seeking approval or avoiding disapproval?

I am who I am photo

Conflict used to be a terrifying topic for this reformed people-pleaser. For decades, I was driven by a strong need for approval and always thought that it was the right way, perhaps the only way, for me to be. After all, what’s there not to like about pleasing others?

It wasn’t until I spent several years exploring deeply within myself that I even learned what being a people-pleaser was or the implications of this pattern on myself and others.  I began to recognize that I had spent more of my life than not trying to be what others wanted me to be with no consciousness about it whatsoever.

People-pleasers oftentimes find themselves agreeing with others in order to avoid responses that they are afraid to hear or face. This may be isolated to personal life, professional life or co-mingled. If someone does something a people-pleaser doesn’t agree with, they might convince themselves that they feel fine about it. If someone asks for something, you better believe that they will get it, do it or get it done.  For some, saying yes is a habit and for others it almost becomes an addiction. They are typically oriented toward the direction that is not likely to rock the boat and feel uncomfortable speaking up or trying to change things that aren’t working for them.

For me, I often validated my people-pleasing behavior by believing I was being good or doing the right thing. It was a confusing concept for me to pick apart because “doing right” is so easy to defend. At the time, though, I didn’t see it as defense or justification-I truly believed it to be right. Some people would say, “She’s so nice, she always does the right thing.” Others would say, “You never have an opinion!” I would think to myself, “How can you argue with doing the right thing?” I felt like I had been so selfless and couldn’t comprehend why others would be upset.

As I became a leader and also began delving deeper into who I am, this began to shift for me—it was shifting partly out of necessity and partly out of waking up to new ways of being. In my role as ceo, I had to make hundreds of decisions every day but the shift certainly wasn’t comfortable. Not only did I surround myself with smart and talented people who complemented my gift and gap areas, I spent a great deal of time seeking professional mentorship and counsel. And it was liberating! Being a people pleaser brings with it a tremendous amount of pressure, self-doubt, and stress.

Beginning to shift this personality pattern is a healthy transformation which lifts a weight and increases self-worth. The first realization was that I can say no!  I began to realize that I can set limits for myself and my time. I can choose who I want to spend time with.  I can ask for what I want and others will not dislike me if they disagree with me. I can stick up for myself. I can disagree with others and they will still like me. I can align my time and my decisions with my values and priorities. And the realizations continued…

Deeper work helped me discover what fears instigated this pattern of pleasing others and helped me explore setting healthy boundaries. Perhaps most importantly, it helped me understand the source. Many people pleasers were raised in environments where their needs and feelings were pushed aside, not considered or even belittled (this may have been overt or subtle). Overt was the case for me. Being able to identify and understand the source allowed me to better understand myself and to better minimize the need please others. It allowed me to focus on me and what I needed.

Once we people-pleasers bring awareness of this behavior to light, we can begin to work on this in a very intentional way. I believe that, like many things, this may be part of a lifelong journey. In one sense we may feel healed and at other times this unwelcome friend may always hide out deep within our core and creep back in, likely in times of stress. The distinction from then to now is our awareness about it and if we choose to allow it to take over. We must not give other people power over us. We are stronger and more authentic if we find the strength to be who we were meant to be and to follow our passions, whatever they may be at the time.

I have now developed a deep sense of compassion for my former people-pleasing self. I get her. I also extend empathy and consideration to those who I recognize with this pattern. I believe there is a balance to be found…0ne of self-confidence, consideration of other’s opinions, assuredness, willingness to help; ability to express one’s needs, and commonality.

We all have an equal opportunity to influence this balance.

What is one small shift you can make to seek less approval or show compassion to someone who does?

Photo Credit: Old Navy

P.S. Who is going to buy me this shirt?

3 Comments on “seeking approval or avoiding disapproval?
  1. I think as human beings, we always look for approval. Some more than others. I was lucky enough to be brought up in a home where I was accepted just the way I was and we were allowed to have an opinion even if it wasn’t the “right” one. I vividly remember my parents saying “They don’t save coffee for me at their house.”, which to some may sound mean. To me, it was encouragement to live your life with your own approval as opposed to looking for approval somewhere else.

  2. One small shift I’ve made was learning nice ways to say no. “I would love to …. but I’m already committed to…..”
    “Thank you so much for asking me. I’m sorry that I can’t help you right now”
    I love not using the no word!

  3. Good blog post Erin.

    I can totally relate. As a young girl I was constantly seeking approval and wasnt in tune with my actions until later in life.

    Good tips you offer on becoming aware, becoming a leader, and finding a balance.

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