How to Stop Seeking the Approval of Others

“In life, you only need to gain the love of two people: God and yourself. Half the job is already done.” -Dan Chesbro

Loving yourself

If there was a single mission in life that was more important than anything else, it would be learning to love yourself. Not loving who you are as you are is the single greatest reason for many of life’s disappointments, pain, and suffering. A person who knows his self-worth can endure any possible hardship or failure with courage, patience, humility, and indifference. He knows that external circumstances do not validate or invalidate his intrinsic value.

In contrast, a person who cannot see his internal self-worth will use external circumstances to validate his self-worth. If something good happens, he will be happy and subconsciously believe it was a reward for being “good”. If something bad happens, he will be miserable and internally believe it was the result of being “bad”. And since it is impossible to directly control external circumstances in most situations, a person with low self-worth will always fear the future.

Having low self-worth is obviously an unhealthy situation to be in, but this is the unfortunate reality for the majority of people today. Note that despite their best intentions, parents in general are simply not capable of providing unconditional love for their children: they are human, after all. And because of this, the experiences of childhood taught many of us that we had to be “good” in order to be loved.

Who is driving the bus?

Once a client of mine expressed frustration over a situation she didn’t know how to handle. On her way to work, an acquaintance who rode the bus with her would constantly complain about life. My client mentioned that she dreaded listening to this woman, as it made her miserable for the rest of the day.

Realistically, all my client needed to do was politely inform the acquaintance that the complaining put her in a bad mood and that she would not listen to it. It should be noted that the acquaintance wasn’t even a friend, so there was no danger in doing this. But my client was too afraid to be honest. After all, this would make her look like a bad person!

When a person loves herself, there is no fear or what others think. I will sometimes comment that it doesn’t matter if every single person in the world points a finger at you and tells you that you are a bad person. It doesn’t matter. Every person on this planet is loved by God. When you realize this, and your own true worth, there is nothing to fear.

Acceptance and Relationships

Having low self-worth gets us in huge trouble when it comes to relationships. A person with low self-esteem will use her partner to validate her worth. The partner, in fact, is a subconscious proxy for the parent figure who was unable to provide her with unconditional love.

To illustrate the dynamics of such a relationship, let’s use an example of a couple named Jack and Jill. Jill has extremely low self-esteem, and is married to Jack. It should be noted that if you don’t “treat” yourself well, your partner has a tendency to do likewise. So because Jill does not value herself, Jack is also not treating Jill with the respect and love she deserves.

Further complicating the relationship is the fact that Jill is using the existence of her relationship as the measurement for her self-worth. In other words, ending the relationship would “prove” that she is a terrible person. So instead, Jill desperately clings to a relationship that makes her miserable. This in turn makes Jack unhappy with the relationship, as Jill’s clinginess leads to Jill exhibiting controlling, suspicious, and jealous behavior. Jill’s behavior frustrates Jack, who starts to consider the idea of ending the marriage.

Because Jill knows she is miserable, she decides to go to a therapist for counseling. However, all Jill can understand is that Jack is treating her badly, and she believes that it is Jack who is the problem. But as we can see from the bigger perspective, the real issue started with Jill’s low sense of self-worth.

Acceptance and Sex

Another scenario where low self-worth plays a critical role is with sex. One scenario I’ve heard multiple times is when a man starts to initiate sex with a woman, the woman will freeze. She is simply so scared, she is unable to move. The man proceeds to have sex with the woman anyway, even though the woman did not actually want sex. This typically results in an extremely traumatic experience for the woman.

This scenario leads to a very important question is: Why was the woman unable to communicate that she didn’t want sex. The answer is that there was an internal emotional conflict that made it impossible for her to express what she really wanted.

Once again, we are dealing with a woman who has low self-worth, and is using others to validate her worth (which, as a reminder, is typical of many people). So to tell the man the she didn’t want to have sex would be as scary as my client on the bus telling the acquaintance she didn’t want to hear any more complaining. It is simply too scary. It is scary because it “proves” she is a bad person and doesn’t deserve to be loved. So the woman is caught in an impossible situation where either option is wrong, and she freezes.

Acceptance and Sex Addiction

On the reverse side, the man who proceeds to have sex with a woman in this scenario also suffers from the same issue. Men in general often use sex to validate their self-worth. This is what leads to sex addiction (and explains how it can be cured).

When a man with low self-worth has sex, the act validates that he is loved. Note that the sex act itself is being used as a proxy for the conditional love he received growing up. But just as when growing up, no matter how much he seeks for this love, he will end up feeling empty inside.  I.e., once the sex act is over, he once again has no basis for validating his own worth; therefore he continues to seek sex as often as possible.

In our previous scenario, the man didn’t wait for the woman’s consent to have sex. Note that a man with a high sense of self-worth will not be scared of a woman rejecting his sexual advances. But the man in our example was too scared that she might say no, which would have crushed him emotionally. So while the woman couldn’t say no because it would validate that she was a bad person, the man was too scared to hear rejection because it would validate that he was a bad person. The result was sex that was not wanted by the woman, and desired out of selfishness (instead of love) by the man.

Cultivating self-love

Learning to love yourself is not an easy task, and the process will be different for different people. However, when a person realizes that low self-worth is the problem, and wishes to do something about it, the task is already half-done. Below are some methods to use that can help you learn to value your true self-worth.

  1. Explore your experiences and situations in childhood that led you believe that love and self-worth was based on your behavior. Think about the way your parents raised you. If you were religious, explore those beliefs as well. Look for the patterns that that caused you to believe that you should be judged by behavior. Next look at the “bigger picture”. Notice that your experiences gave you the wrong conclusion about self-worth.
  2. Recognize the fact that you are not perfect, and that it is impossible for anyone to receive unconditional love from parents, or a God who judges based on behavior. Then make a firm commitment to fully accept and love yourself as you are. Learn to respect and appreciate your imperfect self.
  3. On a daily basis, affirm to yourself that God always loves you, and that no matter how imperfect you are, you always worthy. Say this to yourself every day when you wake up in the morning, and repeat it at night before you go to sleep.
  4. Visualize good things happening in your life that you want. For instance, visualize yourself in a happy marriage, a good job, etc. When you are visualizing, emphasize in your mind that these good things should happen because you (like everyone else) deserve good things and deserve to be happy.