Approval from others is a satisfying experience. It makes us feel good and is very motivating. The trouble arises when approval becomes a pursuit and causes a neglect of personal and communal responsibilities.
Disapproval is even worse than not receiving approval. There are some people who are less expressive in offering approval and compliments, but they don’t necessarily express disapproval. There are others, however, who are critical and are vocal with disapproval. That’s even worse for the approval-hungry person.
This doesn’t mean that a person should evade approval. If it comes, let it be a boost of confidence. Likewise, a person shouldn’t feel bad if he feels hurt and upset by disapproval; it’s normal and takes a whole new degree of skill and effort to overcome.
What we are speaking about is the alteration of behavior in pursuit of approval or forestalling of disapproval.
Our aim is to internalize, to the greatest degree possible, our convictions about what we believe in, what we need in life, what we wish for and what we are obliged to do. We must then not veer away from them at all in an effort to replace them with either the satisfaction of approval or the relief from disapproval.
Applying this to relationships – marriage, parenting, or work – it would be prudent to be conscious of where one stands in the “Approval Pursuit vs. Giving” continuum. For instance, let’s say Sarah leans more toward approval seeking, while Dan towards approval/compliment insufficiency (i.e., not offering it so readily). The result: a perfect storm. Sarah, in her pursuit of approval from Dan and sensitivity to its lack may adjust her behavior and perhaps even her values in order to get the approval she craves for from Dan. Yet, Dan, seeing nothing lacking in his level of approval/complement-dispensing, doesn’t respond so readily to Sarah’s needs. This angers her and either drives her to expressing frustration or withdrawing from him. Either way, Dan feels even less inclined to offer approval and this will in turn infuriate Sarah still more, and the cycle goes on.
We owe it ourselves to be aware of our respective tendencies, to see how it may be contributing to a negative dynamic in our relationships and begin to seek ways to change it.