Hello, my name is Amy and I'm a recovering approval addict. What this means is that for most of my adult life, I’ve been chasing gold stars to get other people to approve of me.
Not just approve, actually, to adore me. I wanted people to see me walking down the street and say, “There goes Amy. Did you know she solved the hunger problem? How does she do it all and stay so thin?”
If I could get the entire known universe to like me, I figured I’d be invited to the best parties, make great money at a job I loved … I thought my life would feel as sparkly and shiny as it looked on the outside.
My life was a hamster wheel of constant striving , seeking out one accomplishment after another (and I had to look perfect doing it). There was always another ten pounds to lose, another person to impress, another incomplete task on my enormous to do list.
I didn’t know it at the time but I was living in a self-imposed prison. I was trying to be someone I wasn’t which is why anxiety was my only real companion.
The gold stars I was chasing were leading me further and further away from the life I really wanted. I was trying to win over people I didn’t like. I was in a prestigious job for the prestige, nothing else. I was letting a metal scale dictate my self worth and I was racking up more and more credit card debt trying to look perfect.
I had created a life that didn’t fit me at all, just to feel a sense of belonging, to fit in. I was maintaining a persona that wasn’t me, so I could feel good about myself. But it wasn’t working and I couldn’t figure out why. I thought the solution was to achieve more, lose more weight, do better, be better.
Sociologist Martha Beck says, “Pain is like a life coach in your body. It’s what made me a life coach because I started paying a lot of attention to what made me hurt and what didn’t. It turned out my body was trying to steer me away from a life that was absolutely wrong for me and into a life that was absolutely wonderful.”
Approval addicts, no matter what your approval seeking personality type fear that survival = “fitting in.” Fitting in takes many different forms, for some it means not doing anything to rock the boat, for others it means being all things to all people, still others think it means to never ask for help. For me, it meant being the “best” at everything (which by the way is impossible).
The bottom line is that when you have an irrational fear that your survival depends on external approval or at the very least not making people mad, bored or annoyed, you see other people as threats. You perceive social interactions as threatening and that sends the body into a near constant state of fight or flight.
Your boss looks at you funny? You think, “I’m going to get fired!”
Your friend doesn’t call you back? You think, “I’ll die alone!”
You’re in the middle of a presentation? Your think, “They’re laughing at me!”
There’s a name for this phenomenon. Psychologists call it rejection sensitivity. In a nutshell, people who experience rejection become more sensitive to it. They're more likely to interpret an ambiguous social exchange as rejection. It’s a tendency to feel deep anxiety in social situations that develops into a kind of paranoia about rejection.
Our bodies are not set up to cope with chronic exposure to this a biochemical response to feelings of rejection and despair.
So … this leads to “dis-ease” in the body. For some, like me, it might mean a near constant state of anxiety compounded by the occasional panic attack mixed with a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” For others it might mean chronic back pain that flares up after a particularly stressful day. I’ve seen diverticulitis, all kinds of bladder problems, strange infections in every part of the body, and complete adrenal burnout.
Ongoing exposure to stress is responsible for contributing to about 80% of chronic health problems, from the obscure ones to the biggies: heart disease, hypertension and even cancer.
Approval addiction is a hidden epidemic. Most people have no idea it’s a problem. If you think about it, it makes sense. After all, alcoholics have hangovers when they drink too much. Compulsive gamblers face mountains of debt. But people who compulsively seek approval or avoid rejection? Most of the time, they get praise.
Flash forward six years. I’m happy to report that after six long years of infertility hell, I’m now mother to three kids (all under the age of six, no less!).
I’m still a complete gold star chaser. But I achieve because it feels good to me, not because of how I think it looks to the outside world. And I’m not going to lie, I still love me some approval. I just don’t need approval (yours or anyone else’s) to do my thing in the world. That old anxiety comes back from time to time but I know what to do to get back to my baseline emotion these days which is peace.
If you suspect that, like me, you have a problem with approval addiction, take my approval quiz here to learn your unique approval seeking personality type and get started on your path to healing!