Today, I’ll be providing feedback on my journey in week five of the Purposeful Living Program, in which I confronted the consequences of approval seeking behaviour and took on the challenge of making much needed changes.
More from the Purposeful Living program:
I’m going to be frank. This may have been my biggest challenge yet in the Purposeful Living Program with Bianca van Wyk, because it forced me to direct my attention away from the professional goals that I’ve been relentlessly pursuing in 2021, and to spend some time on shortcoming in my personal life and my capacity to deal with several problems.
So bear with me while I pour my heart out and don’t judge me (or do… that’s kind of the point).
As a disclaimer, I should mention that last week, I found myself in a state of depression. I’m used to seasonal depression, which usually coincides with the winter months, but to confront it in February is an anomaly for me, and having spent a few days considering the typical approval seeking behaviour and practicing some hard-to-swallow introspection. When I looked at Bianca’s list of behaviour that are symptomatic of approval seeking, these points were the ones that resonated almost the second that I read them: Resentment, saying things I don’t mean, apologising at every turn, non-conformity and “faking it”.
I’ve always considered myself as a person that couldn’t care less about other people’s opinions, but I came to realise that I certainly am showing the signs of someone that’s looking for other people’s opinions. My non-conformist approach to life, on a cultural level, a professional level and in my approach to relationships has been destructive and playing out almost without my knowledge.
For starters, I am very apologetic. I say sorry as soon as I start to feel I may look like a fool or am hurting someone’s feelings (ie. being met with disapproval). I say “I’m sorry”, more than any other phrase, and even when I haven’t really done anything wrong. I feel that I’m not worthy of being treated with respect, affection or love. And, upsetting the people that show me any kind of generosity, attention or simply pays me a compliment is a deep-seated fear, because I don’t feel like I will be able to find other people that treat me in a similar fashion.
Often this leads to resentment, if I allow someone to treat me like I’m not deserving of their approval or validation. I am surrounded by successful, well-rounded people in my family, friends and even most of my romantic relationships, and resent that I have never yielded any significant success. I feel dysfunctional and my emotional needs make me feel like a broken, weak man. For months on end, or even years, I fake my way through some relationships, put on a smile and tell myself I can be happy that I’m behind on the curve and that the path I’ve taken in my life is the right choice. I feel unintelligent, unambitious, unlikable and… well… inferior.
And I frequently say things I don’t mean, getting into shouting matches to the few people that do genuinely have my best interests at heart.
For example, if I feel frustrated on any particular day, for whatever reason, someone can tell me that the things that I do in my career, like quitting my job to take on freelance work and start a business (or a blog), when I get told I’m taking the wrong approach in some way, rather than treat it as constructive criticism from someone that wants me to succeed, I treat it as a personal attack, as if it’s an insult to the work I do. If I turn down a good job offer, my motives are questioned and I feel like I’m not being supported. While in actual fact, the people who love me are just trying to help me succeed and I act out by being defensive and hurling back insults with the express intentions of hurting my “antagonists”. It leads me to drive away good people.
And, with this approval seeking behaviour, I am always discouraged from doing things that I might want to do. I don’t take offers for copywriter positions or PR roles or even as an out-and-out journalist because I fear moving into an environment where all of my ideas are knocked down and I have to be a “worker bee” that’s compliant with somebody else’s vision. I fear the stifling of my creativity and, in turn, feel that perhaps my own vision is too ambitious and won’t work out. So I’ve never fully taken on what could have been a good idea and give up out of complacency. And it is at this point where job offers dry up and I miss opportunities at following a standard, stable career path, resenting myself for it.
And I have a similar feeling of buyer’s remorse when considering my relationships that were good, but clouded by my desperate search for approval. If I don’t get the validation that I desire, I press the self-destruct button, people leave my life and I sit for months on end, accumulating insecurities from my feelings of rejection, which starts a new cycle of approval seeking in other relationships with people who care about me, whose approval I don’t feel worthy of and desire more than anything.
So I had to ask the tough questions, which boiled down to “how would things be different if I got the approval I’m seeking?”
The answer, I find, in my discussions with some people about my approval seeking behaviour, is that I already have it. So many people tell me that I’m very intelligent and that they believe I’ve got what it takes to reach my lofty goals. My fear is not about my career or my goals, it comes down to whether I’m a nice person, especially considering how I treat those close to me. When I look back on some of my romantic relationships, for example, my fear has always been about whether I’m doing enough, whether I can be a supportive person and remove myself from my desire for someone else to be happy and just allow myself to grow with them, rather than live in a constant state of resistance, caught up in a self-fulfilling prophecy which only makes things worse. I spend months considering what I did wrong, where things went wrong and whether it would have made a difference. And perhaps, in the same way I felt I was never supported in my professional goals, but was proven wrong, perhaps my desire for approval overlooked the fact that I already had it.
What I need to do is to break the chain by taking feedback on board, be thankful for it and allow it to shape my perspective, rather than destroy any positive perceptions of myself that I have. I have to believe that I’ve achieved many things that are laudable and that I deserve the love, respect and validation that will ultimately follow if I focus on the good in my interactions with others and/or to cut people out of my life that do not get on board and aren’t worthy of my time anyways.
Over the past few days, I’ve been taking some of this stuff on board. And my feelings of depression, although not fully dissipated have somewhat subsided, while dark thoughts are being dismissed. I have stopped replaying moments in my head and have tried to “delete” the many things that I did get wrong from my memory, ending the cycle of replaying moments in my head and questioning if things had been different. I have to leave the moments of disapproval, the moments of rejection, behind. Some people are fixtures and lead characters in the story of my life, others play cameo roles. They need to be left behind and I need to start accepting that some criticism, when I’m not validated in every single step forward, sideways or, especially, backwards. I need to pay attention and ask myself whether someone has my best interests at heart, rather than focus on what they’re saying. It will help nurture the healthy relationships I have, it will cut loose the unhealthy ones. And without the monkey of approval seeking on my shoulder, I have the opportunity to truly thrive in a personal, professional and spiritual capacity. I have a long way to go, it won’t be easy and I could fail. But at least I’m acutely aware of it and am moving forward.