Approval Addiction: Stop Wearing Those Masks and Be Yourself!

By Angela Bunyi on March 31, 2010

Everyone needs to hear that they are doing a good job and that they are appreciated. We feel good when someone shows us love and approval, but can that go too far?  In the educational setting, filled with people pleasers, we often find ourselves working in isolation or in competition. Worse yet, we work in the fear of letting others down, which is not surprising, considering how much teachers have on their plate at all times. Could you be suffering from Approval Addiction? I am willing to admit this is my largest and most significant issue as a teacher. This is by far the most personal post I have ever written, and I hope it speaks to those who need to hear it.

Read on to find the signs of and possible solutions for approval addiction . . .

Image from focal.org

Dear Readers,

I Am Who I Am . . . Flaws and All . . . and I Am Awesome!

First, I would like to share a very personal side of me with you. This post comes from my heart and stems back to the beginning of this school year. So let's go back to July . . .

I made a switch to a new school — new grade, new classroom to set up, new administration, new coworkers, new pressures to continue working with Scholastic, and a reputation to live up to. It was too much pressure to handle.

I found myself having authentic panic attacks by early August, rapid weight loss followed by weight gain (in the 15 pound range), sickness, and a very confused husband. I am comfortable sharing this information with you now because it was a season in my life. At the time, I felt as though I was stuck in a dark tunnel with no light in sight. It was an incredibly scary time for me. "What is wrong with me?" I would confide in my husband and a close friend — and no one else because I was afraid of how that might make me look.

However, that season has passed, and I am better for it now because I know the root of the problem. I was working so hard to try to please everyone without any regard to myself. In the process I made myself sick and got seriously worn down. I wanted to wow my new administrators; I wanted to wow my new parents and students; and I wanted to be a wonderful wife and mother to my family. Combine this with my wanting to wow you, and I was simply setting myself up for trouble.

I left the most important people and priorities out of my life, and I lost in the process. What's more, my family lost in the process. After talking about this with a coworker, she offered a book titled Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone by Joyce Meyer.  Since I just finished reading this, and the last post focused on balancing school and family life, I felt like this was my time to open up and hopefully shed light on a problem I suspect many of us suffer from. I am happy to say that I am balancing my life well and feeling awesome. Flaws and all!

 

Definition of Approval Addiction

From Joyce Meyer:

First of all, an addiction is something that controls people — it is something they feel they cannot live without, or something they feel driven to do in order to relieve pressure, pain, or discomfort of some kind. Someone addicted to drugs, for instance, will do whatever he needs to in order to get another “fix” when he begins to feel uncomfortable. Likewise, someone addicted to alcohol will feel compelled to have a drink when life’s problems begin to rise up and stare him in the face. The substance that people are addicted to helps relieve their pain momentarily, but then a damaging, controlling cycle starts in their life. Approval addiction is much the same, but instead of running to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or eating to heal the hurt, those who suffer from it seek people’s approval. When they feel unsure and shaky about themselves, they look for a “fix” — they seek out someone to comfort them and reassure them everything is all right and they are acceptable.

 

Signs of Approval Addiction

~ You consider yourself a people pleaser

~ You are overly responsible and take on the responsibilities of others

~ You say "yes" when you know you should say "no"

~ You strive to be like "X" teacher/person

~ You depend on others' approval to determine your self-worth

~ You fear rejection or conflict

~ Even when you are doing well, it's not enough

~ If you do something that someone else doesn't approve of, you feel guilt or stress


Can You Relate? How Much Are You Worth?

In one analogy I read, a presenter shows an audience a twenty dollar bill. He asks who would like the bill and everyone's hands go up. Then he takes the bill and crunches it up. Again he asks who wants the bill. All hands go up again. Finally, he takes the bill, throws it on the floor, and stomps on it. Everyone says they are still interested in receiving the bill. The message? You have to remember that you always have value and that can't be taken away! Your flaws make you human. Don't tell yourself that if you were only more like someone else or if you could only balance more things in your day, you'd be a happier person. You won't be. I promise, and I know this from experience.


How to Stop Seeking Approval

Honestly, I know there isn't an easy, quick answer to this, just as there isn't an easy answer to balancing school life and home life. I suspect we all struggle with both of these things at times or to some degree. And as with all addictions, we have to suffer some before we achieve victory. Some of the tips below may help. I particularly find that being a joyous person who knows what my priorities are helps most. Also, my church has helped (we are in the bible belt). 

