Stamp of approval
Swati Moheet Agrawal explores the psychology behind social approval— which divorces us from our true selves—and how to break free of it
Are you addicted to approval and acceptance? Are you always fishing for compliments to feel good about yourself? Would you rather please others than please yourself?
So focused are we on the outer world, that we seem to have abandoned our inner world. We have become so weak internally, that we are unable to survive in this world without getting hurt. We are so emotionally dependent, that just about anybody can ruin us.
If we are not invited to a party, we feel rejected or humiliated. If people don’t compliment us on our new dress, we feel neglected. If people don’t like our pictures on Facebook, we feel anxious, offended, and in severe cases, depressed. Incidentally, now we have begun to depend on virtual feedback to feel good about ourselves. It is actually quite fragile in there. Just about anything can upset the psyche. We are constantly mulling over what people said, how they behaved, or what they think about us.
The compulsive need for social validation and approval is rooted in childhood. Excessive cheering and applauding by parents, teachers, and guests turned us into approval-junkies. Since then, yearning adulation and craving approval became our second nature.
Yes, encourage children by all means; however, do not over-praise or empty-praise them. Teach them to approve of themselves instead of sucking up to friends, family, and strangers for affirmation and acceptance. Empower them to become their own best cheerleader.
Consider these internal monologues: “Please tell me my cocktail gown is gorgeous.” “Why is nobody commenting on my new look.” “Please, just tell me one good thing about myself so that I can happily get through the rest of the day.” “Did I sound dumb?” “Do they think I’m dim-witted?” “Why is nobody telling me I have lost weight?”
We are begging for attention, affection, and approval because we are deficient within. We are desperately empty inside, so we depend on public approval to fill the void.
This constant barrage of thoughts can be overwhelming. Such a level of emotional dependence is a severe form of suffering.
We are literally pleading people to like us, love us, respect us, and appreciate us. Neither are we our own authentic selves nor do we allow other people the freedom to be who they really are. People are afraid to tell us that they don’t necessarily like our fashion sense or that we have gained weight because it might offend us. So, some of them say the opposite of what they really think. We have forgotten to express ourselves truly and freely because we want to please each other all the time.
Someone says something pleasing, and we feel on the top of the world. Likewise, the slightest unpleasant remark causes us to overreact. It causes some degree of anxiety, pain, and general disturbance. Our emotions are contingent on what other people think and say and how they behave. Such is the alarming level of inner sensitivity. We internalise so deeply that it begins to affect our physical health too.
We allow every comment, every event, and every situation to leave impressions inside of us, and then we cling to those impressions for the rest of our lives. How can we ever become emotionally independent adults? And how will we ever raise emotionally healthy children? Why have we given people the power to make us happy or miserable? Why are we constantly trying to arrange and rearrange people and situations in the outside world in order to stabilise our inner world?
It is time to take stock of our lives!
Watch your energy: If we channelise our energies well, the same voice that has been a source of dejection, sadness, worry, and anxiety can become a launching ground for spiritual awakening and personal growth! Redirect all that negative energy into creative pursuits like writing, music, cooking, painting, gardening, etc.
Understand that events or people do not determine whether we are going to be happy or not—we and we alone are responsible for our happiness. However, the slightest thing happens, and we give away our happiness and peace of mind. We need to stop making our happiness conditional upon other people’s behaviour. We need not wear ourselves out struggling with the experience of a single event, comment, or emotion; it’s a massive waste of energy.
Transcendence: Emotional independence is about transcending that part of you that hungers for public approval. Like they say, if outside validation is your only source of nourishment, you will hunger for it the rest of your life. An existence that revolves around seeking approval from others is meaningless. Build up on your emotional stamina, just the way you work on your physical stamina. There will always be something or someone who can bother you, only if you allow them. Try to release and let go. We need to rise above everything that we resist. Freedom is on the other side of resistance. Transcend!
Reclaim your power: If you don’t get carried away by appreciation, you will not get disturbed by criticism. Don’t give away your power to anyone; do not hand away the remote control of your feelings and emotions to other people. Only you can make yourself happy or miserable. Commit to unconditional happiness; no matter what happens, you decide to remain happy.
Look within: We have preconceived notions about how things should be and how people ought to behave with us. Let life unfold. Take one moment at a time. Fix what is wrong inside of you instead of attempting to fix your outer world.
Find yourself: What is it that makes you tick? What is important to you? What gives you happiness and joy? A sense of purpose can help you focus on the things that truly matter. Become goal-oriented. Whether it’s volunteering your time at an old-age home, writing for a magazine, taking care of your house, or being committed to a healthy diet and exercise regime, a goal can keep you motivated and centred. It can save you a great deal of headache and heartache over useless, negative thoughts that only deplete and drain you.
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