Do you approve?

I used to write frantically in my journal trying to figure other people out. Why was my mom ignoring me? Why were my sisters not on my side? Why was my boss picking on me? Why was my husband not paying as much attention to me? Sometimes, I wanted to crawl inside my journal and live among the questions that I couldn’t answer. Because the questions gave me hope. If I could figure out why the people in my life were acting a certain way, then I could fix them and make things better. And when I say make things better, I mean better for me.

It never even occurred to me that situations couldn’t be ‘fixed’. I thought that with enough energy and determination I could figure things out and I could get what I wanted, or really get what I needed. And what I needed was positive confirmation of who I was. I was an approval addict. I couldn’t let it go if someone in my life didn’t approve of my actions, thoughts, or dreams. I felt a need to justify and explain until I saw the understanding in their eyes. Then and only then could I relax and feel ok with myself.

That was why so much of what I really thought, I would keep to myself. I couldn’t stand the rejection. I would write down all my thoughts and future plans for no one to see but me. It was my little secret that no one could criticize or stop me from doing. I created a distance from people to protect myself, but that distance ended up making me feel more lonely and depressed. The actions I was taking weren’t teaching me how to talk about my emotions, my thoughts, and my future dreams and be ok if someone disapproved.

My journal writing started in childhood as a way to express myself in an environment that didn’t allow self expression. When I graduated college and got my first job, my agreeable nature earned me praise and promotions. I was flexible and accommodating and then I would go home and write down my true feelings. I didn’t see at the time that this behavior was slowly chipping away at my self esteem because I wasn’t protecting my boundaries. I knew that there was a sadness inside of me, a dissatisfaction. I thought the feeling was a burden that I would have to carry around and manage because I came from a dysfunctional family. I thought that it was a part of who I was, and I just had to live with it. I did my best to distract myself from my sadness when it would come up. When I did try and talk about it, I had no emotions. I was completely disconnected. The disconnection was one thing, but not knowing why I felt that way, or how to feel more connected with myself and others was what made me depressed.

But, I was in survival mode. I couldn’t let down my guard. I couldn’t express my true feelings for fear of opening up a a flood of emotions that I wasn’t sure that I could handle. What if I lost my mind from all the emotions that were locked inside of me? What if I became so overwhelmed that I couldn’t show up for work? What if I lost my job and couldn’t pay rent? I was on my own at 23 years old, I didn’t have the luxury to express myself and deal with the consequences. I had to keep moving forward and find ways to ignore my depression and sadness.

So, I became addicted to approval. I realized that I would come out of my depression if someone gave their energy to me. If someone paid attention to me, praised me, or asked me out on a date I would feel better about myself. This worked. I didn’t have to look at myself, I could just rely on others feeding me their energy. I didn’t know how to access my own energy, so I relied on others. As long as their light was shining on me, I was good. But when they disapproved of me, or took their light away from me, I couldn’t handle it. So, I would try and convince them to give it back to me. I would try and explain to them why they should give me their light and energy, not because I wanted a relationship with them, but because I needed their energy to not fall into a depression.

Why was my mom ignoring me? Why were my sisters not on my side? Why was my boss picking on me? Why was my husband not paying as much attention to me? I realize now what I should have been asking is, Why am I ignoring myself? Why am I not on my side? Why am I picking on myself? Why am I not paying attention to me?

These were hard questions to ask myself. Why was I fighting so hard to get my mom to answer the question of why she was ignoring me, when I couldn’t even answer it myself? Why was I ignoring me, but spending all my energy worrying why others were ignoring me? Maybe if they didn’t ignore me then I would feel worthwhile enough not to ignore myself? What about how I felt about myself? Did my opinion not matter?

I couldn’t say that I was ignoring my own opinion at that time, because in order to ignore something you have to be aware of it. I knew how I felt about the people around me but I had no idea how I felt about myself. How could I value something that I wasn’t acknowledging? In order to value myself I had to look at myself and get to know me. So began my journey to self discovery. Instead of using my time to figure out others, I started to use this same time to try and figure out myself.

Once again I turned to my writing. A year and a half ago when I started this blog, I didn’t fully understand why I felt a deep need and desire to do it as part of my journey. But I see now that this blog is my way of expressing myself and being ok with being ignored, or someone disapproving. Now I spend my time writing about me instead of writing about others. I am starting to get to know myself better and not only see myself, but value myself. I am also learning that connecting with others is so much more rewarding than seeking their approval.

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  1. Wow! another one in this search of self-knowledge, every day more people are awakening, to know ourselves. thanks for sharing. Happy life (:

  2. This is so good, Peta! I’m glad you are learning more about yourself and growing. I have been a people pleaser and have learned to stop doing things that I don’t want to do just so others will approve. It’s easy to step back into that role though. Blogging can keep you focused and the interaction with others is so worth it, in my opinion.
    Xx Melanie

    1. Hi Melanie, Blogging is so worth it. I have gotten braver and braver each week with my writing. I love connecting with like minded women like you through my blog. Being a people pleaser is a tough habit to break, I am still working on it. It is a lot of times my go to response and then I have to stop myself and take a step back. I have learned that it is better for everyone if I am not a people pleaser. Love, Peta

  3. Many years ago, Dave (my now deceased husband) told me, “Sometimes I wish you cared *just a little* about what other people think.” My reply, “Dave, the people I respect I care enormously what they think. The others…not so much.”
    It’s still true.

  4. Hi Petra
    I write in a journal and have for years, feelings, thoughts, questions. I know that people cannot be fixed, changed, but it helped me realize issues in my life that needed work. I too, felt the need for acceptance, but feel better knowing I accept myself more these days.
    From midlife blogging
    Jess xx

    1. Hi Jess, I totally understand what you mean. I always thought I was so caring and running around for everyone else but when I analyzed it I realized that maybe my actions may have been annoying to others as I tried to please them into liking me. I was doing this because I didn’t have the courage to reveal myself and deal with possible rejection. I have learned so much about myself by journaling and even more so by writing this blog. Having people meet the real me and accept has let me start to let go of needing approval. Love, Peta

  5. Your questions are valid ones that really affect how we not only feel about ourselves but how we are perceived as well. Once we get into the habit of doing the right thing for ourselves like setting boundaries and saying no to being a doormat it transcends into every area of life.

    Im so happy you started writing. Thanks for sharing your life with us.💖

    1. Hi Patti, thank you for sharing you life with me also. Setting boundaries is so important, and in my opinion is the beginning of self care. I don’t believe that you can really commit to yourself until you set boundaries so that you can keep the commitments to yourself. Love, Peta

  6. Journaling is such a valuable tool for clarifying, expressing, or just sorting through stuff and getting it out. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Kristine, it really is such a great way to get in touch with yourself. I love stream of consciousness writing, where I just write and write until I am done. It feel so good to get all my emotions out on paper and then sort through them. Thanks for reading my post and commenting.
      Love, Peta

  7. Thanks for sharing this. I know a bit of what it is like to seek and focus on approval from others. I am glad you found blogging as a way to focus on you.

    1. Hi Margaret, I used to write in my journal to focus on myself, and then reread it and try and learn about myself. I had an overwhelming urge about a year and a half ago to make it all public. I started out slow, but I have gotten braver and braver with each post. Writing this blog has made more confident in life, I don’t feel like I have anything to hide anymore. Love, Peta

  8. Hi Petra! I really enjoyed reading this post. Much of it resonated with me. Great content! I have used journal writing as an escape for decades. The tone of voice has changed to a kinder, self loving version.

    1. Thanks Barbara. I am glad you enjoyed my post. I love writing in my journal, and just writing in general. Sometimes I feel agitated and I don’t know why, then I start writing and it all comes out. Now, I make my journal public, it has been great to see that some of the feelings I have are shared by others. It makes me feel more connected to others, and myself. Love, Peta

  9. I love how open and honest your post is! You made me really think about my own desire for approval. I never thought of myself as needing approval, but now that I’ve read about your situation, I can completely see this in myself! I can remember, from a young age, that I’d be bothered if I heard that someone didn’t like me. As a woman who is 51 years old, I am definitely more self aware and not feeling the need to please everyone. However, this is something that I continue to see showing up in my life. I realize that it really doesn’t matter if people agree with me or “like me.” Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about things and some people just don’t click together. Anyway, great food for thought. Thank you for sharing your stories!

    1. Hi Lisa, I didn’t realize how the need for approval was so ingrained in me. I just thought doing things for others made me ‘happy’, but I noticed when they weren’t happy when I did something that I would get upset with them, and a little resentful. Slowly I started to realize that pleasing them was a way to make me feel better about myself, as long as they had a positive reaction. But I would expend so much energy trying to please so that I could get acknowledgement, rather than just acknowledging myself!

  10. Wow! That is so insightful! You were able to clear the fog and see things differently! You are an excellent writer and I think many people could have very similar experiences, and I think your writing helps people. You write very clearly, and that is a gift. Readers treasure that. I treasure that.

    1. Hi Amy, thanks so much! My goal is to communicate to people that may have had similar experiences to me so that they don’t feel so alone. I hid so many emotions for so long and felt like I was the only one going through things, and it is a terrible feeling. So, I am hoping to help others realize that they are not alone!And to speak up and get the support they need and deserve. Love, Peta