The following section comes from author Dr. Annette Colby's book Your Highest Potential: The New Psychology of Understanding and Working with Self.

The risk of being addicted to others’ approval is that you end up living your life for other people. Remember, you are the source of love and approval. You do not need to get it from others. Cultivate inner worth and approval by taking action on these steps:

What Do You Really Want?

Ask yourself what you really want to do, rather than what others would like you to do.

Know Your Priorities

Develop a written plan, goal, or life direction that is important to you. Knowing what your priorities and goals are make it easier to focus your choices and efforts on activities that have meaning to you. Do something every day related to your self-chosen life direction.

Honor Your Word to Yourself

Build self-worth and self-esteem from within. Make conscious choices every day to put your needs at the top of your priority list. Set your daily goals and follow through. Honor your word to yourself. Every evening, acknowledge your efforts and your successes. Taking these simple steps shows you that you possess the ability to think for yourself, make decisions, love yourself, and be self-reliant.

Be Joyful

Learn to become a master of joy! Joy is the energy that makes you feel great — not just in the moment, but in the long-term. Joy generates the power to accomplish. Do things that require joy, and you will become more joyful. For instance:

• Eat delicious food and activate every sense while eating

• Sing from your heart and dance from your soul

• Do kind things for yourself

• Engage in activities that make you feel great to be alive

• Give yourself positive feedback

• Take action on the goals that are important to you

• Learn to relieve stress

Express Yourself

Cultivate your drive and passion to express yourself creatively. Draw, paint, take a pottery class, plant an herb garden, paint your bedroom; just do something that requires your creative input. Take a chance, take risks, commit yourself, and let yourself make mistakes.

Focus on Love, Not Winning Love

Focus on loving rather than winning love. Look around your world, and look at what is important to you. Find ways to expand the love you are on the inside and then share that love with whatever or whomever you choose.

Say No!

Practice the art of compassionately saying “no” when you mean “no.” Saying "no" is your right. When someone persists, repeat your position, perhaps in a different way. Don’t cave in. When you are clear on your goals and priorities, it is easier to identify what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. Bear in mind that you are saying "no" to their request, not to the person. Trust yourself! Learn how to say, “That sounds absolutely great and thanks for asking, and as much as I’d love to, I simply have to say no because . . . ” 

Who Moved My Cheese?

I'd also like to reference another popular book that comes to mind. With the desire to find approval through others, it all boils down to fear. As "cheesy" as this sounds, reading one line in this book had an INCREDIBLE impact on me many years back:

"What would you do if you were not afraid?"

I have let this question guide me time and time again. Don't let fear of failure prevent you from trying something out, whether your fears concern money, acceptance, your circumstances, or anything else!


Watch a book review of Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson. There is a children's version of this book available as well.

 

Will You Accept the Challenge?  

Is this post ringing true with you? If so, are you willing to admit it as I am? Please feel free to use the comments as a place to share your thoughts and tips on this sensitive topic. First names work, and heck, a lot of Amandas seem to post here . . . you could even use that name if you'd like! Emails don't show up unless you have an account, so you don't even have to worry about that.

But even if I don't receive a single comment, I don't care. It doesn't make this post (or me) any less significant than any other post I have written in the past two years. I know a post like this would have helped me tremendously when I was struggling with this at the beginning of the school year. Just knowing that I might be helping one person through my very personal story is enough for me.

  

Learn more about our classroom or read a post that builds on the concept of fear, "Don't Be Afraid to Shine."

Photo: My ever supportive shiny supporters, Brayan and Eli.

With much respect,

Angela


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Anne,

Thank you for your really honest post. You sound like a very grounded person, and I am confident that although you have taken on too much this year it will all work out. In your case, you are really helping others with utilizing and adopting a reader's and writer's workshop approach.

And your teacher friend would have probably said that to me as well (if they knew me). We shouldn't be our worst enemies. :( Especially when we have a student teacher in the room. They need to know that the job is hard, demanding, but also just so-so at times. Really. I get a lot visitors, but I have learned over time to not change my plans in anyway. Why give an illusion?

