“I know it’s a mistake looking to someone else for a sense of myself. I really do. But what I don’t understand is why this need for approval runs so deep and so strong. I’ve heard lots of theories, but what I’d really like now is some insight into how I can keep from giving myself away?”
Before we can clear away the invisible obstacles blocking our path to self-possession, we must first understand their real nature. An honest admission of our present condition gives us an excellent place to start. We seek the approval of others because as long as we think someone else feels good about us, it allows us to feel that way about ourselves as well.
“Well, what could be wrong with that?”
It may help if we look at this confusing condition from a slightly different angle. Let’s see if the way in which we look at ourselves through the eyes of another still sounds as pleasing after we place our new perspective into the form of a probing question: What good is any feeling we may have about ourselves, if it only lasts as long as others agree to it?
“Yes, I see what you mean. There’s certainly a lot more to this issue of seeking approval than meets the eye. What else do I need to know to set myself free?”
Looking for ourselves in the eyes of others throws us behind the walls of a psychic prison. The door slams shut each time we find ourselves feeling good about ourselves simply because someone has given us a needed nod of approval. Let’s investigate this strange sequence of psychological events that leaves us in a prison of our own making.
Whenever someone approves of us, it gives us a feeling we like. These silent emotions tell us that we’re good, wanted, or in some way important. But the real pleasure in these sensations is that it secretly serves to strengthen the way we want to feel about ourselves, that we’re worth being cared about, and that our existence has meaning.
“But what’s wrong with those feelings?”
If these positive emotions were the true end of a happy story, there wouldn’t be a problem… but they’re never the end. At the same satisfying moment of our being unconsciously identified with this feeling of being approved, something else is happening to us deep within our own uninvestigated nature.
As our approval-provided feeling of self-worth starts to fade, which all such feelings do, we begin feeling as though we too are about to fade away! But, if we could only see behind these feelings of fading back into obscurity, what we’d see is that our feelings of self-worth aren’t really disappearing at all. They’re only going through a state of flux, a psychic transformation that turns these once-pleasing emotions into their own undesirable opposites.
Now, the same feelings that had confirmed us only moments before become a source of misgiving, internally questioning us as to our own importance. So we start to worry. Maybe we’re no longer needed? Maybe no one loves us? And as this vicious, invisible, psychological process moves towards its inevitable conclusion, we begin feeling a subtle form of fear, a distant dread.
We’ve all felt that unpleasant inner pressure of a brewing anxiety. It heralds the coming of insecurity and self-doubt, in much the same way as distant thunder warns of an approaching storm. And the stirring of this first dark wave within carries an unspoken message on its winds. It warns us of a serious loss of some kind if we don’t do something right away to shore ourselves up.
“How true! And so we go out looking for approval all over again! No wonder we never break free from this approval seeking business. But what can we do? Is there no way out?”
Yes, there is a way. You must act on our new knowledge.
“What do you mean? What should I do?”
Your new actions won’t be so much what you do as what you don’t do. Here’s the bottom line drawn out for you in three points, followed by an important summary which also includes a special instruction and encouragement.
Never again go looking to another human being for his or her approval.
Never again fawn over anyone to show that you’re on his or her side.
Never again exchange your smile in the hope that someone who is capable of betraying you, won’t.
Summary and Instruction: Face your fear of disappearing, without doing anything about it …. and something will disappear. But it won’t be you.
The only thing that will fade from view will be your own fear of fading. And, as it disappears, what appears in its place, right before your inner eyes, will be the you you’ve been looking for in all the wrong places!
This is the real beginning of having your own life, of being your own person. Only this time your sense of yourself is coming to you from reality itself. And this is the only approval you’ll ever need, the only one that never fades.
“There’s still one thing I’m not sure about. How can it be wrong to want or enjoy the approval and respect of my peers?”
Winning approval and respect from others and wanting it have very little in common. When we’re willing to go the extra mile – to be or to do what is true, especially if there’s a personal cost attached to it – others see our sacrifice and their approval is a spontaneous reaction to seeing excellence in action. Enjoyment of this kind of approval is both natural and non-binding.
But, if our initial wish is to attract attention or applause, then we’re doing what we’re doing for all the wrong reasons. Then we have neither good works, nor respect. Approval may be awarded, but never sought. The approval we seek makes us debtors of our own fearful feelings – and of whomever makes us temporarily forget these fears.
(Excerpted from “Freedom From the Ties That Bind” by Guy Finley)