Who Needs Approval?

who needs approval

There are certain core needs shared by every person on the planet. Some of these needs are physical such as food, water, and air. We also have emotional needs. Once our physical needs are met, filling our core emotional needs becomes our number one priority in life.

The need for approval fits into this category. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the desire for validation is one of the strongest motivating forces known to man.

Whose validation do we want?

Well, it all depends on whose opinion we value most. A child wants to feel approved of their parents, while a teenager generally seeks the validation of their peers. Wives want the approval of their husbands, and visa versa. But it doesn’t stop there!

Employees want to hear the phrase “well done” from their employer, just as authors want to please their readers. The fact is, we all have a longing for validation, and feeling approved of  helps fill that desire.

Why does it matter so much?

Have you ever wondered why approval is so important? The answer may surprise you, but it’s actually pretty basic. Approval feeds our strongest desire. The strongest of all emotional needs is directly linked our feelings of approval or disapproval. Can you guess what that need is?

The first thing people usually think of is the need for love. Was that your thought also? As powerful as the need for love is, in reality it is the same as validation. In fact, love is the ultimate expression of approval. So love feeds the same core emotional need as approval does.

What is the granddaddy of all human emotions?

Every person on the planet has an inherent and insatiable desire to feel safe and secure. Most of what we do in life revolves around this core desire. Efforts to fill this desire shape the actions of individuals and the course of world events.

Wanting to feel secure is the fundamental driving force of the human species. Just as the Earth is in orbit around the sun, human behavior revolves around the need to establish a physical and emotional sense of security.

Approval makes us feel secure.

Once we understand the close relationship between these two core emotions, it becomes obvious why everyone is seeking approval. On a deep emotional level, feeling approved of makes us feel secure with ourself as a person. There is a huge degree of inner peace and security connected to feeling good about who we are.

We should also note that disapproval can have the opposite effect. When we meet with ridicule or rejection it can undermine our view of ourselves. If we internalize this kind of negative feedback, we can begin to doubt our personal worth. This threatens our sense of security and disrupts our inner harmony.

Finding approval

When we are children, we seek validation from external sources. If we feel approved of by our parents, it will be easier to develop a healthy degree of self-esteem. If we are constantly belittled or criticized, our sense of self-esteem will suffer.

During our formative years we rely mostly on approval from outside sources. Environmental feedback is the number one contributor to our early emotional development. However, as we get older there needs to be a fundamental shift in our primary source of approval.

From external to internal.

If we remain dependent on external factors to feel approved of, then we will always be emotionally vulnerable. Our self-esteem would be in the hands of things that we have very little control over. This kind of situation fosters a needy, helpless, dependent mindset.

Our primary source of approval needs to be internal rather than external. We need to approve of ourselves in order to feel true inner peace and security. That internal sense of approval needs to be developed until it is no longer vulnerable to the shifting tide of external validation. Self-esteem comes from how we feel about ourself!

How self-approval works.

To feel truly good about yourself as a person, you must eliminate internal conflict. If you are not living in harmony with what you believe to be right and just, you will not be at peace with yourself. No matter how hard your conscious mind tries to justify things, on a deep emotional level there will be conflict.

There can be no self-approval in an internal environment of conflict. Disharmony can only lead to disapproval. When you disapprove of yourself, all the external approval in the world cannot make up for it.

Be true to yourself.

Here are three important ways to create internal harmony and avoid inner conflict.

1. Be truthful with yourself and others. Saying one thing while thinking another throws your whole being into confusion. You may not be consciously aware of the disruption, but your nervous system certainly is. How can you approve of yourself if, on some core level, you feel like a liar?

2. Be true to your values. We all have personal ethics. If we compromise our standards for any reason, it costs us emotionally. Many people have lost touch with their deepest values. Consequently, they live in a way that violates their inner sense of right and wrong. They may defend their actions, but internally they are earning their own disapproval.

3. Show consideration for those around you. We all want to be treated with respect and consideration. It send mixed signals to our nervous system if we treat people differently then we want them to treat us. There is no way to justify hypocrisy on an emotional level. Our brain can make excuses, but that won’t prevent the disapproval and inner conflict.

Give yourself validation

There is nothing wrong with self validation. When you act or speak in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, stop and acknowledge it. When you work hard on a project or goal, find a way to reward yourself. It is not egotistical to give yourself acknowledgment.

External approval is always reassuring. When we receive the validation of others it reinforces our view of ourselves. But our personal sense of self-worth should be built on a solid internal foundation of self-approval and internal harmony.

