In his excellent book ‘Walking on Water’, the late Anthony De Mello dedicated one chapter to discussing the most dangerous drug in the world. At first, I assumed that De Mello was going to talk about dangerous narcotics e.g. cocaine or heroin. Alternatively, he could have discussed addictive prescription drugs. Instead, and to my surprise, De Mello identified the world’s most dangerous drug as approval. Approval may not seem to be harmful. When someone approves of you, or something you have done, it feels good. However, if you take that approval to heart, you can soon develop a need for approval i.e. you cannot be happy and confident unless others approve of you and what you do.
The opinions of others can be extremely valuable. Positive or constructive feedback helps us to identify areas where we are performing well and areas where we need to make changes. As long as we remember that their feedback is an opinion, and not a fact, the process remains healthy. The problems begin when we assign more importance to the opinions of others than we do to our own opinions. When this happens we begin to form a need for their approval. This need for approval is like an addictive drug. When you receive approval, you experience a high but when you are denied approval, you feel low and crave more approval. Every decision you make and each action you take is now heavily influenced by your desire to receive approval. Like any addiction, the longer it lasts, the stronger it grows and the more damaging the consequences become.
Consequences of needing approval
There are a number of consequences associated with a need for approval. The following are just some of the negative consequences associated with the need for approval:
1. Taking the wrong decisions
A happy and healthy life is shaped by goals and decisions which are guided by your own authentic self. These goals are a result of who you really want to be and what you really want to do with your life i.e. your identity and your purpose. When you need the approval of others, their needs and desires override your own. You take action which is more important to them than to you and time which should be spent making a happy life for yourself is sacrificed for the happiness of others. We associate peer pressure with teenagers, but as long as you need the approval of others, you are a victim of peer pressure.
2. Failure to take the important actions
When you spend all of your time meeting the needs and demands of others, you are left with little or no time to fulfil your own needs. Happiness comes from a life well lived, not a life sacrificed. It is fantastic to be able to help others but you need to focus on your own goals too. When you live your life needing the approval of others, you will not take actions which are important to you but not to them.
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3. Lack of confidence and self-worth
The more you need the approval of others, the less value you place on your own opinions. This leads to diminished sense of confidence and self-worth which, in time, can lead to deeper psychological issues.
4. Worry and anxiety
When your confidence and self-worth has become dependent on the approval of others, every action or decision you take is accompanied by worry, fear and anxiety that they may disapprove.
5. Lack of control
When you become entirely dependent on the approval of others, you sacrifice your personal power. You become a passenger in your own life as each decision is shaped by the opinions of others rather than your own opinion. This leads to a sense of helplessness which can lead to deeper psychological issues.
When people we value offer their opinion, it is important that you consider that opinion. It may help you to identify changes that you need to make or, behaviours that are working well for you. It is essential that you do not treat these opinions as facts. Treat them as feedback, evaluate them and, where appropriate, make the most of the feedback. Respecting the opinions of others is important but it must not be at the expense of respecting yourself. Avoid becoming an approval addict and you will have a happier, healthier life.