How to Stop Seeking Approval and Be Authentic

One summer, we went to visit a friend who had moved away. The weather was beautiful, so we planned to spend the day outside.

“Do you guys want to go to the pool?”

“Sure!” They were all in agreement.

“What about you?”

I don’t really kn — “

You’re not really going to tell them that are you?

Huh?

What will they think of you if they know you can’t swim?

I’m not sure.

And before I knew it..

“I..I’d love to go!”

One Hour Later.

I did my best to avoid the deep end. I played water basketball, read a book poolside, and talked to some locals. But while I was walking across the edge of the pool, a friend pushed me inside.

As a joke.

Three Seconds Later.

My legs struggle to find the pool floor and I gasp for air.

“Help!”

As my head tilts backward, I see bubbles rising to the surface.

Now my arms are flailing around.

Maybe you should have told them the truth.

Are you kidding me?

And then, I felt a hand pull me out of the pool.

“Thanks..”

I continued to cough up water.

“I, uh..I don’t know how to swim.”

My friend smiled.

“Yeah man. We kind of figured that out.”

Approval-seeking is costly. When we are afraid of what others think, we tend to hide things. We want to blend in, so we water down our character with tiny white lies.

But then we drown trying to keep up appearances.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we understand why we seek approval, we can learn to identify it.

We can do what we think is right.

We can live by what we believe.

Why did this happen?

1. Approval is about acceptance

Seeking approval is a deep need to have your beliefs, actions, and appearance accepted by others.

2. Acceptance feels good

It feels good to think that others approve of who I am. This search for approval shows up in two main forms.

I must get him / her / them to like me.

I must look this way.

It’s not wrong to want to people’s approval. But if we make their approval our main focus, it will become destructive

3. Seeking Approval makes us inauthentic

In my search for approval, I become inauthentic and lose my chance at genuine relationships.

I will hide parts of myself, lie about my thoughts, and change my actions so I can be accepted. But if I don’t say what I really think, you will never know who I am. I might forget too.

Now I feel lost.

Even when I finally get your approval, it isn’t really of me. You agree with me because I always agree with you.

If I’m always changing myself, I will never be truly accepted.

But not you.

You won’t wander off course while searching for approval.

You will live by what you believe.

How will we identify approval?

4. Approval-seeking sounds like..

If we pay attention, we can hear this search for approval in our thoughts. See if you can find the motivation behind the thoughts below.

“What will they think of me?”

I need them to like me.

“What if they don’t like this?”

I need them to like this.

“What if I sound stupid?”

I need them to think I’m smart.

“If I say that, it’ll be awkward..”

I don’t want to be embarrassed.

These thoughts share a pattern. They are deeply concerned with what others think about me. They sound afraid that someone might disapprove of me.

How to identify approval-seeking

5. Approval-seeking feels like..

When I focus on the thoughts above, I start to feel a certain way. Butterflies race around in my stomach. And the emotions follow. I’m nervous. I’m stressed out. I’m worried.

6. Approval-seeking acts like..

Now, I act. I do anything to get or keep your approval. I hide. I lie. I say things I don’t mean so we can agree. Or, I say nothing when I should speak up.

I make sure I look perfect so you’ll like it. I change my appearance, actions, or beliefs to match who I’m around.

I never say no.

What should we do?

7. Understand Approval

If we’re going to live by what we believe, we need to know the belief that drives our search for approval. It’s simple.

“I must have the approval of…”

We fill in the blank every day with friends, acquaintances, or strangers just passing by.

8. Remember the Approval You Have

To find out what you believe, you must answer one question:

Whose approval do I already have?

Which friend enjoys your company even when you disagree?

Who are the people that embrace your quirks and weirdness?

Who can you be yourself around?

Do you have someone in mind? Good.

When we remember the people that like us for who we are, we can stop seeking approval from everyone.

And that changes everything.

Here’s an example. When I’m about to change myself to gain approval, I think about the approval I already have: “I know God will accept me just as I am.” I don’t have to lie. I can tell people what I really think. I don’t have to hide who I am. I can stand up for what I believe. I find that even when my friends disagree, our friendship grows deeper.

I’m still a work in progress, though. :)

9. Be Yourself

When we find ourselves seeking approval, we’ll instead remember the approval we already have. We’ll think about people in our lives who like us for who we are.

Now we can give our honest opinion.

We can tell the truth.

We can stand up for what we believe.

We can be ourselves.

10. Authenticity is Attractive

When people know what you stand for, they will gravitate toward you. You will build trust with others because you say what you mean. And even people who disagree will respect your honest opinion.

You will have deep relationships and won’t need to hide who you are.

You will be authentic. And you will inspire others to follow your example.

Instead of searching for approval, you start to become a leader.

Just remember to..

  1. Look for approval-seeking in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. We use a method here to keep track of that.
  2. In these moments, remember the approval you already have.
  3. Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken. ;)

Catch yourself seeking approval this week? Send your thoughts to thoughts@getroadmap.co We’d love to hear from you.

Join us next time as we tackle another toxic thought pattern, comparing ourselves with others.