This article first appeared on Divorced Moms and has been republished with permission.
Hello, my name is April and I’m an “approval addict,” recovering with the occasional relapse.
Approval addiction — or the intense desire to obtain approval or avoid rejection from other people leads to certain habitual behaviors.
I am, for example, a recovering “performer.” In other words, I chased “gold stars” to get people to like me. A lot of women are “helpers.” They swoop in to save the day, never saying no to a request for help. “Chameleons” are shapeshifters. They change what they say, how they dress, even the inflection of their voice depending on the company. In my work I’ve actually identified eight different “approval seeking” personality types.
Constantly on The Hamster Wheel
As a performer, my life was a hamster wheel of constant striving — seeking one accomplishment after another. There was always another ten pounds to lose, another person to impress, another task on my to-do list.
I was living in a self-imposed prison. Even though I wanted desperately to belong, to be loved, to feel safe in the world…I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, so anxiety was my only real companion.
The gold stars I was chasing were leading me away from the life I really wanted. I was trying to win over people I didn’t like. I was in a prestigious job for the prestige, nothing else. I was letting the bathroom scale dictate my self worth and I was racking up more credit card debt trying to look perfect.
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I had created a life that didn’t fit me, just to fit in. I was maintaining a persona that wasn’t me, so I could feel good about myself. But it wasn’t working and I couldn’t figure out why. I thought the solution was to achieve more, lose more weight, do better, be better.
It’s Normal to Want Approval
The thing is, it’s normal to want approval. In fact, it’s a biological drive. But “fitting in” is not true belonging. A lot of women don’t feel safe being themselves, so they settle. They settle by hiding parts of themselves they don’t want other people to know about — their quirks, bad decisions, things other people did to them…
What’s the Solution?
In the old days, an ambiguous comment by my boss, a sour look from a neighbor, the wrong birthday present from a friend, would send me into a state of anxiety.
My reaction was always the same. First, I’d replay the situation again and again in my mind thinking of all the ways I could have done something or said something differently. Eventually, I would conclude that I just needed to work harder — to be better, do better and look better.
But the real trick with approval addiction is to stop trying so hard.
The One-Third Rule of Tribes
When my mom passed away six years ago she left me with some very good advice. “April,” she said, “no matter what you do, not everyone is going to like you.” I found it oddly comforting. So I took her advice and turned it into a coaching tool called the “One-Thirds Rule of Tribes:”
If you divide the universe into thirds…
There will always be a third who I call The Haters. No matter what you do, they’ll always hate. They won’t like your shoes. They’ll unsubscribe to your newsletter. They’ll roll their eyes at you behind your back.
There’s another third of the Entire Known Universe I call The Neutrals. No matter what you do, they’ll always be neutral. There’s just no way to dazzle them.
Now, here’s the important part. There’s another third I call Your Tribe. This is your fan base. The more you show up as YOU, uncensored, the more they’ll love on you.
The solution isn’t to continue trying to “be all things to all people.” As you can see, this strategy is a complete waste of time. You just can’t. When you do try to win over the haters and the neutrals, it just leaves you invisible to your tribe. They just won’t be able to recognize you.
My Final Words of Advice
Let the haters, hate. Let the neutrals be neutral. Drop the pressure to do better, look better, be better. Stop settling for a false sense of belonging. Just be YOU so your tribe can finally find you. Once they do, you’ll understand what it really feels like to belong.
Isn’t that what you wanted all along?