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S2 EP215 – Healing the Need for Others’ Approval

Episode Summary

Are you approval addicted? Are you often anxious about what others think of you? Are your good feelings dependent upon how others feel about you? Are you giving yourself the love and approval you need, or are you pulling on others for approval? 


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding Podcast. Today I’m speaking about the issue of needing and seeking approval and how to heal this addiction.

Many years ago, I became aware of feeling anxious much of the time. Since this feeling had been with me as long as I could remember, it had seemed normal – until it stopped being okay with me. It stopped being okay when I went back to school to become a psychotherapist. I realized then, normal or not, I didn’t want to continue to live my life with this anxiety.

However, I had felt this way for so long that I had no idea why I was anxious. So every time I was aware of the anxiety – which happened most often when I was around people – I started to notice my thoughts and actions.

The first thing I noticed was how much I was judging myself around others. I was constantly putting pressure on myself to say the right thing and do the right thing. I realized that I believed if I said and did the right things – if I looked right and performed right – I could have control over getting others’ approval.

I soon realized that I was totally addicted to getting approval. But why? Why did I constantly seek approval? What was going on here?

As I became more and more aware of how often and how harshly I judged myself, I finally made the connection: disapproving of myself led to needing others’ approval. As long as I was treating myself so badly – not only by judging myself, but also by giving myself up to please others, and by not attending to my own feelings and needs – I desperately needed others’ approval to feel that I was okay.

This was a HUGE awareness for me! I realized that I wasn’t approval dependent because there was something flawed and defective about me, but because I was treating myself so abusively, as if I had no worth without others’ approval! This was something I could do something about! I finally realized that while I could not control how others felt about me and treated me – even if I was ‘perfect’ – I could control how I felt about myself and treated myself. 

For a solid year, I noticed my self-judgments – without judging myself for judging myself!

I just noticed, with interest and curiosity. I also noticed how anxious judging myself made me feel. I finally came to the conclusion that if I did everything ‘right’ to impress people, maybe half the people would like me, and half wouldn’t. And if I did nothing to impress them and was just myself, maybe half the people would like me, and half wouldn’t. So why bother working so hard to gain their approval?

Each time I noticed, I would ‘change channels’, which meant changing my intent and shifting my thinking into something that seemed truer and more positive. After about a year, something very magical happened – I stopped judging myself! It was as if the part of me who was doing the judging – my ego wounded self – just gave up this addiction. It was clear that it wasn’t working to control how others felt about me, nor was it protecting me from painful feelings. In fact, it was causing much of my pain.

Not only did I stop judging myself, but I also stopped needing others’ approval. Because I had learned to see and value myself instead of judging myself, the actual need for others’ approval went away. In fact, I even stopped noticing whether or not others were approving of me! I stopped even thinking about it!  And, of course, all the anxiety that I had carried for so long about whether others liked me melted away. What a relief!

As I learned to stop judging myself and give myself the love and approval my inner child needed from me, I became aware that I had had an empty hole in me that was now filled up. Then I became aware of the energy of others’ empty holes, and that those empty holes were a pull on my energy, pulling on me for approval. I realized that before I learned to stop judging myself and fill myself with love, my empty hole had pulled on others.

An empty hole within a person automatically pulls on others for the love and approval they are not giving to themselves. This is a form of unconscious control, and since people don’t like to be controlled, they often unconsciously pulled away. This, of course, was the opposite of getting the approval that I had wanted.

A friend of mine asked me the following question: “How would you describe ‘pulling’ to someone who is just learning about Inner Bonding? I know when I feel pulled at, and I know when I’m pulling, but I don’t know what to say about it.”

“Pulling” is not easy to describe because it has more to do with energy than with words or behavior. The same words or behavior that can be experienced by others as pulling, can also be experienced as caring – depending upon the intent.

As I said, you are automatically pulling on others for love, attention, approval, and validation when you are not giving these to yourself. When you are abandoning yourself by making others responsible for your feelings, or by ignoring yourself, judging yourself, or acting out addictively, your inner child feels alone and empty inside. This emptiness is like a black hole that is desperate for love to fill it. Because you are not bringing love to yourself, you become an abandoned child, desperately needy for love and approval. Your emptiness is like a vacuum – an energy vampire – sucking energy from anyone whom you think has some love, attention, and approval to give to you. 

Sometimes pulling is masked under the guise of being nice.

For example, let’s say that your friend Kathy says to you, “How is your day going?” If Kathy is connected to spirit and to her own feelings, she is coming from a full place within. Her question is coming from genuine caring, and you can feel the energy of caring, of giving. It feels good to you to share your day with Kathy.

But what if Kathy has been ignoring and judging herself? What if she has been acting out addictively to avoid her feelings? What if, as a result, Kathy feels alone and empty inside? Then her question may have a totally different intent and a totally different energy. She may hope that by asking you about your day you will let her in on you, so she can feel special to you. She might hope that you will not know she is trying to invade you with the question. She may hope that you will give her the time and attention that she is not giving to herself, and that maybe you will fill the empty place within her. When this is the case, you will feel “pulled at.” You will feel like Kathy is trying to take something from you rather than give something to you. It might be confusing to you because she is asking an ostensibly caring question, yet you do not feel cared about. Interestingly, it may also be confusing to Kathy because it may all be unconscious on her part.