How do you feel about self-approval?
What makes you feel good about yourself?
The lines are open!

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  1. Kikolani June 23, 2009 Reply

    I think while we all want the approval from others, it is self approval that is the most difficult to gain. I know that I generally don’t believe anything of mine is good enough until I hear it from someone else, and I should be able to judge that for myself.

    ~ Kristi

    • Jonathan June 23, 2009 Reply

      Hi Kristi, I agree. Self approval often requires external reassurance. This is especially true in endeavors where we have difficulty measuring our own performance. For example, I am an experienced public speaker. Even so, I like to have my wife tell me that I did well before I feel comfortable. I need to here it from someone from the audience because I don’t fully trust my perspective from the stage.

  2. Steve June 23, 2009 Reply

    I used to base my happiness on the approval of my parents and friends. The hardest part is gaining enough confidence that self-approval is sufficient. Great article

    • Jonathan June 23, 2009 Reply

      Hi Steve, it certainly can be a challenge. It’s a growing process that varies with each individual because so many factors are involved.

  3. Rocket Bunny June 23, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan ,

    I would have say that I am more confident in some areas then in others.
    I grew up with a strong support family influence.
    Approval is still important – but isn’t as necessary as it once was in certain areas.
    This is a wonderful topic. I am so happy you wrote about .
    Very well done!

    • Jonathan June 23, 2009 Reply

      Hi Bunny, I think that’s true for everyone. We gain confidence with experience which varies from on area to another. The more we do something the easier it is to asses how well we did.

  4. Stephen June 23, 2009 Reply

    Great stuff Jonathan!

    “External approval is always reassuring. When we receive the validation of others it reinforces our view of ourselves. But our personal sense of self-worth should be built on a solid internal foundation of self-approval and internal harmony.”

    In my article today I said that approval was a reward. That’s a great way to look at it – as a bonus. The thing is if we give ourselves approval we are more likely to get it from others. Another very important factor is to be able to accept and acknowledge it when we do get it. Thanks for the great article.

    • Jonathan June 23, 2009 Reply

      Hey Stephen, that’s a great point about being able to accept and acknowledge approval when we do get it. There is nothing wrong with recognition for a job well done.

  5. Matt June 23, 2009 Reply

    So true, I think the approval has to come from within first. Not only will we not succeed without it, but with it we project a self confidence that affects people around us positively. One has to know themselves, the good and the bad, and be happy with what we find, that confident self awareness will exude from us in every interaction.

    • Jonathan June 23, 2009 Reply

      Hey Matt, thanks for joining the conversation. I’m glad you mentioned how self approval is projected to others and that they respond accordingly. How we feel about ourself definitely affects how others perceive us and interact with us.

  6. Steven Aitchison June 23, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan

    Good topic here. I think there are some great points here, like Matt’s saying that having inner confidence is vital.

    I would say that if we have inner confidence and we project that to others, their opinion of us has been altered in some way and they respond with approval to us, which further re-enforces our belief about ourself.

    • Jonathan June 23, 2009 Reply

      Hi Steve, I agree. Most of our communication with others is nonverbal. It usually takes place without conscious awareness, but we are constantly reacting to subconscious signals and body language. Thanks for joining in.

  7. Ian June 24, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan

    Thought provoking article. I read it earlier today and it’s been bubbling around in my mind all morning. Anyway … here’s what came up for me.

    I personally don’t regard ‘approval’ as a basic need. I think we’ve been socialised to think that way as it’s a great tool for controlling people. Starting with our parents! If my kids believe they ‘need’ my approval then I can easily manipulate them to get them to do what I want. Same is true at school, church, workplace .. most places I look I see ‘approval’ used as a tool for manipulation. To my mind there is no love in approval – as for me love is unconditional and approval is conditional.

    I find it much more empowering to think about it in terms of a need for feedback.

    I’m not an island, I have some fundamental needs related to belonging, co-operation, closeness and to make a contribution to the lives of others. In order to check if I’m getting some of these met then I need feedback .. I want to know what impact my actions are having on other people so I can make adjustments if I choose to. What I don’t want is other people’s evaluative judgement about me (which is necessarily more about their filters than about me).

    Anyway, thanks again for the post as it really did make me think!

    • Jonathan June 24, 2009 Reply

      Hi Ian, interesting take. In a practical sense, I don’t think there is any such thing as unconditional love. If someone you love abuses that love enough the love will fade. You may continue to feel love for them as a person on some level, but you will still put distance between the two of you. Why? Because love is the ultimate form of approval.

