I’m thinking about approval-seeking this morning, mainly because it’s one of those things I can’t relate to and I wonder if I’m missing out on something.
I don’t expect approval. I don’t look for it. I don’t always notice it when it is offered.
And I’m beginning to think that that’s one way of getting it.
We internalize the expectations of our parents and important others as children, generalize them, and turn them into expected standards of behavior. I was raised in a cult that made it quite clear that worrying what anyone thought about me or my choices was an indication of a character flaw. They told me to be a Daniel and dare to stand alone. They told me to have a purpose true.
I took it too far and stopped caring what they thought either, but I’m sure that wasn’t part of the plan.
My dad helped too. I’m sure I’ve let him down in the worst possible way because I didn’t grow up to be a felon. But I’ve done my best to be tough, to try not to let too many feelings show, and to not care what anyone thinks. I’m sure I’ve done that to please him. Even though I never intend to see him again. He lives on in my head.
People do that–keep living on in your head.
Women complain most often that they find themselves sacrificing too much–not voicing opinions, not asserting preferences, catering too much to someone else’s desires–in order to gain approval.
But I suspect that it’s just a matter of what they were raised to believe would gain them approval. When men stand up for themselves, assert their rights, try to be forceful, fail to show emotions and are generally irritating and insensitive to women, they are looking for approval as well–not from the person they are interacting with, but the invisible father or coach or alpha boy in their second-grade class that they now carry around in their heads as a model of how to be. Because those behaviors are every bit as much what was expected of them by someone important when they were little boys as submission and deference to others is expected of little girls.
It isn’t just women who want approval. We all want it. Even I do. But I was taught to get it by not giving a damn. I know that sounds strange, but if you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know that the way I was raised was strange.
Look at your dog. Your dog wants approval. Looking for approval is what intelligent social animals do. (Locusts are gregarious, but I’m not sure they take it quite that far.) It helps us get along and it helps us learn culturally acquired skills and knowledge that allow us to be successful in the world and among other people
What you need, and I need, is not to stop seeking approval, but to find people–real and imagined–who can give it to us, and who can give it to us for being our best selves rather than our worst ones.