I’ve been on this self-love journey for a few years now, and I’m finding that there is always more to learn. What I’ve been unfolding lately is the complex subject of approval-seeking. One of my self-love affirmations is “I love and approve of myself.” The “approve” part is coming into focus.
During a recent discussion with a friend, I found myself offering some advice that pointed to how my experience of approval and validation has shifted. He was looking to be more mindful in his eating habits, and I suggested that he say a brief blessing or prayer before each meal. “And you know,” I added, “it’s not like you need to get the whole family involved and make a big deal about it. No one even needs to know but you. Just say a silent blessing to acknowledge your gratitude before you eat.”
Thinking about it later, I was struck by the power of that phrase: No one even needs to know but you.
Growing up as a shy and sensitive kid in the public school system, I became a hard-core people-pleaser. Setting aside for the moment that it really never works – you simply can’t please everyone all the time – it’s also a hard way to live. It becomes a habit of mind to set aside your own desires and needs as secondary.
Think about what you’re saying to yourself: you don’t matter as much as these other people. It’s more important to devote your energy to figuring out what other people want and doing that, or to becoming the person that they want you to be.
That’s a really hurtful way to treat yourself.
I’m not the only one. Many of us, women especially, have developed a strong compulsion to gain approval from others. Sometimes it’s so subtle that we don’t even know we’re doing it. We feel disconnected. We look for the approval of others because we don’t trust our own judgement. We’ve forgotten the power of our inner divine nature.
“All the gold stars in the world cannot earn me the recognition that can only be found within my own heart.” – Nancy Levin
Happily, approval-seeking can be unlearned. The first step, as is often the case with inner growth, is observation. Take a look at your own behavior and see where you are acting from a need for external validation. Journal about it. Be compassionate to yourself as you look more closely at your needs and motivations.
Bit by bit, let go of needing to strive for those gold stars. Don’t try to change everything all at once. There are certainly areas in your life where the approval of others does matter. You need to fulfill the expectations of your employer if you want to keep your job, and if you’re in school, grades are part of the contract. What I’m talking about are the more subjective areas of life: things like what you do with your free time, the goals you set for yourself, your spiritual practices, how you nurture your joy and well-being.
Encourage yourself to create secret joys and dreams. One of the things that I realized after the conversation with my friend was that I have certain intentions and practices in my life that are mine alone. They have value because they resonate in my heart, and they feel empowering to me. No gold stars necessary. No one even needs to know but me.
Find your own delightful little secret to nurture. Pick something that feels authentically healthy and fun. Practice approving of yourself and who you are, perhaps just in this one small thing at first. Revel in the joy you’re creating, the pleasure that’s just for you. You deserve it. Why? Because you say so.
Over time, with practice, your self-approval will grow and your need for external validation will drop away. You’ll still wish to please others, especially your loved ones, but it will come from a place of joy rather than fear. Your giving will come from a place of love and caring, and will bring you even more joy. When something comes up that triggers the fear of what someone will think of you, you’ll be able to observe it clearly and discover where it comes from. You’ll return to your strong foundation of self-love and self-approval, shining your light from within.
P.S. My journey to self-love over the past several years has been so profound and empowering that I wrote a book based on what I’ve learned. It’s called Cultivating Self-Love: Your Path to Wholeness. Looking for more self-love? Check it out now on Amazon or Smashwords.