Approval Addiction: Stop Wearing Those Masks and Be Yourself!
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 . . .
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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.
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
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.
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.
Photo: My ever supportive shiny supporters, Brayan and Eli.
With much respect,