For the majority of my life, I depended on others to confirm my sense of self-worth. I constantly craved approval, thinking that a consistent stream of validation would bring me security.
Ironically, however, I realized that my chronic craving for approval was ruining the one thing I wanted most: a healthy, happy relationship. I knew things had to change.
I learned my need for approval quite early — from my mother, early on in childhood. And she learned her own need for approval from her mother. In other words, my mother taught me that my worth and value weren't self-evident, but resulted from my ability to make others happy (and usually at the expense of my own needs and desires).
It wasn't until I gave up my need for approval that I began uncovering my own needs and living my life as my authentic self. From there, I finally understood and believed I was worthy of love regardless of what anyone thought.
On this journey, I've noticed several patterns (both in myself and in my clients) that indicate a constant craving for approval. And moreover, I've identified three signs that this need for approval is harming your love life. Remember: the first step in making positive changes is identifying the patterns you wish to unlearn. So here are three very common signs that you are clinging too tightly to your need for approval, and likely harming your search for love in the process:
1. You lose yourself in relationships.
I used to be an expert at losing myself in relationships. I always put my significant other's needs and desires before my own, thinking that making him happy would mean the relationship was "working." I contorted my actions and behaviors to become what I thought he wanted me to be. Then and only then, I thought, he would be happy and I would feel loved. Right?
Wrong. Eventually, inevitably, I did something that didn't make him happy. It terrified me, because I knew the disagreement would be the end of the relationship. And that in and of itself scared me. But I continued my habit of denial: to make sure I didn't lose him, I tried even harder to become who I thought he wanted me to be. Over time I became someone I didn't even recognize.
In short, this constant search for approval from your partner creates a vicious cycle. Once your lose your sense of self, your partner begins to emotionally withdraw because they no longer recognize you as the person that attracted them in the first place. Because you're coming from a place of needing approval, you then try even harder to please, which exacerbates your partner's withdrawal. This cycle is self-sabotaging.
2. You consistently attract emotionally unavailable partners.
Attracting emotionally unavailable partners and losing yourself go hand in hand. So as I became an expert at losing myself, I also became an expert at attracting relationships with emotionally unavailable partners.
As I mentioned, one's need for approval from others can typically be traced back to childhood. When you seek approval in an intimate relationship, it's often because you didn't receive sufficient love and approval from a significant person in your life as a child. To make up for childhood wounds, you seek validation from your partner.
Most of us hate admitting this, but the reason we attract certain types of people is because our relationships are a reflection of our own self-worth. Until we recognize and heal our wounds, we continue to choose partners who reflect this sense of damaged self-worth back onto us.
3. You feel incomplete without a relationship.
I was taught that in order to be worthy of love, I needed to work very hard to put everyone's needs and happiness before my own. I believed that others simply needed me to make them happy. And if I failed at making other's happy, I wouldn't be worthy of their love. And finally, I believed that without their love and approval, I'd be incomplete.
Because of these beliefs, I equated attraction with neediness. In other words, I wanted to attract someone who needed me: they would need me for money, care-taking or cleaning the house. But what I found out was that this dynamic felt more like a burden than love. It felt smothering, controlling and sometimes like baby-sitting a child.
When you feel incomplete without a relationship, you really feel you are unworthy of love unless there is external validation. You believe what you have to offer is worthless and therefore so are you.
Ultimately, we shouldn't blame ourselves for any of this. It's all very natural: we feel the need for approval simply because we seek love. But we also need to realize the irony here: it's this very need for approval that tends to drive real love away. With patience and the right tools, I've found there is a way to overcome the need for approval and attract the love you desire. And you can too.
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