A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep – Vernon Howard
Respect is a gift most people hunger for. Songstress and diva Madonna confesses: “I became an overachiever to get approval from the world.” Unlike Madonna, however, most people don’t admit they desperately yearn for approval, appreciation, recognition, and respect. If I were to claim people are starving for recognition, would I be overstating the case? American psychologist William James didn’t think so, for he wrote, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
Although he taught we crave approval, he didn’t say we need it. This is an important distinction, for just because we want approval doesn’t mean it’s necessary for our happiness. True, some psychologists teach that we need approval, but the problem is they are confusing the needs of a child with that of an adult. When I was an infant, I needed diapers, but as an adult I don’t need them any more (okay, that may be a bad example, for in a few more years, I may need them again).
Joking aside, an infant’s need for approval is genuine. After all, we have all read about cases in which infants have been disposed of in garbage containers by their confused and desperate mothers. Had enough time passed for the parent and child to bond, throwing the baby into the garbage would have been unthinkable. The need for approval doesn’t end with infants. For young children also need approval from their parents to develop confidence and feelings of self-worth, without which they’ll be unable to successfully cope in the world as adults.
Mature adults are independent and do not need the approval of others. How many brilliant thinkers, visionary leaders, imaginative inventors, and creative artists were laughed at and scorned by the then unappreciative masses? Fortunately for the world, those who were ahead of their time did not let the disparaging remarks of others stop them. If the world is to benefit by our contributions, no matter how small they may be, we must follow the examples of those brave souls who did what they thought was right with no regard to the criticism they received.
When you look for approval from others, you lose the freedom to be yourself. The Latin Poet Claudius Claudianus, who wrote more than 1600 years ago, expressed the same idea, “The person who seeks all their applause from outside has their happiness in another’s keeping.” Even more to the point was The Tao Te Ching, which was written in China about 2500 years ago. In it, it says, “Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”
Yet, many people still believe they need the approval of others for their happiness. Their minds are full of destructive thoughts such as: “I can’t stand it when people disrespect me. I have to be appreciated by others because if I am not, that means I am worthless. I must get the recognition I deserve from others.” As adults, we are capable of rational and critical thinking, and we need to use it to dispute and challenge any ideas that threaten our happiness.
Let’s begin by using critical thinking to analyze the above negative thoughts. “I can’t stand it when people disrespect me.” really means “I am unhappy when people disrespect me.” Who says you can’t stand to be disrespected? Who says you can’t live without approval, can’t stand being rejected, hate to be ignored, and must get attention? You do! You make your own rules for life! But why would you want to make rules that work against you? Don’t you realize it’s impossible to be appreciated by everyone? Isn’t it impossible to go through life without being disrespected by someone? So, if you believe that you must be appreciated to be happy, you automatically condemn yourself to unhappiness! Does that make sense? Is that rational? The lesson, then, is don’t demand approval. Don’t expect it. Simply prefer it. We don’t need approval from everyone any more than we need an unlimited amount of food. Obviously, we need some food for survival and happiness, and so it is with approval.
Besides, what is this nonsense about not being able to stand it? What exactly will happen if someone disrespects you? Will you melt? Change into a pillar of salt? Explode into a thousand pieces? No, you will simply fume. Why will you get angry? Because you made it your rule. So, change the stupid (irrational) rule. Change it to: I not only can but will tolerate disrespect and criticism from others because my happiness is more important than their weaknesses. Aren’t others rude to you because they feel threatened by you, feel insecure, lack confidence, or are jealous or envious? Why get upset because of their weaknesses?
Let’s analyze the second negative thought, “I have to be appreciated by others because if I am not, that means I am worthless.” The first part of this thought means, “I will be unhappy unless I am appreciated.” That’s just a stupid (irrational) rule, so change it for the reasons already given. The part about being worthless is equally irrational. Will the value of the Mona Lisa decline if you do not appreciate it? Of course not! Why will your value disappear just because someone does not appreciate it? The answer, obviously, is it will not fade or disappear, but remain intact. So, give up that silly notion.
Now, let’s look at the third and final example of a negative thought: “I must get the recognition I deserve from others.” The first part is based on an irrational rule (“I must”), so change the rule. As for the rest of the negative thought, what’s the problem about getting the recognition you deserve? I always get the recognition I deserve. I get it from myself. Why would I need someone else to tell me what I already know? Don’t you know when you do something worthwhile? Isn’t that enough recognition? Admittedly, it’s always nice to be recognized by others, but it isn’t necessary. So, don’t make your happiness contingent on the whims of others. As long as we strive to become a decent person, we will receive all the self-approval we hope for.
It is helpful to remember how much others want to be accepted and appreciated. Why? Because armed with that knowledge, we can make their lives more pleasant by treating them with respect. Not because we are obligated to do so, but because we want to do so. For like St. Francis de Sales, we will come to realize that, “God is present everywhere, and every person is his work.” So, you see, when we become bearers of gifts and offer our approval to everyone we meet, we become more than kind; we become godlike. A worthy ambition, don’t you agree?
