How to Break the Addiction of Approval and Trust Yourself
In a recent article for Oprah.com, Liz Gilbert writes about her experience of getting “brutally honest” advice from someone who turned out to be injuring and unhelpful. She kept returning to this friend for five years until she made enough personal and professional progress to fire this “friend” and seek out others who were capable of delivering the truth in a more sensitive and compassionate way.
I’ve had the same experience a few times and it sucks. The pain of hearing mean feedback (disguised as honest feedback) was bad enough, but realizing that I could no longer have this person in my life as a trusted friend was even worse. So, I decided to dig in and see if I could uncover some deeper understanding. I discovered something surprising and unexpected.
Disapproval can be an addiction.
When someone disapproves of you, it can set into motion a dangerous reaction that causes you act like an addict – repeatedly going back to get a hit of something that’s not good for you.
Imagine you are in a relationship with someone – could be a partner, friend, coworker, doesn’t matter. Imagine that person is giving you positive attention for a while, you’re feeling pretty good, enjoying the relationship, and all seems well. Then one day, he casually mentions that he doesn’t like your outfit. Your body fills with pain, hurt, shame, fear of loss and whole bunch of other things. Being the resourceful and resilient person that you are, you decide to fix the situation by going shopping for a new outfit.
Let’s stop right here. Did your outfit really cause the problem? No. Will a new outfit solve the problem? No, but you really like the positive attention that you got from the person, you respect his opinion, and you want to feel the way that you felt before he disapproved of you.
So you put on the beautiful new outfit and head over to meet him. You are going back to get his approval. Regardless of whether he likes the outfit or not, you’ve just made your second mistake: Trying to get approval from the disapproving person in the hopes that it will make things better – forgetting that it is the person who caused the problem in the first place.
This is the classic smoker’s dilemma. You are living a happy healthy life. You take a hit of the cigarette. Your lungs fill with tar and smoke, it feels terrible, but the nicotine is pumping in your blood and your body says: Give me more! And you go back again a few minutes or hours later to satisfy the craving. You feel a temporary sense of relief but now you have to keep doing it over and over in order to feel some of the well-being you felt before you got on this merry-go-round. Each new outfit – I mean cigarette – seems like it’s going to fix the problem, but it doesn’t.
So, let’s say that the guy likes your outfit and you get his positive approval again. The stress, craving and pain go away….or so you think. You’re feeling pretty good, enjoying the relationship, and all seems well. Until one day, he says, “You should keep your voice down. You talk too loud.” And now you’ve been cast out of the ‘good feeling’ garden again and have to adapt to please him. You have to fix one thing after another, oscillating between stress/relief, stress/relief, until you’re so off balance that you don’t even know who you are anymore.
This is how we lose ourselves. One tiny step at a time.
Now, let’s imagine an alternative universe where you totally and completely love yourself. You love your outfits and your voice and you’re comfortable in your own skin. You’ve made peace with the tricksters of approval and disapproval – you know that you are the only one who can decide whether you feel good or bad. You know that happiness is an inside job.
Let’s say that you just built a new website and you are excited to show it to your friend who works in marketing. You’re hoping that she is going to celebrate with you and give you uplifting feedback. Instead, she tears it down and rips it apart. You feel the old familiar feelings of pain, hurt, shame, and fear start to rise to the surface, but then a little voice in your head says,
“Wait a minute. This is not the kind of feedback or type of communication that I want. This is unacceptable. I deserve better than this. I’m going to check-in with someone else who I trust, who genuinely wants to help me.”
Now you’ve kicked the habit! No longer are you stuck in the stress/relief, craving/satisfaction cycle that smokers, drinkers and other addicts must conquer. You’re free to be you, to express yourself, to feel good regardless of whether or not others approve of what you’re doing. This sounds simple but it’s not always easy. We are vulnerable human beings. We want to be loved. That’s why it’s so important to surround ourselves with kind, compassionate people who’ve got our back.
In the Women in Wellness Club, we support each other in this way. We tell each other the truth – but we hold each other like the precious objects that we are. We remind each other that we have the power within to build the life and business of our dreams. And you can do that, too. You don’t have to go shopping for a new outfit to fix the problem– you can just come and hang out with us instead.