Here’s a guest post by one of our readers about approval seeking. If you find that getting approval by others is a dominant theme in your life, I suggest you read it, as sometimes when we read about the struggle of another person with this issue, it can help us to better deal with it ourselves.
The story I’m about to share is deeply personal – and it’s kind of ironic that I share it in such an inherently public place like the internet. But despite being public, it’s also anonymous – nobody knows that it’s me who’s writing it, and I’m not writing this for the people who know me. I’m writing this for the people who are fighting the same fight that I did for so many years of my life – the people who know how it feels to constantly crave approval.
I have a pretty good idea where my approval addiction came from: my dad. When I was a kid, I always felt I had to try harder and be better. Yes, that instilled a drive that helped me to succeed in many areas of my life. But it also created a void that no one and nothing could fill right in the center of my soul.
All I could do was to cover this void up, kind of like laying a carpet on top of a whole in the ground. It seemed as if everything was alright, but if I stepped on the carpet, I’d fall right into that deep void again. The metaphorical carpet was approval – I was a complete approval addict. Approval by others was the morphine of my emotions – a pain killer that gave me temporary relief from my suffering.
I’m pretty sure my dad always loved me. I think I even know he always loved me. But somehow I never felt it – and even at this point, I’m not sure I feel it. It’s a doubt that’s lingering deep inside.
For many years of my life, whenever I thought of my dad, it was as if someone stuck an invisible rod into my chest. I felt a sudden sadness and a tingling despair spreading throughout my body. It felt like whatever I did, it wasn’t good enough. Everything I achieved was just a fraction of what I should have achieved. It’s true that others looked at me with respect and often envy – but I felt I didn’t live up to the expectations. “The” expectations being my dad’s expectations, but as an adult, I had internalized it so much already that it didn’t really feel like my father’s expectations anymore. It was as if that was what the world expected from me, rather than my dad.
Approval seeking became the driving force between everything I did – even though I never verbalized it or let it show in another way. I figured if I did something that was worthy of approval, I’d get it anyway. Yes, I enjoyed celebrating my successes – but nothing ever filled that void. It was the ecstasy of success, the dopamine rush of a winner that made me feel good and forget about the emptiness inside – but when that faded, I stared again in that gaping hole in my soul.