outside of yourself, but now let’s focus on the inside, because, well, that’s where everything is coming from.
You can’t change every interaction to make it easier. Sometimes we feel like we need approval from total strangers on the street, or professors in classes, or managers at work, or literally anyone.
But here’s a reminder for you, something I want you to remember: in every situation you are good enough. Not perfect – no one is perfect, no one expects you to be perfect – but enough.
We all want others’ approval – the difference is whether you can move on without it.
Accept that this joke wasn’t that funny, that selfie wasn’t that impressive, that tweet wasn’t that good – and keep going without looking back. You learn something new from every uncomfortable situation. Don’t try to come back to it and change – you can’t, so don’t dwell on it for too long.
5) Listen to Yourself
You can be your worst critic – but you can also be you’re your own biggest strength.
When you have your own approval and support, it’s more important than the rest of the world.
And nowadays it means more than ever. We all are locked up in our houses, waiting for things to get better, and seeking validation from outside is just pointless.
Use this time to work on yourself. Take a break from social interactions. If you live with someone, find a quiet place just for yourself. Clear your mind from other people and their views and look at yourself, your real self.
What you truly want?
What is important to you?
Maybe it’s self-improvement. Maybe you want to be smarter, funnier, know more about politics or baking, learn a foreign language or find a partner – and it’s great! We all want to be better versions of ourselves, don’t we?
But remember that these are your wishes. Don’t change yourself to look better in other people’s eyes. Don’t allow anyone to dictate you who you need to be.
You are you. That is enough.