Giving the Gift of Approval to Others
The Roman Statesman, Cato The Elder, taught “Speech is the gift of all, but the thought of few.” When was the last time you thought about the power of speech? When speaking, are you always aware that we use speech to inspire, strike fear, dissuade, persuade, console, hurt, disappoint, encourage, educate, censure, exchange ideas, vent feelings, pontificate, argue, thank, threaten, ridicule, criticize, cheer, sadden, curse, brag, comfort, insult, provoke, incite, or apologize? Before you speak, do you remind yourself our words can express understanding, hate, love, praise, appreciation, resentment, kindness, respect, rudeness, or wisdom? How do you apply the gift of speech? Do you use it to tell jokes, spread rumors, wrench tears, recite poetry, or instill hope?
Have you ever been hurt by the remarks of others? Many have. That’s why Pontianus, who was crowned Pope on July 21, 230 and reigned until 235, wrote in his Second Epistle, “The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword: but not so many as have fallen by the tongue.” That’s a strong commentary about the pain words can cause. But words don’t have to hurt. They can soothe, uplift, and give support.
Do you realize how much power your words have to make a difference in the lives of others? Let’s think about this for a moment. Suppose you encouraged two people today, motivating each of them to encourage two others tomorrow. If the process continues every day, 128 people will have benefited by the end of the week. If it continues for two weeks, there will be 16,384 beneficiaries. What if it lasted for three weeks? There would be more than two million people benefiting from kind acts that you initiated! But let’s be conservative and assume that at the end of three weeks “only” one-half of one percent of that number would benefit. If so, there would “merely” be 10,000 people better off because of your two acts of kindness. Imagine if you were kind to two different people every day! Can you begin to appreciate the enormous power you have to do good?
Of course, the reverse is also true. That is, each of our unkind acts spreads and multiplies just as quickly. Is there any wonder there is so much suffering? Isn’t it obvious the world is in desperate need of our acts of kindness? Can we afford to let a single day pass without a kind word? Let’s begin to make a difference today. Although we can improve the world in many ways with the gift of speech, for clarity’s sake, let’s focus on one issue: encouragement.
Plants need water and kids need encouragement
“Save lives; save kids.” writes Celeste Holm, “We live by encouragement and die without it − slowly, sadly, angrily.” The number of sad and angry children is rising. So is the rate of crime. To put the brakes on crime, we need to build more lives, not more detention centers and prisons. We build lives by nurturing our children. We must encourage them every step of the way, for they become what we encourage them to be, not what we nag them to be. As they struggle to become responsible, they are sure to stumble along the way. At such times, let’s remember that a word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after a success. If they engage in inappropriate behavior that requires a scolding or discipline, guide them gently. The purpose is not to instill fear, but to build confidence. As Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote, “Correction does much, but encouragement does more. Encouragement after censure is as the sun after a shower.”
When nurturing our children, we begin by accepting them as they are. After doing so, we then encourage them to become more than they are. William Arthur Ward‘s words seem to describe how children may feel, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I may not forget you.”
We are all standing on the shoulders of others. We have reached our present station in life because of the help and encouragement we received from others. The best way to return that favor is by picking up our children and placing them on our own shoulders. The best friends children can have are parents that constantly encourage, inspire, and guide them in becoming what they wish to be. The only thing a good parent will do behind their child’s back is pat it. How shall we use our gift of speech? Wisely. After all, as Edward Thorndike explains, “Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure.”
A reader asks :
Q: “Why is that when people disrespect me I feel terrible?”
A: It’s not surprising that you feel hurt when others disapprove of you. After all, as William James said, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” The craving to be appreciated is embedded in our DNA. It serves a useful purpose. You see, the wish to be accepted causes us to act in a way that the group approves of. When we all act as expected, harmony prevails. That’s the benefit of this innate desire to be appreciated.
But there are disadvantages as well. For example, what if the group you belong to is prejudiced and treats a minority unfairly? At such a time we shouldn’t behave in the same way to win their approval because their behavior is damaging, detrimental, divisive, and destructive. There’s no point in promoting harmony in a small group (our community) when a larger group (our country) will suffer. No, at such a time, you must stand up for what is right. But lead by the power of your example, not by the example of your power. That is, don’t try to force others to change and don’t attack them, as that will only create resistance and cause them to dig in deeper.
Make it a rule to always do your best and do what is right, for when you do so, you will win the approval of yourself, and won’t be dependent on others. Remember, if you are worried about the approval of others, you become their prisoner. Don’t fall into this trap. Set yourself free by being your own standard-bearer.
Q: “I am troubled by events that happened years ago. I know it shouldn’t bother me but it does.”
A: When someone disrespects you, the first thing to do is consider the source. For example, if you realized the attacker was mentally ill, rather than feeling hurt, you would feel sorry for that person. What if the person attacking you was prejudiced? If their attacks were based on misinformation, misrepresentations, half-truths, distortions, and false conclusions, wouldn’t you want to correct them?
