Where do you seek approval?
Have you ever done something that made you feel proud of yourself? Has an accomplishment brought you immense joy? Did a completed project ever leave you awe-stuck by your own creativity? Have you achieved a long-time goal that revealed powerful self-confidence? Did the conclusion of a prolonged task reflect your unwavering dedication and passion?
Now, did you find yourself sharing the news of your achievement with others? Did you invite your friends, family and co-workers to share in your excitement and to celebrate with you?
There are many reasons we announce our achievements, big news and excitement to others - it is part of our culture to invite others of our tribe into our circle of joyous celebration. Not only is it uplifting to share in each other’s delight, but it also strengthens bonds of community and intimate connection. Think of how many times you've seen a Facebook status update from your old, college pal announcing their landing of a dream job, a high school friend realizing a life-long goal to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, or your distant cousin accepted into the medical program they worked so tirelessly to achieve. There is so much authentic love experienced when you can openly and honestly share in another person's triumph. They might even inspire you by their unyielding determination and hard work to attain their goals.
But what about when the celebratory feeling isn't mutual? What about when your efforts are rejected or dismissed? Or have you snorted at another person's accomplishment?
Can you think of a time you shared your joy with a loved one and their lack luster show of support disappointed you? Maybe their reaction wasn't enough - it wasn't what you expected from them. Or perhaps they dismissed you entirely. How did you feel when you did not receive the love, support or acknowledgement you expected or thought you deserved? Did you feel your spot light dim? Or your joy dull? Did you feel wounded, confused or resentful? You may have even tricked yourself into thinking your accomplishment wasn't that great in the first place - that YOU overreacted. Maybe you then beat yourself up for a false sense of pride. Perhaps you started to feel like you weren't even worthy of the accomplishment from the start.
What about on the other side - have you ever dismissed someone else's achievement or excitement? Did you feel they didn't deserve it? Maybe you were working hard toward a similar goal and you felt "beat"? Perhaps you disagreed with the person's choices and felt aggravated about their accomplishment.
Does any of this sound familiar?
It does to me. And I would like to think if we are all looking at ourselves honestly you might find some pangs of truth in these words and see yourself in my experiences.
For me, I've observed this seeking approval behavior in different aspects of my life. Often, when I express my delight from the completion of a recent project or goal, I am met with joy, praise and love. This undeniably feels warm and fuzzy. The support and confidence of my loved ones even intensifies my courage and determination to work hard. However, sometimes I receive rejection, dismissal or indifference, and I find myself wondering what I did wrong instead of reveling in the joy of my hard work. I think my earliest memories of this pattern are feeling the pressure of my family to be a straight A student. B's did not feel acceptable - at least from my adolescent perspective. This pattern runs deep and it is often fueling a blazing, passionate force within me to do my very best and then more. But I have had to do a tremendous amount of soul searching to shift the pattern back to serve myself rather than attempting to please others in order to receive their praise.
On the flip side, I am not innocent of withholding my support from others sharing their accomplishments with me. Maybe it was a silent eye roll as I scrolled through my Facebook feed to see old friends announcing the birth of their second baby. Or perhaps it was a more wounding interaction where I directly feigned excitement for a co-worker that received the promotion I felt worthy of. And I knew they weren't tricked. You can always feel when someone is inauthentic if you are listening openly; I am certain they felt my dishonesty.
So why does this happen? Why do we sometimes reject and sometimes feel rejected? Well, I am not a behavioral therapist, but I am a citizen of this world with a passion for inquiry and truth. Here is what I discovered within myself during a painful examination of rejection:
When you seek the approval of another, you can never be satiated. You will not feel complete or whole. If you seek outside of yourself for love, support or approval - you will be left thirsty and hungry on the barren days lacking outside praise.
When you share your exciting news with the expectation that others must respond in a way that you deem the appropriate response, or worse, a response that you subconsciously declare has the power to determine your self-worth, you set yourself up for a huge amount of disappointment and pain. This "approval seeking behavior" may not even be in your conscious awareness as you speak, work or live. It might be a deep pattern that hasn't been identified, but you might feel the pain of rejection and dismissal which causes confusion - because, "I didn't do that for them anyway!". Maybe you feel like a "people pleaser" and even your most personal goals and accomplishments are peppered with the hope of recognition and praise from outside of yourself.
Here is the good news: we have this amazing opportunity in our lives to choose differently, to move out of habitual action and thought, and to GROW. The convenient time to practice breaking this pattern is to watch it come up in yourself as judgment of others when they share exciting news. If you find yourself being cynical, jealous or dismissive - stop in your tracks. Look inside of yourself and see what is fueling that discomfort or hesitation in expressing delight in another's accomplishment. You do not have to agree with their choices, but realize that it not yours - it is about what is right for them, not you. Practice finding your freedom in expressing support for your loved ones, regardless of your personal opinion. When you practice expressing your support, you realize that your loved ones are not here to PLEASE YOU, their accomplishments are their own, and you can find freedom for yourself.
This exercise can be directly turned around and applied to yourself: People do not need to agree with your choice – your life is not theirs. Do what is right for you rather than trying to please others. Your accomplishments are your own.
Breaking any pattern requires practice, and I have found that asking myself, "why am I doing this?" before I set out on any adventure, project or goal helps to clarify my motives and intention. If I am working towards something to move forward on my personal journey, then why does it matter if others praise me along the way? Before you post your big news on Facebook, ask yourself if you are looking for others to approve of you. Of course it feels nice to be recognized for your efforts, and I am not suggesting saying, "Forget you all, I am doing my own thing," (but do that, too, if you have to!). What I am saying is, do not do something expecting your parents to finally approve of you or your teacher to applaud you or your boss to award you. Move with confidence and determination in the direction you want to go and approve, applaud and award yourself along the way.
You must look within for approval, support and praise. Ask yourself what you want, why you want it and go get it. And don't forget to celebrate like mad when you do.