Why Do I Have Such a Strong Need for Others to Approve of What I’m Doing?

IntrovertDear.com INFJ highly sensitive introvert approval

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 introvert 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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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an INFJ Personality Type


  • Xavi says:

    Wow, is this ever timely! In the past week I’ve been doing a lot of inner work and this issue has come up loud and clear for me.
    This article makes so much sense. It’s all about self worth. Great article, great suggestions! Thank you.

  • JudeMariposa says:

    Approval used to mean something when I was younger, but I’m 63 now. I don’t really care if people approve of me or not. I’ve spent my share of time jumping through hoops for people and as long as my actions are ethical, what people think no longer concern me. It sorts of goes along with the famous INFJ “door slam” We accommodate people until we just cannot any longer and then it is “O-Ver”

  • Nancy Linklater says:

    I found this very interesting. As an INFJ, HS and Empath, I too need approval for much of what I do, however I am finding as I get older, it is less of an issue. But, I too may ask, the same questions the boyfriend asked. But only because I am sincerely interested. I like to know how others think and if I can figure out their thinking pattern, it gives me great insight into their personalities. Maybe I am just nosey? *S*

  • Bluebelle7 says:

    I still struggle with it, but have found that life did not end when I was rejected or when someone did not approve of me. The older you get the more you realize that letting the few minutes that someone else actually thinks about you dictate your life is a foolish waste of time. I’m ready to let go of anyone who does not have my best interests at heart or wants me to do everything they say.

  • M. says:

    INFP and HSP here. I relate to this article so very much! I strongly need support and approval of my choices from my parents (and brothers too, but mostly parents). In the end the choice is made by me, but it really helps a great deal that I have my parents approval. Guess I’m scared of disappointing them. They just mean so much too me.

  • Erin says:

    Can so relate. Also INFJ, and I also left an awful marriage this last year. The thing is, I had a bad feeling about it just before the wedding and wanted to cancel but pushed through in order not to upset anyone!! The relationship took me through darker places than I ever imagined existed, but I’m thankful for lessons it gave me: how it took me to the end of my flawed coping strategies and made me find a more authentic self, and how it made me grow up and choose what was intuitively healthy for me regardless of others’ opinions. Where I expected disapproval from others based on religious ideals, I instead found immense grace and support which also has gone a long way toward overcoming a need for approval – I know now that if I do what’s right for me anyone who loves me and matters in my life is ultimately going to be happy with my decision. Thanks for this article!

  • Mahtiel says:

    You should be careful with this, it does not have to be just a personality thing, but also a quietly lurking co-dependent disorder.

  • Bart Demczuk says:

    I can very much relate… Though through persistent journal writing and CBT techniques, I’m slowly building up my self-worth, which is so nice!