Approval – The Drug We All Crave

I’m going through a Tony De Mello phase at the moment. What a wonderful man. His books and talks are truly amazing and well worth investigating.

In one talk he mentions the ‘drug of approval’ or ‘approval seeking’. It rang a bell. How true it is that we are addicted to gaining the approval of others at any and all costs. Just about everything we do is marred with the underlying question is it good enough? Good enough for whom? Others, that’s who. Will they like it? Will they like me? Am I good enough? Will they approve? Oh God…what if they don’t? (And in walks our old friend…fear, closely followed by our other old friend – immobilisation).

How can I gain approval? I know – I can lose weight. Gain weight. Gain muscle. Dye my hair. Smooth my skin. Pluck my eyebrows. A nip, a tuck, a skip, a hop and off we go…on the approval seeking merry go round. Always chasing, chasing ‘the horse of approval’ in front – but never quite getting there, not fully, not permanently. Or maybe we just stop dead. Don’t do it. Don’t say it. Don’t try it. Freeze – or you might fail! Better to do nothing than lose our ‘hit’ of approval…

So it goes – never finding self-reliance, self-acceptance, independence, true fulfilment…peace.

Why is it a drug? Well, we are addicted to it, aren’t we? We think we neeeeeed it! If we do something and others don’t give us our drug, we feel uneasy, restless, scared. What can we do to appease them? Change ourselves? Change our points of view?

We might make a bold statement like ‘I believe abortion is bad’. The raised eyebrow of disapproval is received. ‘Well, I don’t mean all abortion.’ Raised eyebrow lowering slightly. (Phew.) ‘I mean if the baby is dying or something then that’s okay…or if the woman really needs it.’ Raised eyebrow no longer raised. (Double phew – got away with it – you still like me…) And we can relax.

Our approval need has been satisfied and we can carry on – albeit as a slightly less true version of ourselves. We’ve sold our opinions and our values down the river but at least you still approve of me – or at least that version of me that I am pretending to be to please you.

So really this approval seeking drug is a wonderful method of control. If I don’t approve of you – and you desperately need approval then, heck, I can control you simply by withdrawing your drug aka my approval. And, hey presto, before you know it you are crawling back, for your drug, for your fix.

Control, control, control…

Where did this approval seeking behavior come from? We weren’t born with it. Small children automatically take it for granted that they are perfect just as they are. They happily wander around naked. They sing at the tops of their little voices. They dance. They jump. They fall over. If someone laughs at them they laugh right back.

But then the ‘training’ begins…Mommy doesn’t like it if you spit out your peas, bad Baby. Daddy doesn’t like it if you roll in the mud, bad Baby. Eat your greens, put on your coat, no – the blue one not the red one. Sit up straight. Be good in school. Stand up when the teacher enters the room. Be quiet. Ask to go to the toilet. Do your homework. Get good grades. Go to college. Get a degree. Get a good job. Be a good employee. Do well in your performance appraisal. Pay your water bill. Be a good citizen. Vote!

And on and on and on it goes. Do this. Do that. Do the other. And if you don’t…you’re a bad person. a failure. We officially disapprove of you – you Outcast!

Yep, society likes to control us with the ‘drug of approval’ – and it certainly works – because we believe we need it. So much so that many companies make a fortune out of our need for approval. Make-up by the ton, smile clinics, cosmetic surgery, weight loss, workout classes. We fear the withering look of disapproval we might get if we’re having a bad hair day or even worse  – a no hair day – so we go through the pain of hair straighteners or of hair plugs or whatever and on and on and on it goes.  And because we have been reared on this sort of thing we literally buy it all – hook, line and sinker!

So how do we stop it? First thing is to notice it. Be self-aware. We are so used to this need for approval that we don’t even see it anymore and yet it controls so much of our lives. Once we notice it – and how false the need is, then we can just drop it. Understanding leads to dropping it.

For example, next time you have your tuppence worth to say at a meeting and your fear of disapproval is holding you back, understand this fear is false. You don’t need ‘their’ approval. So just say it. Blurt it out! Don’t hang around afraid to speak up in case someone disapproves. Chances are it’s a valid point and very often if you don’t say it, someone else will – and then you feel crushed inside that you didn’t have the guts to have your say.

Next time someone disapproves of your point of view, let them disapprove. Good for them. It’s their right and its okay. But stick to your guns. Your opinion is just as valid as theirs – and the likelihood is you’ll get more respect for standing firm.

And isn’t that the funniest part of it all? Think of those who get the most approval in our society. Are they the wimpy ones who hide in the corner and change their opinions depending on which way the wind blows? Or are they the strong ones? The ‘devil may care’ types who tell it as it is and so what if someone disagrees. They are the really cool ones, aren’t they? The true leaders who stand up and dare to be different. The Jesus Christs, the Gandhis, the Martin Luther Kings, the Mandelas…The ones who don’t hide their light under the bushel…no matter who disapproves or what the cost.

And so my friends, I ask you to drop your drug of approval seeking, to stand firm as ‘you’ – and to realise that you are a true original and because of you the world is a better place. Your originality is your gift to the world.

So don’t hide your glorious light, don’t be controlled. Be fully, completely, wholly, wonderfully you – and let us all revel in it!

I hope you liked this article but if you didn’t, that’s okay. I’m weening myself off this drug…