I’ll spare you the suspense: someone probably disapproves of you right now.
In fact, I guarantee someone disapproves of you right now.
It might be someone you know, or someone you don’t know. It might be someone who is actually important to you, or someone who isn’t. It might be someone whose opinion impacts your professional or personal life in an important way, or it might not be.
But there’s no escaping it: it’s a sure bet someone out there disapproves of you.
If you’re like most people— including me— that probably bugs you. It probably bugs you more than it “should,” objectively.
But this isn’t news.
We’re very often told that we “shouldn’t” get as upset as we do about other peoples’ negative opinions of and reactions to us.
In fact, it’s one of the most well-worn tropes of personal development literature that we place too much stock in other peoples’ opinions, and we’d be much happier if we gave up our desire and need to be liked by other people.
As if it were that simple.
Believe me, if there was a quick, reliable way for us to shed our addiction to other peoples’ approval, I’d be the first person out there embracing it (and marketing the hell out of it, for that matter). I’d like nothing more than for it to be easy and simple to leave our craving for other people to like us behind us.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with well-worn tropes of the personal development industry…it’s not that simple.
I do think our reliance on the approval of others is a form of addiction.
And, as any recovering addict will tell ya…there’s nothing “easy” about surrendering an addictive “fix” that has become central to someone’s existence.
Addictions are addictions precisely because they scratch an itch for us.
Addictions are addictions because they solve, or appear to solve, a problem for us, at least in the short term. (The fact that most addictive “solutions” to problems usually end up creating bigger and worse problems isn’t something that occurs to us in the moment we’re pursuing our fix.)
Addictions are addictions because they are self-perpetuating— that is, indulging in an addictive “fix” makes it more likely that we’ll return to that fix in the future.
And, perhaps most importantly…addictions are addictions because they reduce negative feelings. That is to say: if we give up our addiction, we are still saddled with the problem of how to cope with certain negative feelings. And as any addict will tell you, one of the reasons addicts tend to BECOME addicts in the first place is, we’re not great at handling negative feelings all the time.
All of which is to say: if you find giving up your reliance on, preoccupation with, or addiction to the approval of others, there’s no reason to be hard on yourself.
EVERYBODY finds it hard to wean themselves from the approval and acceptance of others to some extent.
Almost NOBODY finds it easy to just “stop caring what others think,” no matter what the self-help experts recommend.
Treat it like the addiction that it is, and acknowledge that you’re hooked. Acknowledge that giving up that addiction, much liking giving up any addiction, is going to require you to face some hard truths about your life, and it’s probably going to require you to endure some significant discomfort.
What role does seeking others’ approval play in your life?
If significant others disapproved of you…what would that mean for you? What would that feel like?
If you refused to scramble for the approval of others…what would be different in your life? How would you feel different? What kinds of new thoughts would go through your head?
What would the voices in your head from your PAST say?
What could you say back to them?
Something most addicts understand, at least intuitively, is that part of the reason we are addicts is because it truly seems like the “easy” route. If we just give in to our addiction to others’ approval, we don’t have to think about all that messy, unpleasant, anxiety-provoking questions I just asked.
It sometimes seems easier just to go on autopilot.
There’s no doubt that it SEEMS easier. And to people who have often not had an easy time of life…the easy path sometimes seems to make a lot of sense.
The good news, however…is that the more practice you get asking the hard questions, taking the tougher path, choosing to sit with the anxiety and endure the discomfort…the easier those things get.
You’ve survived tough times. You know how to make hard decisions.
Start asking questions of your addiction.
And watch how your addiction starts squirming.
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