Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

Avoiding Approval

I have realized that one of my biggest basic needs is approval. I do handstands, change my behavior, make myself into something I am not just to get approval. I subordinate myself, I try to please others, and I live with the anxiety that we will not get the approval that we want. I realize that this is something I learned early in my childhood; a defense mechanism that was finely honed to make sure that my parents liked my behavior. The consequences of the alternatives were not bearable.  It was much easier for a four year old to act like a tiny adult than to be disciplined.

I realized after the end of my last relationship that I spent the entire time totally focused on making her happy. I could never relax because I was so afraid that she would leave me. Sometimes we enter into relationships with the higher purpose of learning that we need to love ourselves more. The irony is that when I started to love myself more, I had the courage to end the relationship. My stress levels have dropped to almost nil, my blood pressure is back to below normal, and I am sleeping again. All of this because I stopped seeking approval of someone I chose to get approval from. When I stopped seeking approval, I realized that the relationship was very abusive and I needed to end it.

There are subtle ways that we seek approval and disempower ourselves and we don’t even realize it. One way is the word “just”. Do you ever say “I just wanted to follow up…” or “I just wanted to know how you are doing….” This is a clear signal of disempowerment, like a dog rolling on its back and offering its belly. Whenever we say “just” in this manner, we are acknowledging that we are not important and subservient to the person we offer it to. So we need to be careful not to use that word. Compare “I am just following up” to “I am following up.” Can you feel the difference in energy of those two statements?

Another word that we misuse is “sorry”. I was trained by my parents to apologize even when I had done nothing wrong. It was an acknowledgment that they were more powerful than me. Oftentimes we apologize in relationships in an attempt to manipulate the other person, or to acknowledge they hold all of the cards. So we say “I am sorry” even though we aren’t “sorry” in an attempt to placate the other person. One thing I noticed in my relationship is whenever she would bump into me walking down the street she would apologize. I could not understand what that was all about. It was like there was something wrong with touching me. So you have to be very careful about what you are really saying when you apologize. Of course we should apologize if we did something we regret, but not just to disempower ourselves in an attempt to gain approval. A wise man told me one time that the person with all of the power in a relationship is the one who doesn’t care. That was certainly true in my case.

The only one we need to seek approval from is ourselves. When I took an honest look at what I was doing, I realized that I had totally sacrificed my needs and wants and was not happy with myself for doing that. I had to get back to a place I approved of myself again, and that required letting go of the relationship. In the final analysis, if we don’t approve of us, we don’t have a hope of finding approval anywhere else. This includes not beating myself up for the experiences I came here to experience. Self-criticism seems to be a handmaiden with seeking approval. So I need to stop that.

All in all, I am not looking for approval anymore. The lessons on that became painful enough that I finally got it. I had to overcome years of training and failed relationships to appreciate that fact that only I need to approve of my life. And that is easy.