Question: I sense that I am imprisoned by a deep need for others to like me, to approve of me. How can I free myself from this need?
Answer: Looking for ourselves in the eyes of others throws us behind the walls of a psychic prison. The door slams shut each time we find ourselves feeling good about ourselves simply because someone has given us a needed nod of approval. Whenever someone approves of us, it gives us a feeling we like. These silent emotions tell us that we're good, wanted, or in some way important. But the real pleasure in these sensations is that it secretly serves to strengthen the way
we want to feel about ourselves, that we're worth being cared about, and that our existence has meaning.
If these positive emotions were the true end of a happy story, there wouldn't be a problem. But they're never the end.
At the same satisfying moment of our being unconsciously identified with this feeling of being approved, something else is happening to us deep within our own uninvestigated nature. As our approval-provided feeling of self worth starts to fade,
which all such feelings do , we begin feeling as though we too are about to fade
away ! But, if we could only see behind these feelings of fading back into obscurity, what we'd see is that our feelings of self worth aren't really disappearing at all.
They're only going through a state of flux, a psychic transformation that turns these once-pleasing emotions into their own undesirable
opposites . Now, the same feelings that had confirmed us only moments before become a source of misgiving -- internally questioning us as to our own importance. So we start to worry. Maybe we're no longer needed? Maybe no one loves us? And as this vicious, invisible, psychological process moves towards its inevitable conclusion,
we begin feeling a subtle form of fear , a distant dread that heralds the coming of insecurity and self doubt. This brewing anxiety warns us of a serious loss of some kind if we don't do something right away to shore ourselves up... and so we go out looking for approval all over again. No wonder we never break free from this approval seeking business!
The way out is not so much what you do as what you don't do . Face your fear of disappearing,
without doing anything about it ... and something will disappear.
But it won't be you . The only thing that will fade from view will be your own fear of fading. And, as it disappears, what appears in its place, right before your inner eyes, will be the
you you've been looking for in all the wrong places! This is the real beginning of having your own life, of being your own person. Only this time your sense of yourself is coming to you from
reality itself. And this is the only approval you'll ever need, the
only one that never fades.
(from Freedom from the Ties that Bind)
Question: How can it be wrong to want or enjoy the approval and respect of my peers?
Answer: Winning approval and respect from others and wanting it have very little in common. When we're willing to go the extra mile -
to be or to do what is true , especially if there's a personal cost attached to it - others see our sacrifice and their approval is a spontaneous reaction to seeing excellence in action. Enjoyment of this kind of approval is both natural and non-binding. But if our initial wish is to attract attention or applause, then we're doing what we're doing for all the wrong reasons. Then we have neither good works, nor respect. Here's why this is true:
Approval may be awarded, but never sought . The approval we seek makes us debtors of our own fearful feelings - and of whomever makes us temporarily forget these fears. We must be very alert to the whole process of peer approval. Cunning human beings understand just how deep and strong run the forces that drive us to look for approval from others. They use this knowledge of our weakness for their own gain. Only higher self-awareness which produces active inner-alertness can keep us safe from these unconscious and misguided self-betraying forces - as well as from those who would use them against us. Increase your effort to be aware of yourself around others, and instead of seeking approval, use your energy to watch the approval-seeking self.