The pull is in the energy, not in the words.

You will likely find that you don’t want to share your day with Kathy. You may feel a sense of resistance, of invasion, and you just want to get away. Or, if you are a caretaker, you may feel obligated to tell Kathy about your day, obligated to fill her black hole. You might feel that it is your responsibility to give Kathy what she wants so that she won’t feel hurt. But at the end of the conversation, you feel drained.

Anytime we are judging ourselves, ignoring our own feelings, acting out addictively, allowing our wounded self to be in charge with its lies about us and others, or making others responsible for our feelings, we are automatically pulling on others. The child within – our feeling self – needs time, love, attention, approval, and validation. Our inner child needs to be seen and heard, and when we are not seeing and hearing ourselves, we will try in various ways to get others to see and hear us.

In this example, it is likely that Kathy has no idea what she is doing. When we are not seeing and hearing our feelings and taking loving action on our own behalf, the black hole of our inner abandonment will be a pull on others for what we are not giving to ourselves. No matter how nice we act with others, they will feel pulled at. They may give us what we want, or they may withdraw and resist, but in neither case will the relationship be a healthy one.

It’s very important, if we want to have loving, healthy relationships, to be aware of when we are pulling for approval, and when we feel pulled at. Becoming aware of this, without judgment, can open the door to much healing.

After healing my own need for approval, and I started to work with my clients about their need for approval, many recognized that they were also judging themselves. As you can see from the following comments from members of Inner Bonding Village about self-judgment and the need for approval, it is fairly universal that many of us grew up feeling anxious, judging ourselves, and seeking approval. We grew up confusing approval with love.

Janie said: “I’ve discovered that I am judging myself for seeking approval. So on top of the being cruel with other judgments, I’m judging the wounded part of me for seeking approval. I truly appreciate you giving me the time frame of 1 year, not rushing or pushing, but allowing myself to feel. I know that my running from the feelings I’m causing leaves me just as stuck and a little deeper in the mud. Embracing my feelings with love and compassion is starting to heal my anxiety.”

Maggie said, “One of the things I’ve noticed along with judging myself is my tendency to disguise that judgment as a worry. In other words, I worry that someone or something outside myself will inflict pain or misfortune on me, but really, that’s a convoluted way of telling myself that I deserve pain and misfortune for not doing things ‘perfectly’.”

Jason said: “One of my addictions is being a people pleaser. I am more aware of it now, and it makes sense that I have to stop judging myself to stop being a people-pleaser.”

Miranda said: “As a child I grew up very anxious and having knots in my stomach every time I started a new school or moved to a new neighborhood or interacted with people in some way. I always felt anxious, and I just thought it was a part of my character. I didn’t know it was because I was judging myself, especially around men. I sought the approval of men that I was interested in dating more so than the approval of anyone else, other than my mother. I am so grateful for Inner Bonding, because everything that I have had questions about concerning my anxiety and approval addiction are all coming together like pieces of a puzzle.”

Rachelle said: “I once had a therapist tell me that if there were a hundred people in a room and everyone approved of me except one, I would probably dwell on that one person and ignore the other 99. It was then that I was made aware of my need for approval from others at home, in my social life, and at work. I could literally make myself sick worrying over what other people were thinking about me. I also have suffered from anxiety over this for years, but since Inner Bonding I can notice my anxiety without judgment and understand the underpinnings of it. It has helped me a great deal and I am much less in need of the approval of others.”

Laurie said: I’d been confusing approval with love. When someone was approving of me, I connected it with loving me. So to be loved I would try to do anything to get approval. I would try to please others and as a result I abandoned myself. When I didn’t get approval, I would start to judge myself. I believed that something must be wrong with me when others didn’t communicate approval to me. It meant they don’t love me. And I needed their love. So to get love, I would abandon myself rather than risk not getting approval. But now I know that I don’t have control if someone loves me or approves of me, or not. Now I can love and approve of myself. Now, as an adult, I need to be the loving parents to myself that I needed growing up.”

Elizabeth said: “As I work on my stuff, I’ve been finding that approval seeking and taking things personally go hand-in-hand. Whether someone approves of me or disapproves of me, it isn’t really about me. It’s about the lens through which the other person is seeing me, and the wounded self can distort things rather magnificently.”

Yes, the wounded self can distort things rather magnificently. When your wounded self is in charge, you might hear yourself saying things like:

“At work, every time I have to speak at meetings, I get so stressed.”

Or “I’m taking a class and I’m always afraid to raise my hand and ask a question.”

Or “I’m fine one to one, but as soon as I get into a group, I’m so tense I can hardly stand it.”

Or “I’m totally relaxed with my friends, but as soon as I’m on a date with a person I like, I can’t be myself.”

Each of these people is anxious and stressed because they want to get approval and avoid disapproval. What are they telling themselves that is causing their anxiety?

If you are anxious about speaking in front of others, your wounded self might be saying, “Oh God, I better not forget what I want to say and make a fool of myself.”

