Why do we seek other people’s approval? Why do we care what other people, especially, strangers think of our decisions or us?
It is only natural that we like to be agreed with or encouraged. University College London and Aarhus University in Denmark conducted a study and it explains this phenomenon from a biology perspective.
They found that “the area of our brains associated with reward is more active when others agree with, and reinforce, our own opinions.” ( O’Callaghan). Furthermore, by measuring the activity in the “reward centre”, it can be predicted which individuals are most likely to be influenced by others’ opinions.
Now, let’s try this again…in a human language.
As social beings, we cannot live without other people’s company. We seek the company of others for love, safety, and comfort. When someone agrees with our opinion or approves of our work, we feel a sense of peace. We feel that we are doing everything right and living the life that we should.
My own observation about this topic is – most people are afraid to stand out or do something different. It is commonly known as the herd instinct. We want to know that what we do is normal and within standards set by society. I think that is another reason for seeking the approval of others.
Common approval-seeking behaviour examples are listed below. Try to assess your own behaviour. Do any of these apply to you?
- You take disagreement personally. It makes you feel upset or even insulted.
- When you notice someone’s disapproval, you change your view or opinion.
- You can’t say “no” to someone.
- You never stand up for yourself. You let other people walk all over you like a doormat.
- You don’t complain or express your dissatisfaction when you don’t receive your desired goods or services.
- You apologise too much.
- You fish for compliments. Yes, it is a very obvious sign that you want others to approve of you.
- You cannot handle criticism.
- You behave in a way that goes against your own beliefs. It is often because other people influence you and you want to fit in and gain their approval.
If some or even the majority of these behaviors you can spot in yourself, you have to recognise that you live based on others’ opinions or ideas. Essentially, you are not living your but someone else’s life.
You are amazing no matter what you do and you should never let other people have such control over your life. Therefore, let’s look at what you can do to end this behavior once and for all.
What made me let go of my approval-seeking behaviour?
I used to be a big people pleaser. I lived most of my life to please my family, friends, even strangers and gain their approval. How did I get over it? There are 3 main factors that made me take charge of my life and not care at all about what other people thought.
1. Bad experiences in my love life taught me that no matter how much you give or try to please someone, people will often not appreciate it. Some of them will even cut you out of their lives or just do what they want without thinking of you. It’s in our nature to be self-centred. It was a harsh lesson, but it made me much stronger and ended my tendency to think about other people before I think of myself. Tip: just remember that no matter what you do, people think about themselves first. And none of your actions will change that.
2. This was the experience that changed me the most. I became a different person – myself. I moved to another country when I was 17 years old without my family or friends to study. It gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to discover myself, become more self-aware and make decisions without any outside influence. I became super self-sufficient and confident. The fact that I owned my life and no one told me how or what to do drastically increased my self-esteem. I finally lived my life, not the life of other people. I felt at peace and free. Tip: change your environment. Go on a solo trip or move away from home for a few months to avoid any external influences. Enjoy the freedom of making the decisions that YOU want.
3. I thought about the people who used to influence me and whose approval I sought. I realised that some of them were the type of people who talk but don’t act. These people often don’t have their own lives. They live unfulfilling and boring lives and they have all of the time in the world to tell others what to do and they are too lazy or unmotivated to do those things themselves. Some of these people (often the people closest to you) have built a vision in their heads of your perfect life. They think they know what is best for you, but they don’t recognise that the best for you is what you want. And when you don’t do something according to their plans, they disapprove. The moment I thought about that, my mind was saying: “I have completely no control over my life.” I am living someone else’s life.” That is not what I want.” In addition, the decisions you make, for instance, about your professional life, will have absolutely no impact on your family, friends or strangers. If your actions don’t negatively impact others’ lives, why should you care? Thus, I found the strength to finally be the boss of my life.
My final thoughts.
This is a habit that makes you live a completely different life. A life that you don’t want. The first step in your journey to let go of this behavior is to work on your self-esteem. There are different activity journals that can help you with this journey. Furthermore, it is never a bad idea to seek professional help. But never rely on other people to increase your self-esteem, because then they will have the power to lower it too.