Stop Seeking Approval: Building Confidence from Within

Jen was unhappy with herself. She was a top student in college, pretty enough to be a model, and talented in photography and dancing, but she felt that her life was empty and pointless.

Jen felt that she needed a reason in order to justify her existence in the world. She needed a “cause” larger than herself to make her feel fulfilled. So what Jen was saying is that she felt useless.
Therapist: “ When else have you felt this way?”

Jen: “I won the All-School Art Contest in 4th grade. My picture was sent downtown to be displayed with the winners from all the schools in the city. I was so proud. I asked my parents to take me downtown so we could all see it. I was so sure they would want to go, but they never did. The show ended after a week. We never got to see my picture. I was so disappointed.”

Jen was more than disappointed. A nine-year old does not know what suppression is. But she has lived many years internalizing her disappointment due to feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. Jen knew that if her brother John had won a contest the whole family would be downtown in a heartbeat. Jen had to break out of this discouragement from childhood and life soon presented her with an opportunity.

She was shopping for a Father’s Day card and going through the usual torment: “What if he doesn’t like it? What if it’s not good enough? What if he thinks it’s stupid? He’ll hate me” and so on. She was obsessing about the unsolvable problem of choosing a perfect card for her father, who had never given her a birthday party in her whole life and would throw away any card immediately after it was opened.

In counseling, Jen had learned to identify her obsessive thinking for what it was – perfectionism. We had worked on building her confidence from within and trusting her judgment regardless of external influences. She could choose to replace her need for outward approval with:

“I am not perfect. I am not required to be.”

“My father isn’t perfect, either. Who is he to require perfection of me and then scream at me when I fall short!”

“I can choose to stop taking it personally.”

“All humans make mistakes. I am lovable regardless of my successes and disappointments. “

“Any card I pick will be good enough.”

” I do not have to make a perfect decision. My judgment is good enough.”

Instead of spending 45 minutes looking for the perfect card, Jen picked out the first one she saw, which served the purpose just fine. It was good enough. She had saved herself about forty minutes of unnecessary mental anguish. She left the store feeling relief from her obsessive thinking. She didn’t have anxiety about her father’s reaction or depression about her own “defective judgment.” She felt liberated, not just from her father’s hold, but from her expectations and her need to prove her value. It was an absurd legacy from a childhood spent striving to live up to everyone else’s standards, but her own. Those days were gone, not forever – that would be perfection. They were gone for now and, for Jen, that was good enough. Any choice will be good enough. If she does not like her decision, then she can always make another choice. That one will be good enough, too. She didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, not even herself. There was nothing to prove.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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