I’m just like you. I love receiving a compliment. It just feels good. It makes me smile and puff out my chest a little. However, I must confess that I have taken these compliments and used them to piece together my identity.
The lack of compliments has caused me to avoid some behaviors, and the receiving of them has caused me to alter my behavior to try and receive more of them. Sadly, it’s not much different than training a puppy. We have all been socialized this way since we were children.
The problem arises when I NEED to keep hearing these compliments to feel good about myself or about decisions I make. It’s called approval seeking. I’ve been addicted to it for longer than I can remember.
Like a drug, it feels good. But the pursuit of it is both addictive and self destructive. In fact, approval seeking can be deadly. Let me explain.
I want to start with the end of this thought process in mind. I have come to realize that, instead of seeking the approval of others, it is far better to develop my inner confidence and put less stock in what others think of me than what I think of myself. Although I will refer to this as Confidence, I am still struggling to come up with exactly the right word, but some synonyms are: inner strength, fortitude, self-possession, resoluteness.
Two dynamics set us up for this typical scenario. First, we are our own worst critics. We all have an inner voice that is relentless all day, every day, and we have come to call this voice “me” or “I” when it is actually not. It is my mind. I will write more on this topic on a later post.
Second, we draw value from what others think about us because we are wired to be social creatures. In fact, everything we know, we learned from trusting those around us to have taught us the correct information. For example, I know I am a boy because my parents said “what a good boy” before I even knew what that was. My teachers taught me about the world and the list goes on to include everything I know and have later verified on my own, by multiple sources.
How Confidence Works
Let’s switch gears now to consider what is attractive and powerful enough to move people in social settings. What kinds of people are you attracted to? Think of role models who you have aspired to be like. What draws you to them?
They are usually leaders. They are people who, through experience and education, have planted their feet on the floor and developed this kind of confidence and self-possession. They have a higher respect for what they think of themselves, their values and beliefs than what others think of them.
This is an extremely attractive quality that naturally makes these people leaders among their peers. Think about it. How else can they stand up for a cause and influence others to join them unless they have this sense of confidence and have a greater stock in what they think than what others think of them.
This quality is also extremely beneficial in the world of dating and attraction. It is common knowledge in todays behavioral disciplines that the kind of confidence we are talking about is the number one quality that women look for when dating. The lack of it is actually repulsive, even if the guy is physically attractive.
How Approval Seeking Kills
Have you ever known anyone who has “daddy issues”? This is just a quick way to say that this person has been approval seeking behavior that stems back to their need for parental approval. It is so deep in us, going back to our own childhood development, that we can carry it into adulthood, and project that need onto people all around us: our spouse, our boss, or other important relationships.
This kind of deep-seated need for the approval from one whom we respect is natural but must be mastered in the process we call “growing up.” If we do not, we will screw up all kinds of relationships with it.
Imagine re-entering the dating world at any stage of life. Let’s say as a man, you are interested in talking to a woman whom you are attracted to. You approach her and strike up a conversation. (There is a lot involved in those last two sentences which I will cover at another time).
The fatal flaw is present in this scenario even before it begins if you have not built your inner confidence yet and are therefore seeking some sort of approval from this attractive woman. This can be a problem at every stage and comes out in all sorts of ways. If you are not confident in speaking with her, she will sense it and may not bother to go any further in the relationship. Goodbye. Ok, let’s say she gives you a shot and overlooks some less confident behaviors. She has her own needs here too, and you guys end up dating for a while, and maybe even get married. But if you have not addressed this root level issue of inner strength, the relationship is going to struggle because of the crack in it’s foundation.
Point blank, if you place another person on a pedestal, ie. higher up than you, such that you value what they think about you more than what you think and feel about yourself, you are doomed and so is the relationship. It will fall apart in all sorts of typical dysfunctions, the type that fill up soap operas, sitcoms and the local gossip. So my point- approval seeking kills relationships. I suppose it can actually kill people too, if it develops into addictions for medicating one’s pain. We know that addictions can actually end in complete self destruction.
You've heard the saying that nice guys finish last? Well the reason it’s true is because nice guys have placed others opinions of them higher than their own, and have bent over backwards to please someone. I know from experience. I am a recovering nice guy.
By the way, not only does this lack of self confidence sabotage your significant/intimate relationships but it poisons your professional relationships and really everyone around you. It’s a lot like that parent we’ve all seen in public who’s children are out of control and do not respect their mom or dad. Everyone can see it but you.
Time to Start
So how do we become aware of this and work to change it? I don’t want to mislead you and suggest that if you try a couple new hacks, you’ll have truck loads of confidence all of this sudden. There are no quick fixes. However, like training your muscles, there are exercises you can do to develop this important character trait.
In fact, I am almost finished writing a free resource for this very purpose entitled, Personal Training Guide for Relational Wealth, which contains 18 practical exercises for you to practice training your self awareness and relational muscles. All you have to do is start.
I have based the outline of this resource on the summary of ancient philosophy. As several scholars of antiquity have posed, “All of ancient philosophy can be summarized thusly: 1. Know thyself, and 2. Care for thyself.” I have centered on the idea that in order to really stand confidently on what you think and feel about yourself over and above what others think, you must do some inner work first. And since I continually come back to the importance of relationships in our lives, I have added to the two points above a third practical application of this material to relationships to help with...you guessed it…building relational wealth.
In the meantime, I want to raise our awareness of the importance of building inner confidence, and the dangers of seeking external approval. It's a killer.
Have you struggled with approval seeking in your life?
Has it affected your relationships?
Let’s work on building our inner confidence together!
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Joel is a husband, father, musician, and lover of life; especially life that is shared with the wealth of amazing friends and family he is blessed to have near.