Life coach, writer, speaker and former approval addict Amy Pearson said it was after the death of her mother and birth of her twins that she realized “I hated my life.”
“I realized that I had been obsessed with getting approval and avoiding rejection my entire life,” Pearson says. That realization led to her work as a life coach who now helps others recover from this intense need for approval so that they can live a happier, more authentic life.
Pearson, now a master certified Martha Beck life coach talks about her journey and the ins and outs of the approval addiction that so many deal with in this special Q&A with Imperfect Spirituality. Comments have been edited for space.
IS: What is an approval addict?
AP: Approval addiction is the intense desire to obtain approval or avoid rejection from other people. The desire to get approval and /or avoid rejection results in certain kinds of behaviors that become habitual.
“Approval” could be anything from a simple smile or positive feedback it could be a job promotion, or even a marriage proposal! “Rejection” runs the gamut too. It could be criticism, a funny look, the silent treatment, or even physical violence.
IS: Is approval addiction the same as being a people pleaser?
AP: …Underneath all of these behaviors is the root problem: We don’t feel safe being ourselves. Not feeling safe being Who You Really Are is at the core of approval addiction
People pleasing is one kind of behavior that manifests as a result of being addicted to approval. But there are others. Some people seek approval by constantly trying to please others. Some call that People Pleasing. In my work, I call these kind of people “helpers.” Others, like me, try to get approval by seeking out achievement and being the best at everything. I call these kind of people “performers.” Other kinds of approval addicts focus more on trying to win people over by blending in. These are the “chameleons.” Others would rather just not be seen at all as to avoid any kind of rejection. These are the “scaredy cats.”
IS: How does it show up in our lives?
AP: Approval addicts try to control how others see them by changing the way they appear to the outside world. What happens is we internalize the idea that parts of ourselves are not okay and so we hide them. For example I always struggled with math. But I thought I needed to be “smart” to get approval. So I spent a lot of time as an adult hiding this part of me and overcompensating by trying to improve my math. When we hide the parts of ourselves we create what I call an “approval seeking facade” and ultimately, like I did, a life that doesn’t fit us at all just to fit in.
IS: What behaviors do we exhibit when we are seeking approval?
AP: It manifests differently depending on the person, but here are some common things I see approval addict do:
•Rehearse what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it before going into situations… even ones as simple as talking to your spouse
•Mentally go over the things you said and did after a social function, finding all kinds of ways you could have done it or said it differently
•Apologize when your house is dirty
•Change the things you do and say depending on who you’re with
•Keep your opinions to yourself when they’re not the same as the opinions of other people
•Avoid asking for help because you worry you’ll put someone out
•Assume you know what people are thinking about you
•Work yourself to the bone trying to make sure everyone is happy
•Think your success and/or happiness depends on the opinions of other people
•Believe taking time for yourself is frivolous
IS: Why is this a problem?
AP: Wanting approval is normal. In fact if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, wanting to feel safe and needing to belong are fundamental human drives. The core problem is when we disconnect from Who We Really Are to get approval or avoid rejection we settle for a “false sense of belonging” and because of it, we don’t ever feel truly safe. The only way to experience true belonging is to let people see the real you.
IS: What are three things we can do today, to help ease our need for approval?
1. Take the approval quiz (http://www.approvalquiz.com) to find out your approval seeking personality type. This will help you gain awareness of how approval addiction is showing up for you in your life.
2. Be willing to be curious about it instead of judging yourself. Think of yourself as a scientist. Think of all you are learning about yourself as “data.” Try to stay curious like a scientist about the data.
3. Know that awareness is always the first step to change. Without awarenesss approval addiction is running YOU. With awareness you can do something to change the patterns that aren’t working for you.
These all come from Step One of the TRUTH Process, a five step blueprint from my program “How to Overcome Your Inner Approval Addict,” I created to help people overcome their inner approval addict so they can learn Who They Really Are, achieve true belonging instead of “setting” for a false sense of belonging and live life from a place of integrity.
Amy Pearson of LiveBrazen.com is a master certified Martha Beck life coach, a coach mentor, and instructor for Martha Beck’s life coaching. She’s a teacher, coach, writer and speaker. A former approval addict (with the occasional relapse), she is now addicted to success. Her mission is nothing short of world peace by empowering every change maker to magnify their tribe, make great money and an epic impact while doing their unique thing in the world. Learn more at www.livebrazen.com