Low self-esteem and neglectful experiences with your first caregivers may make you constantly need and seek approval as an adult.
If you have a hard time deciding on your own or feel unhappy when others disagree with you, you might be an approval seeker.
A need for approval now and then may be part of human relationships, but seeking others’ approval every step of the way may signal an emotional challenge.
By definition, approval means believing something is good enough or acceptable. When someone seeks approval, they’re asking for others to accept who they are or what they’ve done. Seeking approval from others often means you haven’t provided this to yourself.
Approval-seeking behaviors may have many causes, but here are the most common reasons we seek approval:
Some people may constantly need approval linked to a poor sense of self-worth.
“We use approval to bolster our value. That approval validates us,” says Timothy Jeider, a psychiatrist at Nevada Mental Health. “When our internal sense of worth fails, whether from not ever properly being built, mental illness sabotaging it, or just having a bad day of doubting ourselves, that’s when we turn to approval.”
Low self-esteem and self-worth may result from trauma, childhood abuse, insecure attachment styles, or other emotional challenges from adverse experiences.
Childhood plays a major role in whether we seek approval as an adult, says Jeider. “Successfully going through childhood development typically imparts a solidified sense of self-worth and value,” he explains.
When a child is repeatedly given approval, they build up their sense of value. They eventually become confident in their internal sense of validation: they don’t need outside approval because they can often validate and approve themselves.
Some children may face challenging experiences that may result in low self-esteem or insecurity. As adults, they might find it hard to validate themselves. Because of this, they might persistently seek approval and turn to people-pleasing behaviors.
“Repeated approval over reinforces and builds validation. Criticism undermines validation,” Jeidar adds.
Shana Feibel, a psychiatrist at The Lindner Center of Hope and the University of Cincinnati, agrees that childhood experiences may influence why we seek approval. She adds that bullying, and any abuse in childhood, can lead to approval-seeking behaviors in adults.
Growing up with a dismissive parent or experiencing emotional neglect may also lead someone to need approval from others.
Validation vs. approval
You might ask your friends whether your perception of a situation is accurate or whether you acted appropriately. These validation-seeking behaviors typically serve as a mirror to fine-tune your perception of a new situation.
Your happiness and sense of self don’t typically depend on how others answer. Your friends could point out a flaw in your thinking or behavior, and your self-esteem may still be intact. It’ll just provide information that you may use to build an opinion or stance on the event.
“Validation is a much healthier behavior than seeking approval,” Feibel says. “Someone seeking approval puts the power in other people’s hands. They allow other people to make them feel happy, sad, guilty, and so on.”
Approval-seeking behaviors may involve:
- finding it hard to make decisions, big or small, without getting others to weigh in on it
- feeling sad, happy, guilty, or anxious depending on whether others approve of you
- seeking excessive reassurance that you’ve done or are doing the right thing
- feeling unconfident about decisions you’ve made or are making
- rejecting opportunities and experiences you want because you worry whether others will approve
- feeling ashamed if someone questions or dislikes your work, actions, or decisions
People-pleasing vs. approval seeking
Approval-seeking and people-pleasing behaviors are similar because they both involve depending on others’ opinions to be happy. In excess, both may be unhealthy or signal emotional challenges.
People-pleasing isn’t always about getting approval, though. People-pleasing may involve wanting others to be happy or feeling responsible for other people’s needs, a sign of codependency.
Although approval-seeking may be a challenging habit to stop, both Feibel and Jeider say it is possible. These tips may help:
1. Cultivating awareness
“The first step is to try and develop an awareness of excess approval seeking,” says Jeider. Recognizing approval-seeking behaviors can help you understand them better.
You might want to learn to notice what activates your need for approval:
- When is it that you crave others’ approval most?
- Is it when you’re making major life decisions, like planning your finances or buying a house?
- Is it related to your appearance and clothing?
- Is it when you’re at work/school?
Noticing the root cause of approval-seeking might help you figure out what underlies this need.
2. Celebrating successes
“Celebrate your successes yourself,” Feibel suggests. “Do not feel that you need other people to celebrate your glories for you to do the same.”
Celebrating your success allows you to congratulate yourself instead of depending on the approval of others. For this, you may want to work on embracing who you are and cultivating self-compassion.
3. Enjoying solitude
Feibel also recommends spending time alone to improve your relationship with yourself.
“Spend some time alone so that you are not constantly with others. This will allow you to become more comfortable with yourself and understand what you can do without the approval from others,” Feibel says.
To learn to enjoy being on your own, you may consider:
- traveling on your own
- eating at a cafe alone while enjoying a good book
- taking on a solo hobby or activity
- spending time alone at home
4. Positive affirmations
Feibel recommends learning to use positive affirmations. These statements can help you challenge negative beliefs about yourself.
Instead of seeking affirmations from others, you can provide those to yourself.
Try saying these to yourself every day:
- I am worthy
- I have value
- I am capable of making good decisions
- I am loved and cared for
You can repeat these out loud like a mantra or write them out in a journal on a daily basis.
5. Seeking therapy
“Ask yourself, ‘Do I matter?’ If the answer isn’t yes, there is work to be done, and contacting a therapist can be a great place to start,” Jeider says.
Anybody can benefit from seeing a good therapist, whether or not they’re currently experiencing a crisis. All kinds of therapy can be used to explore and address self-worth challenges.
Adverse childhood experiences and having low self-esteem may influence why we seek approval.
If you have a fragile sense of self-worth, it can be hard to validate your own experiences, so you may need to seek approval from others.
Self-awareness, embracing who you are, and therapy may be great ways to work on self-perception and reduce approval-seeking behaviors.