      The fact is, we do evaluate the actions of others because we use that input to evaluate ourselves. That doesn’t mean we want to control them, it’s just how we are wired. We subconsciously look for similarities and differences as a way of determining how we fit into any given situation.

      I must admit, your comment really got me thinking also. Thank you, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

      • Ian June 24, 2009 Reply

        Jonathan … great that we’re both stimulating the grey cells!

        I have a hard time equating love as the ultimate approval. I experience it as something completely different.

        Maybe one day we’ll have a chance to discuss this in a more flowing way than through the blog medium but I guess we have different understandings of ‘love’ and ‘approval’.

        For me, ‘approval’ comes mainly from my head – it’s what I think about something or someone – probably hand in hand with some emotions.

        ‘Love’ (again, this is how I experience it) does not come from my head at all – though also triggers some emotions.

        • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

          Hi Ian, I have a feeling that further discussion in a less broken stream would reveal that we are on the same page but using different terminology and/or reference points. The focus of my article was actually self-approval which is closely related to self-esteem (personal evaluation of self-worth) and the emotional anchors that go with it. I truly appreciate your input and actually like it when readers are willing to present alternate viewpoints. After all, real conversation is a two way exchange.

      • Jeremiah September 24, 2013 Reply

        I believe the closest thing to unconditional love would be parents and children. I know some people have kids and treat them badly or basically throw them away, but those people are not parents they are merely vessels that created a child. Real parents, no matter how many times a child makes mistakes will always love them. That is unconditional love…so my friend though rare it indeed does exist.

      • genya January 27, 2014 Reply

        Love is not approval. Love is acceptance. True love is unconditional upon the person you love. If you love a drug addict and do everything you can to help him/her and progress but get nothing in return, you’ll realize it hurts you too much and you need to put a barrier or distance and stay not as personally involved into that person’s life. But that does not mean you love them based on your conditions. You didn’t give them a condition: “either you quit or you lose me” No, you fully accepted them for who they are; and, if they don’t want to change, it’s their choice and you accept it (not necessarily agree/approve). To accept is to fully and unconditionally let the person be without blame. It’s up to you now to make that choice – to stay too involved and keep getting hurt or distance yourself and love them from a distance. . . . .You can still love, still unconditionally…just from a distance:) And when and if they decide they want to change and quit their addiction – you step in and help and may become more involved in future:)
        Same thing with other desires. You may love someone and desire lots of affection and time(or exclusivity) from that other person – but the person does not give you enough time/exclusivity/whatever and it hurts you. So, you make choice – you change or let the person know it hurts you. If you can’t change you criteria and the person does not want change for you – you just distance yourself in order to stay away from getting hurt….does not mean you don’t love someone – simply protecting yourself from long-term depression.

  8. kate smedley June 24, 2009 Reply

    Self approval is so important, if we rely on others for our self esteem it can have damaging psychological effects and affect our personal growth. Excellent article.

    • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

      Hi Kate, you are absolutly right. I couldn’t phrase it and better than Dragos did in (comment #32) when he said: “This is the most vulnerable spot on our armor and it also triggers the most violent yet silent attacks on our self-esteem.”

  9. Celes Chua June 24, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, you hit at a very inner core here. While many of us seek approval, we don’t give approval from ourselves. For example, during one of my coaching last weekend, my coachee told me about wanting to experience love from others – but he himself was not even giving himself love. This is something I’m working on together with him. For sure, self love needs to happen before anything can even come into the picture.

    • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

      Hi Celes, This is a very common scenario. The more lacking someone is in self-love and self-approval, the more they crave it. Of course, they look for it from external sources which can never quite fill the void. This tactic often backfires because others feel their neediness and pull back. Insecurity tends to repel others rather than attract them. It’s a vicious emotional circle.

  10. McLaughlin June 24, 2009 Reply

    I’m one of those people that gets things done and ignores approval – or at least I appear to ignore it. I really don’t care if my boss says “well done” or not, but I want the bonus at the end of the year.

    • Jonathan June 24, 2009 Reply

      Hi McLaughlin, I think paychecks and bonuses are generally how employers show approval. In the same way, walking papers seem to hint at disapproval, don’t you agree?

  11. Shamelle June 24, 2009 Reply

    Very relevant to this day and age…..
    There are some people, I heavily rely on for approval. This was indeed “think tank” post.


    • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

      Hi Shamelle. We naturally assign a higher value to the opinions and feedback of those people that we love and/or respect. On an emotional level their approval carries a lot of weight.

  12. pam June 24, 2009 Reply

    your words are always uplifting to me and make me smile from the inside out.we are all full of self-doubt and rely too much on what our peers think.

    • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

      Hi Pam, and thanks for the kind words. Self-doubt seems to come easier than self-approval. That’s why we need to take time to give ourselves approval so we can create internal balance.

  13. Cynthia Christianson June 24, 2009 Reply

    I love how you write. This was so easy to read and had great tips.

    I am a big fan on validation. It’s a habit we all need to learn because it makes such a difference when you validate someone else’s actions or feelings and I know how I feel when someone validates me.

    But you are right-it’s really about validating ourselves and building internal harmony. But don’t you find that it’s easier to validate yourself from the inside out when you hear it from others and know how it feels? The self-critic needs some stroking once in a while.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

      Hi Cynthia, I agree on all of the points you made. Many of us can be overly self critical and external validation can provide some much needed balance. With regard to validating others, I was thinking of how happy little children get when given heartfelt approval. They just light up. That’s an emotional anchor that lasts a lifetime. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  14. Dr. Jennifer Howard June 24, 2009 Reply

    Yes, right after having our physiological needs met, a sense of safety is what we all are looking for. Depending on our childhood historical programming, this can mean many things. The approval we all seek is to reassure us of our safety with that person from whom we seek the approval.

    It is so true that, if we felt the approval of our parents it would be easier to develop a healthy degree of self esteem. If the parenting wasn’t “good enough” we suffer as adults and seek outside approval that sets us up for a life that is ultimately not our own. Healing and learning ways to find our own autonomy is paramount. These are three great ways to support self approval. (1) Be truthful with yourself and others (2) Be true to your values (3) Show consideration for those around you.

    Thank You Jonathan

    Dr. Jennifer Howard

    • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

      Hi Jennifer. I know that you have a lot of training and experience in this area, so I really appreciate it when you join the conversation (validation). Thanks!

  15. Spot on advice, Jonathan.

    If you aren’t being yourself… you are failing at living.


  16. Dragos Roua June 25, 2009 Reply

    For me, the need for approval is the biggest trojan horse of all times. I mean, if you’re relying only on external sources for your approval and validation, as you clearly stated we shouldn’t, you’re a sitting duck.

    This is the most vulnerable spot on our armor and it also triggers the most violent yet silent attacks on our self-esteem.

    I also think I’m going to be on a similar pattern with Ian here, thinking that approval may be something necessary for survival, while love can exist on all levels. Approval can give you a kickstart on achieving something, but love is on a different level. You can have love without approval, that’s for sure.

    Again, this is how I feel, which is not necessarily the “correct” way.

    (Noticed how I was tickling your approval with the last sentence? :-))

    • Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

      Hey Dragos, this is a great quote: “This is the most vulnerable spot on our armor and it also triggers the most violent yet silent attacks on our self-esteem.”

      Like I said to Ian, I truly appreciate your input and actually like it when readers are willing to present alternate viewpoints. After all, real conversation is a two way exchange. Mutual respect makes the exchange both thought provoking and enjoyable.

      Of course, it’s also nice that we are on the same page the vast majority of the time. Thanks my friend.

  17. Robin Easton June 25, 2009 Reply

    Dear Jonathan, This whole post made me think of a time when I was about 27 and living in the rainforest and I came face to face with the whole approval issue. By that time I had taught myself how to “track” my feelings. When I looked at the need for approval or rather how I felt in the face of rejection or disapproval it went something like this: first I felt bad, under that I felt scared, under that I felt alone, under that I felt cut off from “the source”, the “whole”…whatever word you want to give it, and under that I felt like I would die. Death was the bottom line.

    For me at that age I thought about being in my mother and fighting to cling to her womb when her body was trying to “reject” me, as she was not strong enough to have another child. I was conceived less that 3 mos. after my sister was born. My earliest memories are of that time. I also thought about the human species and felt in my bones — on a very primal level — that it had been safer for my earliest ancestors to stay with the pack. Their chance of survival greatly increased in numbers.

    For me to see this on these levels and other more surface levels allowed me to acknowledge my need for approval but to also set myself free by making “self-approval” my top priority. I was no fighting to cling to my mother’s womb. I no longer had to stay with the pack to survive. I could both emotionally and physically do the things that I felt were appropriate for me, regardless of others approval.

