I’ve noticed something about myself lately: I often want the people around me to approve of what I’m doing. I see this as being related to my highly sensitive and introverted nature, as well as my INFJ personality. From little decisions to big life changes, I have a strong need for everyone around me to be okay with whatever I’m choosing.
For example, the other night, I bought a wireless keyboard and mouse for my laptop. When I showed it to my boyfriend, he asked me why I bought it. Was it for the back and neck problems I’d been experiencing lately? Or was it because I wanted to get back into gaming? Instead of having a discussion about my motive for the purchase (which seemed to cast doubt on my decision), I basically just wanted him to clap me on the back and say, “Good move!” I wanted him to approve of my purchase. My purchase, with my money, for my life.
Of course, a mouse and keyboard are just a mouse and keyboard. But my need for approval extends to bigger things, too. For example, several years ago, I left an unhappy marriage. Even though it was ultimately the right choice, I worried excessively about what my conservative, religious family and friends would think. For this reason, I kept my marriage problems a secret for a while. However, as soon as others told me, “We support you,” a huge burden was lifted off me, and I felt like I could finally talk about what I was experiencing. Once again, I wanted other people to be okay with what I was doing.
The funny thing is I rationally understand that the decisions I want approval on are not anyone else’s to make. I don’t need anyone to tell me that buying something or leaving a marriage are okay. I’m not a child who needs an adult to sign a permission slip. So why, in my mid-30s, am I still looking for a metaphorical thumbs up?
Where Does the Need for Approval Come From?
Some psychologists say our need for approval begins in childhood. From a young age, we’re taught to seek approval from our parents for the things we say and do. When we win their approval, we feel safe and protected. Over time, we become conditioned to seek approval from others as well. Whenever we don’t receive approval, we lose those warm feelings of safety and security, which triggers us to win approval back.
I think the drive for approval can be especially strong in highly sensitive introverts, as well as in the INFJ and ISFJ personality types. Highly sensitive introverts, as well as the aforementioned personality types, tend to be very tuned in to people. They notice when others are cheerful, down, reluctant, or tired, because they pay a lot of attention to body language and tone of voice. This translates to them being ultra aware of when someone is disappointed in them, even if the other person is trying to mask it. In other words, when you’re very perceptive, it’s very easy to see when someone does — or doesn’t — like what you’re doing.
Also, relationships tend to be very important to INFJs and ISFJs. These types crave strong, close ties with others. Disapproval — especially from someone close to them — can threaten the relationship’s intimacy and harmony.
(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality test.)
Many, many people go through their lives desperately trying to win the approval of others. But this can be dangerous. Elliot D. Cohen, a life consultant and author of Logic-Based Therapy and Everyday Emotions, writes, “I have found that many people waste much of their life obsessively catering to others, doing things against their better judgment, jeopardizing the welfare of self, friends, family, and much more that they later come to regret.”
How to Overcome Approval-Needing Syndrome
According to Elliot, the need for approval does not die easily, but it can be overcome through practice and perseverance. He suggests that approval-seekers regularly remind themselves:
- “I am a worthy person whether or not I have the approval of others.”
- “I am a person who has free will and can determine the direction of my own actions without being driven by the demand for approval.”
- “I am a rational, self-determining person with inherent worth and dignity.”
Psychologist Sacha Crouch recommends another strategy: Keep a self-appreciation journal. Daily or weekly, write about the things you’re most proud of about yourself, such as choices you’ve made, insights you’ve gained, things you like about yourself, and times you’ve stayed true to yourself. Being mindful of your accomplishments can help you develop a stronger sense of self.
Finally, recognize that making decisions just to please others is basically selling your soul, bit by bit. “Anything we do solely to please others, in the absence of either real desire or moral necessity, is a way of selling ourselves, our lives, our energy,” writes Martha Beck, author of The Joy Diet. “Ask yourself whether the dose of approval you expect to gain from this behavior is worth losing a piece of the real you.”
Martha suggests clearly defining your moral code and sticking to it even when you think others won’t approve. For example, think of something you don’t want to do, like going to a party you know will keep you up well past your preferred bedtime. Then, pretend that your best friend, rather than you, is contemplating skipping the party. What would you tell your friend? If you would advise your friend that turning down the invite isn’t immoral, it’s probably okay for you to do the same thing. Usually we’re harder on ourselves than other people would be on us.
As for me, I’m going to keep working on making decisions without flagging down the nearest friend or family member for approval. I hope this article helped you in some way. If you’re a highly sensitive introvert, or an INFJ or ISFJ personality type, can you relate?
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