Approval Seeking

A client of mine has just come off an approval rollercoaster. She had a reputation for being “kind and generous” and was known for going above and beyond for her customers. Truly a beautiful person who would put others needs before her own, every single time.

Kindness and generosity are qualities I would normally encourage, especially when the motivation to be kind and generous is constructive.Sadly in my client’s case, she was kind, generous and went above and beyond for her customers because she was UTTERLY TERRIFIED of disappointing those around her, based on a deep internal need to please others. She was giving away her time, her product, her ideas and slowly her spirit. She anxiously stayed awake at night ruminating over that aloof customer, that supplier who was always grumpy and direct and what she could do to change his behaviour, her anxious kids and in fear of the next Facebook customer review that was less than 5 star.

The end effect was she was in tears daily, her family were suffering and she had an empty bank account from all that giving. Once we identified that her issue was approval seeking, we shared a few targeted sessions where we coached her approach to clients and her own self-talk, and subsequently built a more constructive sustainable way of being, whilst keeping her ‘kindness’ intact.

This story is all too familiar.

I know because I’ve been there too. I regularly monitor myself for approval seeking behaviour as I’ve experienced it’s detrimental effects on my own life as most women, business owners and mothers do at some point.

So why is loosening the hold of approval seeking so important for women?

You will have more energy

According to the work of Human Synergistics through the Lifestyles Inventory, focusing solely on pleasing others can be exhausting and is a net energy drain. Shifting this into a more constructive approach where we are able to self-generate our capacity (rather than look to others to fill our self-esteem) is more sustainable.

Clarity, confidence and sense of self

When practicing the articulation of your opinions, values and strengths, you will get clearer about what you stand for and why. Your thinking will be more focused on the outcomes and less on the emotions of the moment, and on what you can build for YOU.

The more you are able to ‘back yourself’ and turn up the volume on that inner voice, the quicker your confidence builds. When we adopt other’s opinions and thoughts as our own as a way to feel accepted, we create a downward slope towards forgetting who we are, losing touch of our own needs and our dreams can slip away.

It’s worth mentioning too: lessening the impact of approval seeking in your life doesn’t mean you won’t be a kind, loving and generous human. In fact, you will probably feel more kind and loving with a sustainable source of energy at your fingertips. When we focus on generating validation within, it becomes a never-ending source of energy that we can tap into on our own terms.

Does approval seeking have the ability to hold you back too? If you answer ‘yes’ to 3 or more of the points below, it may be a reminder to curb the need for external validation:

  1. You tell yourself it is more important to please others than it is to please yourself
  2. You believe spoiling others is showering them with kindness
  3. You get a real kick out of being praised or told you are doing a great job – and you need it again soon after the compliment is delivered
  4. You strive to be liked by others, and it really upsets you if you feel like someone doesn’t like or accept you for who you are
  5. You always try to make a good impression on others
  6. You focus on what others might be thinking about you and you become anxious over their opinion
  7. You ‘go along to get along’ – you avoid rocking the boat and prefer to keep the peace to keep everyone happy
  8. You feel sick at the thought of disappointing others or not living up to someone’s expectations

Seeking approval can feel energising in the moment; but like a battery, it slowly and consistently drains us of energy. Eventually you’ll find yourself with little more to give, and you may grow resentful over anyone asking for anything – including your family and friends. When we seek validation from others, we can’t control how and when we receive this energy source. Approval seeking is like a drug, and a drug we have to rely on others to supply.

So how can you break the stronghold that putting your self-worth into someone else’s hands has on you? Here are 4 tips to keep approval seeking in check:

1. Set personal goals

Decide what YOU want to accomplish and design an action plan to achieve it.

Be mindful of the urge to seek other’s approval in this exercise (no checking in, running ideas past someone, wondering what they might think etc.).

A great way to do this is to segment goals into time frames:

  • What do you want to achieve in 3 months, 6 months, 12 months and 3 years time?
  • Why are these goals important to you?
  • Jot down three actions you can commit to that will contribute to achieving these goals and a date of intended completion for each action.
  • Set up realistic accountability measures. Do you need reminders in your phone for the action points? Do you need a trusted friend or coach to hold you to account?

2. Amplify and articulate your opinions and ideas

Consider whether you clear on your personal values and motivators in the scenario you are seeking approval in. Can you see ways your values and motivators are compromised when you seek others approval?

When you feel strongly about something and know WHY you feel strongly about it, articulating your opinions and ideas comes from an authentic and confident place.

There are many ways you can realise your values. You can use a coach to help you facilitate a values process, or self-direct a values exercise using the Values Exploration Kit by Dattner Grant:

With your personal values and motivators articulated, you may start to feel more confident to share your beliefs, opinions and ideas with others and lessen the need for others to fill that space for you.

3. Be mindful of approval seeking language

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is based around the idea that we become what we think, and therefore our potential is largely dictated by our mindset. You can begin to practice leaving approval seeking behind by being accountable for how you communicate with others and yourself. Do you find yourself saying:

“If it’s ok with you….?” or … “What do you think of…?” or… “I thought I’d run x,y,z by you before I did it…”

Before you end a sentence this way, take note. Ask yourself the following questions:

Why is it important to you that this person agrees with you or endorses your idea?

Why does their opinion matter?

What outcome are you seeking from gaining their acceptance?

Is it ok with you? What do you think of the idea?

4. Practice facing confrontations constructively

Although others might not agree with you, it’s always constructive to voice your opinion respectfully within an appropriate environment.

When you disagree, disagree constructively and positively: clearly explain why you don’t agree using clearly crafted key points rather than going along with the status quo to smooth things over or just saying no and retreating.

Focus on the outcome you want: every confrontation is usually two or more people with conflicting motivators and drivers. Are you clear about what you want out of the situation? If it is important to you, you don’t need to back down.

You won’t get it perfectly nailed straight away (the origins of approval seeking usually begin in childhood, so there may be many years of practised behaviour to override). But we can be aware of approval seeking when it happens, and change our own behaviour with small, actionable steps.

Be your own cheer squad.

Guest Blog By Ami Summers, Craft Coaching + Development. 

About Ami

Ami Summers

Ami Summers is the owner of Melbourne based Craft Coaching and Development. Ami has spent more than a decade as an accredited coach and leadership development consultant working with large corporates, government, small business, trauma victims and individuals.

Clients that have worked with Ami consistently say she is a compassionate, wise and deeply pragmatic coach with a gift for empowering the individual or business owner to see they have the resources to transform themselves and the world around them. She is accredited and experienced to deliver a number of diagnostic tools to help unlock an individual or teams capability and strengths, and approaches all clients from a strengths based perspective, focusing on what is right about you rather than what you have to fix. We will get results and clarity quickly, working together to achieve your goals.

Craft’s main focus is to deliver valuable results whilst bringing out the best in an individual or business. We do this by sharing creative leadership tools that are typically only available to large corporates. We offer individual and career coaching, leadership development consulting services, group mentoring and small business coaching.

You can connect with Ami on Facebook, Instagram and her website. For the month of September Ami is offering Mama Tribe members a 30 minute free coaching call and 10% off 3 or 6 month video coaching packages. You can check out the details and schedule a call from her


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