    Thank you for ALWAYS inspiring me. :))

  18. Jonathan June 25, 2009 Reply

    Robin, you are so aware of your deepest emotions. Not too many people have looked that closely at their core. I love this statement: “For me to see this on these levels and other more surface levels allowed me to acknowledge my need for approval but to also set myself free by making “self-approval” my top priority.” This is exactly the balance we should seek. Thank you!

  19. Paul Maurice Martin June 26, 2009 Reply

    “Love is the ultimate expression of approval.” This is very insightful as well as the whole connection you make here between approval and love. Self approval can be an especially high hurdle for folks who felt unloved by both parents.

    • Jonathan June 26, 2009 Reply

      Hi Paul, you are absolutely right about the connection between parental love and self-approval. I requires some specific techniques to dismantle those deeply ingrained limiting beliefs and their emotional anchors. My book “7 Simple Steps” walks you through the process. It’s also noteworthy that those who find it difficult to feel or express love (like your parents) often suffer from a lack of self-approval themselves.

  20. Lee June 12, 2012 Reply

    Thank you for your inspiring article! I have found it takes courage to live the life you want to live. A lot of people do what they “think” they should do rather than following their heart. It takes a strong person to stand alone and be strong because we are so conditioned to follow the leader.

  21. Dan October 2, 2012 Reply

    “When you disapprove of yourself, all the external approval in the world cannot make up for it.”
    I really like that. Your book reviews for “True Self” are great. I’ll be reading it next. You have a new follower.

    Dan Garner

  22. Pete October 4, 2012 Reply

    Interesting topic and good discussion. In some ways, I was lucky because I endured a period of bullying. To survive through it – and not just endure it – I had to really know who I am and be sure of it. Whist I still have my moments, I am otherwise rock solid. I simply don’t need others approval – though I do appreciate it as much as the next person. I do however critically evaluate disapproval and generally aim to be a decent person: something you never need others approval for….

  23. Anne October 4, 2012 Reply

    Sometimes you live for so long doing for others, that you forget how to do things for yourself. This has happened to me recently and I’ve realised it. My kids are getting older and I was telling someone last week that I’ve always taken care of my mum and my sister, then of my kids. Now they don’t need me so much and I’m learning to take care of myself.

    I do give myself approval and try to live in the way I believe is right. Thanks for an inspiring article.

    • Denise October 21, 2012 Reply

      Thank you for all messages.
      I am learning to take care of myself.
      I struggle to be kind to myself. Through my life I learned to get validation from approval. It lead me to unhealthy relationships.
      I’m now putting me first , trying too see what has occurred. Changing lifetime of behaviors is not easy. Support and realizing I’m not alone helps me to be kind and encouraging to myself.

  24. Genevieve September 10, 2013 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    I’m reading your article today as one of many on my quest for self-approval. I have never been able to fully accept myself, and I feel that this is the one thing that is really keeping me from achieving my dreams and finding my true path in life. Personally, I believe that if something is truly meant to be, it will fall into one’s lap with minimal effort, thus is part of the vicious cycle of self-rejection. I get the feeling that only when I truly accept myself for who I am and love myself, doors will be opened for me and only then will my life purpose and goals be discovered. I am interested in what your thoughts are on this. I really enjoyed reading your article!

    • Tammy March 4, 2014 Reply

      I just read your response to the article and you are where I was for 36 years! I lived my life conforming to what I thought everyone one else wanted me to be-and I was miserable inside! I lost site of who I was and what I wanted because I was so busy trying to measure up to everyone else! I lost “ME” in the process. I didn’t even know what kind of music I liked or food I liked because I thought making my own choices might offend someone else! There was an “awakening” though, I left that situation and started over and through starting over, by myself, I found me. I had a personality, I had dreams again, I had likes-and dislikes. Once I quit worrying about what others thought, I quit worrying about what they wanted out of me. I found quality in my life and today I feel like I have a purpose and finally I AM HAPPY!!!! Never settle!!!!!! I ate a piece of Dove chocolate one day and the fortune inside said NEVER SETTLE, it hit me that everything I ever did back then revolved around settling and I refuse to ever fall back in that trap again!!! Good luck with your journey!

  25. John April 8, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for sharing this insight. I often question my motive for doing things, is it for self actualization, or for recognition / approval. I hope I can eventually reach a place where I don’t have a need to ask this question. Again, thank you for stimulating my thoughts on this.


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