All this said, I am confident you are doing an excellent job. Also, I need to make my next post on where I "get" my reading mini-lessons because I think many of us struggle with that (when so many just rely on UofS for writing). My resources are wide and far for reading lessons, but I'm starting to narrow them down. For example, my literacy coach is ordering the Units of Study for Reading by Lucy Calkins right now. That's a year of quality planning done for you right there..and I am also using the 40 mini-lessons presented by Gallegher's book. Why re-invent the wheel?

Best,

Angela

Amy,

You are right on. You know it's bad when friends that are not in the teaching profession are noticing how the profession is changing and requiring so much more...especially testing pressure.

And I hope you are slowing down today and just relaxing with friends and family. Here in Tennessee the weather is just GORGEOUS!

Best to you,

Angela

Amanda,

Wow, I am going to start with the end of your comments...Congratulations!!! Being able to make an impact like that which is leading to an in-service and movement. Wow! And I am happy to know that I helped you with that through previous posts last year.

And that's what I am talking about. It doesn't matter if I have 4 comments or 30...we are both making a difference, but priorities have to come first.

Which reminds me, you said this is your 4th year of teaching. That one parent you have is probably a rare thing, and I could almost give you 100% odds that you won't have one like that next year. However, even I always have one parent that seems skeptical or unsure of me each year. I formally tried devoting tons of energy towards them to "win them over"...but not now. I am here for their kids, my kids, my family, and God. It sounds like you are on the right path Amanda!

So, good luck with your wedding plans, a lighter schedule (good for you on cancelling cheerleading coaching), and a lighter you! Those are such great things that make me happy just hearing about. Living it makes it even better. :)

Much respect,

Angela

Hello Holly,

I started off the same way...just married, new town, first year of teaching. Bless you!

But just remember to keep your priorities set, and I am sure you will do an awesome job!

Thanks for sharing,

Angela

Hey Veronica,

(This is my sister, for those interested). Seriously, could I have written this at a better time?!? When you called upset, I just knew this was what you needed. It was like I wrote it for you, so you are welcome. :)

And ditto to you. You're doing an awesome job with your kiddos!

Love ya,

Angela

Dear Angela, I have been following your and Beth's posts for a long time. I have learned so much!! Thank you for sharing this particular post. I took on way more responsibilities than I should have this year- partly because I was so excited about the direction our reading/writing program was going! Last March I began incorporating literature circles/buddy reading from what I had learned from prof.books and your and Beth's models. It was great-I really wasn't nervous-though I did spend an awful lot of time researching and preparing..Long story short-our campus was ready to implement a new approach to our LA program via Reading/Writing Workshop. We had extensive training late spring and throughout summer. Everything started great and then come end of Nov. I began to feel anxiety-as I am the chair of LA committee and I felt it was my responsibility to have the answers for my co-workers. I was part of the text book adopt. comm. and that took a lot of time, plus several other things. I have 4 GT students that I needed to extend- and one is the son of our GT teacher who had helped me with my experimentation with lit.circles, etc. I felt (and still) feel like my ideas, etc. are not detailed or good enough- and spend hours trying to develop something spectacular-and end up not accomplishing anything to put into action- or it feels disjointed. I also had a student teacher from Jan.-March and felt I had to be more "perfect" as a teacher. A fellow teacher who is very wise-just said to me the other day- I have raised the bar on myself from last year. And your post helps put all of this in perspective- and it makes sense. I'm trying to please my principal-who has put a lot of faith in me-and the mother of one student who is so good at this-I felt she expected more from me- and from myself. You are right in that family, personal health and growth, and also my students have suffered. I think there are many teachers out there who are going through this. Thank you again for sharing your experience. I have to admit that I would ask myself how do Angela and Beth do all this. I wanted to be where you both are in your teaching abilities- and lost site that this takes time- and that you both had probably experienced setbacks, etc. Your story has helped me stop and reflect on re-evaluating my priorities and just getting back to moving forward with my teaching and letting my students' needs and responses help guide me. I wish you all the best! Anne

I loved this post! I think it is so true for so many teachers including myself. I feel the better I get as a teacher - the more the pressure is on to keep pleasing, to keep up the standard I seem to have set as a good teacher. It gets so overwhelming that my life is often consumed by my job. I am a yes, yes, yes person! In education we work so hard but sometimes it never seems to be enough - there is always more to do - more to learn. The big lesson I guess is slow down liek you said and enjoy the ride. Thanks your words - they really hit home and it's great to know teachers you admire feel the same way:)

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