The Easy Place

The Quest for Self Awareness One Moment at a Time

The Approval Of Others

When I was in my early 30’s I reunited with my parents after a long estrangement.  Before I traveled down to see them, I prepared carefully. I was hoping, at long last, that they would finally see me as the adult I felt I was.  By that time I’d been on my own for years and was the single parent of a 10 year old.  I was sure that they would realize that I was different, that I had grown up.  

I still have a picture of myself from that visit. I was all dressed up, my hair fluffy and styled, gold chains draped around my neck.  I don’t remember much about the visit itself, except that I left with a vague sense of not really having accomplished what I’d set out to do.

I’m now in my mid-50’s and am planning a reunion with my father from whom, once again, I’ve been estranged for many years.  This time, I tell myself, it will be different.  I’m different now.  Over the years, I’ve grown and developed into an interesting, mature, stable woman.  This time I’ll be able to relate to him in a new way that will show him who I really am. 

Suddenly I realize what all my thoughts are adding up to.  This time he’ll see me as an adult. 

This need to be fully seen, the need for approval, is woven throughout my life.  It was painfully apparent when I was in the workforce.  I regarded the scores of my performance assessments as a measure not just of how well my boss thought I was doing, but as an indication of how successful I was as a person. 

It’s human nature, this need for approval.  My coach, Michael, calls it the “pack mentality”*, reflecting our need to fit in with our “packs” – our families, communities, the people we work with.  And, sometimes, for a while, it seems like we’re actually getting what we’re seeking.  For much of my career I was considered a “strong performer”.  I was respected, sought after, in some circles I was a star.  I accepted all this as truth, ignoring the fact that these were simply labels other people gave me.  The reality was that I was well-regarded because I was giving others what they wanted.  And, like all illusions, this one eventually vanished.  The individuals who thought I was great moved on, and, just like that, I was no longer a golden girl. 

The bitter truth is that when we seek the approval of others we make them better than us, we grant them the right to judge us.  I gave my bosses the authority to determine how valuable I was as a person.  I gave my father the power of deciding whether or not I’m an adult. 

Where’s the easy place in all of this?  It’s in the recognition that the approval of others is a hollow and temporary prize.  Its understanding that the only way to earn it is by doing what others want us to do and ignoring what’s important to us. 

Even with this knowledge it’s not easy to give up on seeking the approval of my father.  From what I can tell his current opinion of me is exactly the same as it was when we were last together 20 years ago (which seems to be exactly the same as it was when I was 18). My attempts at introducing him to the new me still fall flat, he’s looking for the person he wants me to be, not for who I really am.  From this comes both pain and triumph.  The pain is in knowing that I’ll never meet his standards for a perfect daughter, and the triumph is in knowing that I no longer need to.

*For a great description of the “pack mentality” see the comment below by Tara Mohr (sophiashouse).

***

Who do you look for approval from and how does it diminish you?

***

If you enjoyed this post you might also like:

12 responses to “The Approval Of Others

  1. Sharon March 2, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    Great post, Melinda! It is honest and personal. The last line sums up your point beautifully!

  2. Mary Aubrey March 3, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Great story and left me with a lot to think about for myself and how I have in the past tried to gain the approval of others, my husband, kids and the folks I work with. Now that I am older I find that I do not need the approval of others as long as I am true to myself and who I want to be.

    Thankyou for sharing this with me.

  3. houpeTressTug March 4, 2010 at 4:24 am

    i actually love your own writing type, very attractive,
    don’t quit and also keep penning due to the fact that it just simply very well worth to read it.
    looking forward to looked over much of your current article content, good bye :)

  4. CP March 4, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Wowee – you left me speechless on that one. I felt like you were describing parts of my life. I admire, and am inspired, by how you are able to let so much of yourself go and be so honest in your writing. Keep going ME.

  5. Melinda March 4, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    You all warm my heart with your comments. Thanks so much.

  6. Helen M. March 5, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Having more years under my belt (getting older, wiser) and physical distance (moving time zones away) changed my relationship with my parents. As I began to feel more more comfortable in my own skin, I saw that wanting approval “from them” morphed into being accepting “of them,” which, ironically, is probably what I desired from them. Interesting, isn’t it, how the myriad of relationship situations present in our lives (family, work, spouses, friends) serve as mirrors for our own realization and growth. Thank you (again!) for writing with insight and reflection.

  7. Melinda March 5, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Wonderful addition Helen, wish I’d thought of it to include in my post!

  8. Dawnika March 9, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Wow, powerful lesson! I like the analogy of “the pack mentality.” That makes a lot of sense. I am a sensitive introvert, and I find myself wanting to keep separate half the time, but also feeling the need to socialize more often at the same time. It’s all so confusing, but I think we need each other in ways we don’t completely understand.
    Hmmm taking wisdom I’ve been hearing the last two years and wisdom from what Melinda wrote and from what Helen wrote, the importance of understanding and loving one’s self, and then using that security to be able to accept others and learn something valuable (what ever it may be) about our connection with them.

  9. sophiashouse March 11, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    The pack mentality is so very powerful. In an earlier time, when we were out there in the wilderness, being ostracized or isolated from the pack probably would have led to death. And now it feels to us like a huge risk, something to be very afraid of, even though it is not.
    What I’ve found is that the areas where we most crave approval from others are the places where we have some self doubt, where their judgments confirm something we believe or fear about ourselves. Usually if I can figure out what that is, and give the approval I want to myself, I can let go of needing it from others. Beautiful post and beautiful blog Melinda, from a fellow life coach! Warmly,
    Tara Mohr

    • Melinda March 11, 2010 at 9:12 pm

      Thanks so much, Tara! Great description of the pack mentality. It’s amazing how powerful it can be, and how insidious it is. I appreciate your comments :)

  10. Dawnika March 11, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Nice comment. Good advice Tara. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: