Acknowledgment is a fundamental human need. However, like most needs, it can subtly shift into something else. In this case, it can become a desire for approval, especially if acknowledgment is lacking.
If you are like most people, you desire acknowledgment from your partner or other people with whom you have a relationship. Maybe it’s your kids, or perhaps a friend.
At this point, you may be wondering what the difference is between the two, and why one is better than another for healthy relationships. (Yes, language is always a tricky yet necessary skill to master when it comes to communicating.)
The chief difference between the two aforementioned concepts is that acknowledgment is directed towards the person, whereas approval is directed towards an action.
When someone feels disregarded or ignored, they may develop a desire for approval for their actions. This is due to their belief that if their actions are valued or approved, then they must be valuable, making them feel acknowledged. Do you know what I mean?
In essence, seeking approval is kind of a reverse-engineered way to feel acknowledged.
Needless to say, this cycle of approval-seeking to feel validated and acknowledged is a result of insecurity. Insecurity, coupled with the desire for approval, can create lasting damage in relationships.
One of the first issues to consider is how your need for approval came into existence. Take note that this investigation is not about looking for someone to blame. Rather, it is an inquiry into the source of your feelings so that you can begin to change your perceptions and behavior.
Approval-seeking can often be a sign of codependency, which is a learned behavior. Codependence is a result of dysfunctional families that ignored feelings of fear and shame. It also describes relationships that are one-sided, in which one person provides all the emotional needs of the other, or enables the other person to maintain irresponsible or addictive behavior.
Now, you might ask why would anybody want to be codependent. That’s a pretty good question. The answer is that nobody consciously chooses to be co-dependent. Like many behaviors that start out with good intentions, somewhere along the way, one loses conscious awareness of their behavior as it slips into a dysfunctional pattern.
For example; you might put the needs of someone else ahead of your own as a gesture of consideration and care. However, when it becomes a habit where you deny your own needs in favor of the other person, it becomes dysfunctional -- and in your mind, you become a “martyr” who feels victimized.
Thus, the desire for approval may be a sign of a bigger issue that must be addressed to keep your relationship healthy.
1. Understand insecurity and codependence. Are you continually trying to get approval from your partner? This makes the relationship codependent, because you’re stuck depending on your partner to make you feel better each day. Are you constantly sacrificing your needs for your partner’s desires? This is another sign of codependence that will feed your insecurity. Here are some other points to consider:
- Insecurity naturally attracts people who feed it.
- What clues in your previous relationships show that you have a history of insecurity? How does your present relationship feed this insecurity?
- Your partner may be oblivious to how their behavior is affecting you. Before you have a conversation, become clear about your feelings and where they originate.
- Your desire for approval makes you question everything you do. It hurts your ability to make decisions, since you have to seek the opinion of others all the time. It also affects your ability to act like an adult, since you are essentially in child mode.
2. Notice your partner’s reaction. Your partner may feel fine about having to give you constant approval and support. However, in many cases, your partner will eventually get tired of your neediness. Here, good counselling helps you get in touch with your feelings and build your self-esteem. Relationships that are built on insecurity and codependence usually don’t last. People become exhausted from neediness, so it’s important to seek help if you think you have a history of codependence.
3. Work on reducing your insecurity. You cannot eliminate the desire for approval unless you gain some self-confidence. First, realize that your insecurity hurts you and your partner. Afterwards, take action to make your insecurity fade. This can involve seeking therapy or medical help. You may also benefit from reading some of the many excellent books on codependency out there, or keeping a journal to write down your thoughts. Learn how to deal with your insecurity and codependence in a healthy way. You may want to try yoga or meditation to change your mindset. Try different techniques to overcome insecurity to see what works best for you.
4. Practice self-care. One of the reasons you seek approval from others may be because you don’t love yourself or take care of yourself. Self-care can range from taking a bath with your favorite essential oils to reading a book by a favorite author. Exercise or doing your beloved hobbies can also help.
5. Avoid expecting applause every day. It’s important to retrain your mind and change your expectations. You may be doing important things, but you can’t expect to receive applause from others at every turn. Remember: The best source of acknowledgement is within. In fact, if you cannot value yourself, nobody else will. As always, work on yourself first. Give yourself the praise you need and you will find that your need for the approval of others will subside. The other side of this involves embracing your mistakes and imperfections. Perfectionism is a disguise for insecurity. Trying to change yourself into an unrealistic persona isn’t healthy.
For a healthy relationship, it is important to acknowledge yourself and reduce your desire for constant approval. You want to be able to enjoy life without someone else supporting you or lifting you up every moment. Once you clarify your own needs and feelings, you will be ready to communicate them to your partner and strengthen your relationship.
An essential component of communication is listening and before we can be a good listener to others we need to be able to listen to ourselves. You might be interested in a short meditation designed to help you become a more loving listener. You can listen to a sample here.