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Approval Seeking or Approval Sucking: Whose Opinion of You Matters Most?

“Most fears of rejection rest on the desire for approval from other people. Don’t base your self-esteem on their opinions.” – Harvey Mackay

Easier said than done at times, Harvey, since many are pre-disposed to linking their physical and psychological survival on the thumbs up from family, friends, co-workers and in some cases, strangers they pass on the street. Those with social anxiety often project what they believe people think about them, to the point of paranoia. In my practice, clients will reveal that they can’t possibly think well of themselves if everyone else doesn’t see them as they want to be viewed. The paradox is that even if everyone they encounter does offer approval, they may still deflect it, feeling unworthy.

One young man expressed that if he did think the best of himself, he runs the risk of becoming arrogant. He has not learned the difference between self worth and self absorption.

In a recent video, actress and producer Sandra Bullock confessed that she is sometimes bowled over by critical comments offered by those who have judgements about her. What assisted her in coming to terms with the unwarranted critique about her age and acting ability was the realization that she was indeed accomplished and had the opportunity to work with stellar talent and make a difference in the world.

When the desire for approval is linked to perfectionism, it is akin to scaling a mountain that rises ever higher without a plateau on which an intrepid climber can rest.

Social worker, researcher, author and speaker Brené Brown breaks it down simply, “The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting, but as hard as we try, we can’t turn off the tapes that fill our heads with messages like “Never good enough” and “What will people think?”

Recently a friend showed me a tiny tattoo that was scripted on the inside of her wrist with one powerful work: ENOUGH. As a result of childhood abuse and trauma, as well as her own mental health challenges and an eating disorder, she often felt like she could not do enough or be enough to compensate for the erroneous belief that she was damaged. As accomplished as she is, as successful as she is, as loving and compassionate as she is, she still doubts her value at times. Like many, she may tip into Imposter Syndrome.

Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, made popular the concept of “Imposter Phenomenon.” She’s said those who experience it, including herself, believe their success comes from “mysterious fluke or luck, or great effort,” not because of their skill level. They fear they can’t repeat their achievements. She created the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale  to determine its level of impact.

Take a few minutes to make a list of whose approval is important to you. Then ask yourself about the origin of that desire. What does it mean to be affirmed? What does it mean to be denied what might seem like nourishment? How can you offer yourself what you are desiring from others?

Learn to source approval from within rather than pursuing it from the people in your life. While drinking in praise from others is nourishing, relying on it as frequent sustenance may leave you hungry for more.

  • List your achievements. They can be small — such as learning to ride a bike or make your bed — or large — such as graduating college, sustaining healthy relationships or traveling overseas by yourself.
  • Consider the steps it took for you to achieve your successes.
  • Have a written or spoken conversation with those fearful voices that insist you will never have what you want. Say what you want to express, with courage and determination.
  • Imagine accomplishing your goals. Make it a full sensory experience. How does it look, feel, smell, taste, and hear to have what you want? Repeat until this visualization feels ingrained.
  • Take credit for your achievements. Thank people who compliment you, rather than instinctively deflecting.
  • Practice bragging. Acknowledge at least one talent a day. It could be as simple as saying, “I know how to cook a gourmet meal from scratch.” To make it even more powerful, say it in a mirror.
  • Exude confidence, even when you don’t feel it. Embody the feeling you want to have. My mother used to advise me to “Walk in like you own the joint” — with head held high, making eye contact, and offering a firm handshake.
  • Re-write your script. What have you been taught about success? How would you like to feel about it? If you were someone else, would you see yourself as a success?
  • When you receive constructive criticism, recognize it for what it is: redirection, not bashing. If the feedback is delivered harshly or with the intent to misuse power, see it as an opportunity to re-evaluate.
  • Create or join a support group in which you share your successes and challenges. Find accountability partners with whom you can check in regularly.
  • Claim and celebrate your successes. You have earned every one of them

I sometimes dance the fine line between approval seeking and approval sucking. The second is more insidious and seems like neediness. Not the finest feeling. It really does suck the energy out of us when we allow another’s opinion of us to supersede our own.

I recall two lines from one of my favorite cult classic movies called, “To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar,” that feel apropos here:

Vida Boheme: (played by Patrick Swayze) “Your approval is not needed.”
Noxeema Jackson: (played by Wesley Snipes) “Approval neither desired nor required.”

Approval Seeking or Approval Sucking: Whose Opinion of You Matters Most?

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Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2018). Approval Seeking or Approval Sucking: Whose Opinion of You Matters Most?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 26 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Jul 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.