Read this carefully. A major cause of your problem is the attacks you are experiencing from a biased person. That prejudiced person is you and the attacks are your own self-talk. It is time to fight back, time to challenge your thoughts. The next time you find yourself thinking that someone is disrespecting you, ask yourself a barrage of questions such as, “Why am I so mistrustful of others? Do I really believe everyone has nothing better to do than spend their time thinking about how to attack me? Does thinking it is so, make it so? Do I really believe people are so mean, or is it just my imagination that is being fueled by my own insecurities?”
Don’t be discouraged. This is actually an exciting time because you can start studying the fascinating world of what makes us tick. Learn why we do the things we do, why we self-destruct, why we are our own worst enemy, and how we can heal ourselves. Pick up a copy of this highly readable and helpful book: Why Good People Do Bad Things, How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy by Debbie Ford.
Q: “Recently I stopped helping coworkers at my job because I felt the teamwork wasn’t reciprocal and I was never thanked, so I didn’t feel appreciated. Did I do the right thing?”
A: Do you realize what you are saying? You withdrew your support because the cooperation wasn’t reciprocal? Do you mean your support was conditional? You felt that you would help them, but only if they helped you? What type of “cooperation” is that? Do you really think you can feel that way without the members of the team sensing how you feel? Tell me, would your feelings drive others away or attract them to you? You complain about being disrespected, but you disrespect others by judging and evaluating their performance. While they were working, you were taking notes on how well they reciprocated. Your cooperation did not flow from your heart, and they could tell. And note that you do not approve of your team members. Isn’t your non-approval driving them away from you?
Even thieves love those who are kind to them. Even a gangster cooperates with those who reciprocate. But we are called upon to do better. We are asked to do what needs to be done and asked to do the right thing. Shouldn’t our only wish be to do that which ennobles us? When we live by these principles, life itself will shower us with approval. What more can we ask for?
We have to give away what we wish to receive. Do you wish to be respected? Respect others and you will be respected! Do you want cooperation? Cooperate with others! Do you want kindness? Be kind to others! But this law only works when we act with a pure heart. If you are polite to others because you want something in return (such as an ingratiating waiter) it doesn’t work because people will see through you and realize you are insincere. But when you act sincerely, the world will come clamoring to your doorstep, anxious to help in every way.
Here’s another point: “People who want the most approval get the least and people who need approval the least get the most.” (−Wayne Dyer) This idea was expressed differently by Rozanne Weissman who wrote, “Those whose approval you seek most give you the least.” Can you understand why these two statements are true? You see, when you badly want approval from others, they see you as needy and desperate. This is a turn-off that drives people away. But, if you are comfortable with yourself and don’t demand that everyone treat you with respect, others will find you easy to get along with, which will result in many friends.
Q: “Nowadays it’s hard for me to even fake a smile because I don’t want people to try to take my niceness for weakness and disrespect or mistreat me.”
A: Think of someone nice. Perhaps a relative, former school teacher, or friend. Do you think that person is ‘weak’? Of course not. Kindness is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. The fear that kindness will be thought of as weakness is a sign of weakness. Stop listening to that negative self-talk in your head and start challenging your negative beliefs. In addition to Debbie Ford’s book, which I mentioned earlier, another valuable tool is Shad Helmstetter’s book What To Say When You Talk To Yourself, Powerful New Techniques to Program Your Potential for Success.
Q: “People rarely approach me, probably because they think I’m standoffish.”
A: People don’t avoid us because they think we are standoffish; they stay away because we are standoffish. The best way to make friends is to become one. Friends don’t have conditional relationships; they don’t judge and evaluate one another. Let go of your fears and be the friend you want others to be to you. Follow this suggestion and you will end up with more friends than you can handle.
Isn’t it great to have problems? They give us the opportunity to develop our problem solving skills, grow stronger, acquire wisdom, understand more about the complexity of life, and experience the joy of overcoming difficulty. Elinor MacDonald speaks to everyone – including me and our reader – when she writes, “All of your problems and difficulties are the instruction of life, pointing out to you where you are wrong, where you are lacking in wisdom and understanding, where you need to change so that you can open yourself to a greater degree of good than you have yet experienced.”
I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead by Byron Katie and Michael Katz
Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition By Susan Smith Kuczmarski and Thomas D. Kuczmarski
The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White
Ed Mylett: “STOP Seeking APPROVAL From OTHERS!”
Chuck Gallozzi lived, studied, and worked in Japan for 15 years, immersing himself in the wisdom of the Far East and graduating with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Asian Studies. He is a Certified NLP Practitioner, speaker, seminar leader, and coach. Corporations, church groups, teachers, counselors, and caregivers use his more than 400 articles as a resource to help others. Among his diverse accomplishments, he is also the Grand Prix Winner of a Ricoh International Photo Competition, the Canadian National Champion of a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest, and the Founder and Head of the Positive Thinkers Group that has been meeting at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto since 1999. His articles are published in books, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. He was interviewed on CBC’s “Steven and Chris Show,” appearing nationally on Canadian TV. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his photography at https://500px.com/chuckgallozzi. This article cannot be re-published without permission.