The approval that matters most

When I think back to the choices I’ve made in my life that have caused me the most suffering, they are inevitably choices I made with the objective of winning someone else’s approval.

In hindsight, I can see so many times where I tried to lob off parts of myself, confine other parts into too-small boxes, or wear ill-fitting masks that left bruises where they pinched and rubbed awkwardly.

I chose actions that broke my own heart and left bruises on my soul because those choices didn’t match with my deepest values.

That seeking after others’ approval was a like a drug. Yes, I would get brief, momentary “highs” of feeling liked and approved of, but it was never enough.

There always people who disliked or disapproved of me no matter how much approval I gained, so I still never felt “good enough.” Even worse, I always knew deep down that whatever approval I did manage to win was false because the “me” anyone approved of wasn’t really me.

Despite that, my need to be liked continued to drive me farther from myself and deeper into brokenness all the time. The need was like a constant anxiety bubbling under my skin pressing me toward desperate measures that I otherwise would never have considered.

It took my entire world collapsing and finding myself isolated and alone to break the cycle. In that isolated place, I was left with only one person whose opinion mattered: myself.

When there was no longer anyone else to impress, I had to find a way to like myself enough to give myself that approval that I so desperately needed. I learned to take off those ill-fitting masks. I tore away the too-small boxes so I could breathe again. I re-attached and re-embraced those parts of me that I had tried to amputate.

I made new choices about how I would live, how I would act, what I would prioritize, and how I would engage with the world around me based on the values that matter to me. I made choices that helped me like myself rather than what might make someone else like me.

I won’t say that I have never struggled again with that anxious need to make others like me. I think I may always struggle with that anxiety bubbling under my skin. The difference is that I have learned to like myself and the person that I am becoming enough that I can at least recognize when the anxious need for others’ approval starts to steer me away from myself.

I’ve learned that there is more value and peace in being someone I can approve of than in the admiring applause of a hundred other people, and that allows me to continually steer myself back toward the goal of becoming ever more whole and comfortable in who I am.

I recently saw a quote from Susan Jeffers that said:

“Remove the ‘I want you to like me’ sticker from your forehead and place it on the mirror, where it belongs.”

That image encapsulates this truth I’ve learned the hard way about whose approval matters most. I wish I’d learned that truth much earlier!

Whose approval do you seek after most? Is your seeking after that approval helping you become more whole? Or is it adding to the brokenness you experience?

What would change if you followed Susan Jeffers’s advice and put that sticker on your mirror?


Image created with a stock photo from a Canva subscription package.

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