Sun, April 05

The art of winning your own approval

During my monthly talk at Cottonwood’s Jerona Café in January, one participant, Nancy, asked a question. She wanted to know how to overcome a tendency to overlook her own needs in favor of pleasing others. I didn’t have time to answer in depth, so I’m devoting February’s columns (both of them) to this topic.

How do we come to act in accordance with others’ wishes instead of our own? Where does it all start?

As very young children, we begin to believe false messages (lies) that we’re not valuable, important or good enough. As we develop the sense that we aren’t acceptable just for being ourselves, we conform to the wishes of others. The powerful adults in our lives reward our conforming behavior. We rely on the approval of others for our own sense of “enough-ness.”

These powerful adults act as our role models. They exist both at home and at school, and they socialize us to please others. I watched my mother put on phony smiles in the face of her anger or disappointment so that she would feel accepted. I often received punishment for speaking the truth about my feelings and opinions. I learned to be “nice” to gain approval in the eyes of others.

Being “nice” can become a way to manipulate others to like you. Believing that you must manipulate to gain approval carries with it an underlying resentment. Who wouldn’t feel resentful in the face of a belief that you can’t act or speak in accordance with your own truth?

My mentor used to tell me that my “niceness” came with an ingratiating edge to it. She called it “ni-asty” (a combination of “nice” and “nasty”). It made others uncomfortable in my presence.

Into your teenage and adult years, you gather evidence that these lies (that you’re not enough of something) contain truth. You even structure your life according to the lies. A big motivation for my going to school in midlife to earn a doctorate degree had to do with gaining my father’s approval. When I earned the doctorate, then I would be valuable.

I had forgotten the truth about myself: that by virtue of my very existence, I already have value. I don’t have to perform for anyone or win anyone’s approval to be okay.

Approval-seeking behavior comes at a great cost to you. It lowers your self-esteem and leads to dissatisfaction, restlessness and depression. If you never do another thing to please someone, you are completely okay. When you embrace this truth, you embrace the ability to stop giving away your power by struggling for the approval of others.

Now that you know where “pleasing” behavior comes from, the way out of this habit comes from taking back your power. When you take back your power, you give yourself approval. That’s what matters.

In two weeks I’ll write about HOW!

For a more in-depth discussion of this topic, attend Dr. Marta’s Chat ‘n’ Chew, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 9:45-11 a.m. at Jerona Café in Cottonwood. To contact Dr. Marta, call (928) 451-9482 or write her at

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