If you are afraid to ask a question when taking a class, your wounded self might be saying, “The teacher might think the question I want to ask is a dumb one.”

If you are tense in a group, your wounded self might be saying, “If I say the wrong thing, no one will like me.”

If you are on a date, your wounded self might be saying, “I better not say something completely stupid.”

Each of these people is telling themselves things that are causing anxiety, and underneath these self-judgmental statements is a deeper belief:

“If I say or do something wrong or stupid, they won’t like me, and that means I am not okay.” 

When you were growing up, how often did you hear, “What will they think?”

Who are “they?” Unfortunately, “they” are everyone. Many of our parents and caregivers were approval addicted and geared their behavior to try to have control over getting approval from others and avoiding disapproval.

This was the role modeling for many of us. Our worth was determined by what “they” would think. Most of us did not see our parents or other role models defining their own worth and validating themselves.

What about now? Is your sense of worth determined by what others think of you, or have you learned how to define your own worth? Do you get your sense of inner fullness from others’ attention and approval – which you might be confusing with love, or do you know how to fill yourself with love?

Being approval addicted is a hard and tiring way to live. Being dependent upon others attention and approval for your sense of safety, security, worth, and lovability means that you have to constantly work to look right and perform right. You can never let up, because even if you get the approval that you are seeking from a person, he or she can always take it away. Or maybe they are not available and then you have to try to get it from someone else, anyone else.

We all need love. We do not thrive without it, and many do not survive without it. However, problems occur when, as adults, we are dependent on others as our primary source of approval and attention, and we think we can have control over getting love.

As long as you are making others responsible for defining your worth and making you feel safe and lovable, you will likely continue to feel alone and empty inside.

There really is another way to live!

What if you were to decide to give yourself the love and approval that you keep seeking from others? What if you were to decide to stop focusing externally, and instead start to focus internally?

The need for approval, and the fear of disapproval, comes, not only from self-judgment, but from the false belief that others are responsible for defining your worth.

If they like you, you are okay, and if they don’t like you, you are not okay. 

If you are a person who seeks others’ approval, then you have made others responsible for your sense of worth, and a major reason you feel unworthy is your self-judgments.

Imagine that you have a child, and instead of loving this child, you keep judging the child and then giving the child away to others to define. You keep saying to this child, “You better do it right because if they don’t like you, then you are not okay.” The result would be that the child would feel very insecure and unlovable because you keep telling the child that he or she isn’t okay and giving him or her away to others for approval.

When you make others responsible for your sense of worth, you are doing the same thing on the inner level – giving away your own inner child. Instead of defining your own worth, you are judging yourself and then making others responsible for you being okay.

This is a very hard way to live. You have to constantly try to figure out what someone else wants of you to get approval and avoid disapproval. Your good and bad feelings are dependent upon how you look and how you perform, so you have to be constantly on your toes.

What if you were to take on the responsibility of defining your own worth? How would you go about doing this?

One of the problems in defining your own worth is that you may have been programmed to see yourself through the eyes of your parents, teachers, siblings, and peers. If when you were growing up, you got judged, criticized, rejected, or ridiculed, you may have incorporated others’ images of you into your own mind. This unloving treatment contributes to the development of our wounded self – our programmed ego mind. You can’t define your own worth and lovability from that place; you need to define yourself through the eyes of love, not the programmed eyes of judgment.

Start with imagining an older, wiser part of you, or imagine a person from your childhood who really loved you. Imagine that you can see yourself as a child through the eyes of this other person, or through the older, wiser part of you. What do you see? Can you see your innocence, your lovingness, your sense of wonder, your creativity, your aliveness? Open to seeing who you are in your essence – your true soul self.

If you practice seeing who you really are – not who you are according to your wounded programmed self, but who you are in your essence – you will start to value your own beautiful soul. As you value your soul, you will start to treat yourself in kinder, more loving ways.

We all have the power to define our own worth and bring love into ourselves. While you might think that the only love that feels really great is love from another person, this is a huge false belief. If you have ever experienced a moment of Grace, where you feel full and joyous for no external reason, you know that it is possible to feel incredibly wonderful without another’s love and approval.

The only way this happens is when your heart is open to the love that is spirit.

We live in a sea of love, compassion, peace, joy, and wisdom. It is everywhere – within us and all around us. It is who we are – created in the image of God-that-is-love. When you shift your intention from trying to have control over getting approval, and instead move into an intent to learn about loving yourself, your heart opens to the incredible love of your spiritual guidance.

Whenever you want responsibility for your own feelings, you can move your focus out of your head and into your heart, breathing into your heart. You can make a decision that for right now, you want responsibility for your own feelings of fullness and worth. You can ask one of these questions: “What is loving to me right now?” or “What is in my highest good right now?” Relax, let go, and listen for the answer. It might come in words, or images, or feelings. When you get a sense of what is loving to you right now, then do it. Take the loving action.

Then notice how you feel.

If you practice this throughout the day, you will stop worrying about “What will they think?” Over time and with practice, you will find yourself feeling so much happier and more peaceful!

I invite you join me for my bi-monthly masterclass and receive my live help, which you can learn about at

And, I invite you to join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books and from our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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