Beyond… A Journey Within

Swati Singh

Why Seek Approval?

Originally published in ‘Science of Mind’ magazine, January 2021 issue

If there was a teleshopping commercial ad for approvals, how would it be? “Is your life revolving around approval from others? Is this need stealing your peace of mind? Is it making you self-conscious? Are you on tenterhooks about what others think about you? Is the real you getting lost trying to keep up with what’s acceptable and in trend? Is the mind constantly at unease? Introducing instant approval cream! Apply it daily and get approvals from everyone around you.” Well, life can be as annoying as this ad.

Childhood conditioning

Most of us have been tuned to seek our own validation from others. This starts at a very early age in our lives. Parents, teachers, relatives, neighbors, society telling us what are the approved norms and what is unfitting. Certain career choices, especially in Asia, are considered better than the others. The approval frenzy still doesn’t end here. It is a drug that gives you a high but leaves you with an unending cycle of craving for more.

As a kid, you were punished for what you did on your own and that mental conditioning never went away. Neil deGrasse Tyson, in one of his speeches, said, he is not worried about kids, he is worried about the parents who are suppressing the natural instinct of curiosity and experimentation in kids just to maintain the order in the house. They are all well-wishers but they are unknowingly (or knowingly) caging their free thoughts into a box of set dimensions.

The “good girl syndrome” has made me suffer for many years. It did nothing for others but made my life miserable and stunted my awareness and self-esteem. Had I given even half the time thinking about myself than what I gave to what others think about me, I would have never fallen into this trap. It took time to recognize but when it happened, it was an open sky with wings realized. I don’t mind being the black sheep of the family for the different decisions I took in my life. Because this black sheep is at peace with herself and the world around her.

Work for the love of it

“Because one believes in oneself one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself the whole world accepts him or her.” ~ Lao Tzu

Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are worth billions today. When he painted, he never did it to get appreciation. He never got any. His work was considered too dark and incongruous with the popular paintings of that era. The only painting he sold was ‘The Red Vineyard’ just seven months before his death. Nothing was sold in his entire 10-11 years of painting span. Yet, that did not dissuade him from his art. In just over a decade he created about 2,100 artworks including around 860 oil paintings. The absence of acceptance, appreciation, money or fame never deterred him. He loved doing what he did. He painted for his heart’s content and not to please anyone. His untimely death paused his journey but his work made him immortal.

There are many such legends who did not look for awards and accolades for their work and refused even the highest honors like Nobel Prize. They were the ones who engrossed themselves in their work without thinking about others’ reactions. They never doubted their work as the inner zeal never made them conscious of others. These works in different fields impacted the lives of many others in a positive way.

Not necessarily they were born with such confidence. We all have moments of “Was I good?” that often stirs our brain in the form of different phrases. But when recognition and acceptance is the only way that validates the worth of your existence, you are walking on a road to a dead end. Take the U-turn.

The perfect approval

Having the perfect job, perfect relationship, perfect home becomes an obsession that looks for an endorsement from others in all the desperate forms it can.

You are seeking approvals because you are not sure of yourself. You need someone with prestige and authority to praise you or your work, that’s when your mind finds peace, however fleeting it might be.

Don’t misinterpret me. Getting an appreciation for what you do and feeling happy for it is not a sin. It brightens my day too to read gratitude emails telling me how my words chimed with their hearts. Constructive feedback is necessary. The concern occurs when you get attached to the acceptance of others and that becomes your way of survival in whatever you do. Understand that everyone gets into the mode of pleasing one another to gain something out of each other. If that becomes your reason to survive, you are surviving on plastic food.

There is an amazing amount of redundancy in telling each other who we think we are, and we enter into a conspiracy with one another that says, “I will make believe you are who you think you are if you will make believe I am who I think I am.” – Ram Dass

Your opinions are a result of your upbringing, knowledge and your characteristics. Hence, unique. As you are. The perspective needs to widen with time and not shrink. What others think of you never matters. What you think of yourself matters a lot. Each one of us is responsible for our own lives. Never stop learning and polishing your work.  Never stop believing in every version of you. Standing out, fearing that your opinion or perspective is different from popular accepted one and hence conforming to something that your inner self contradicts, will have no effect on others but will affect you adversely.  You will be miserable under the coat of someone else’s opinion. Throw that off. It’s ill-fitted anyway.


“So long as you are still worried about what others think of you, you are owned by them. Only when you require no approval from outside yourself can you own yourself.” – Neale Donald Walsch

May we accept ourselves wholly and unconditionally!

2 comments on “Why Seek Approval?

  1. Eliza Waters
    February 22, 2021

    Amen, Swati! Approval is a drug that always leaves us craving more. I acknowledge that its roots are legitimate. Early humans needed their tribe to survive, no one dared risk banishment, which likely meant death. We’re still dealing with this survival mechanism’s residual effects. I feel it nearly every time I deal with my family, ha! Ram Dass offered one of my favorite quotes: “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on February 21, 2021 by in Lessons, mental health, personal growth, Positivity, spirituality and tagged , , , , , , .

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