You want to say no to something because it’s not the right thing to do. Do you approach it with the thought, “If I say no, what will other people think?” Or do you say, “I need to stand fast on what I believe?” The first response involves the approval of others. The second one is about challenging yourself to be consistent with your beliefs.
Letting go of the need to please others frees you up to grow. It stops the negative cycle of worrying about what others think. And it certainly stops the anxiety that comes with people-pleasing. Fear of letting others down can keep you stuck and ruin your life.
So where does this need for approval come from? Is it deeply rooted in childhood? Perhaps, but it can also develop by a weak sense of self in which your uncertainty leaves you overly dependent on others to define your worth or even your actions.
Seeking advice or wisdom from others is one thing. But being unable to make decisions for fear of disappointing someone is bondage. What is right for you based on your values and spiritual life may not be approved by others. A strong sense of self is important. Know what you believe, why you believe it and stand firm.
Here are 7 points to help you stop approval seeking:
- Someone’s disapproval is not consistent with your beliefs. When others question your decisions, listen, but then critically analyze if their opinions are consistent with who you are and what you believe. If not, tolerate their disapproval or disappointment. Don’t give in to it just to please or keep the peace.
- Who says they are right? When someone criticizes you or disapproves, think of it as feedback or input. Is it legitimate or just their opinion? And who says they are right? We can learn from feedback, but the opinions of others are often just that, opinions. You have one authority who determines right and wrong-God. He is the One to please.
- Stop telling people what they want to hear. Be honest and authentic about what you think, feel and do. There are too many parrots in our culture–people who repeat narratives with no real understanding of what they are saying. For example, “Go ahead and hook up. It’s empowering.” Is it? Have you talked to people who hook up? Are there negative consequences for this behavior? I can tell you as a therapist, yes. It doesn’t lead to flourishing or improved self-esteem and confidence. Hooking up to “feel loved” doesn’t work. It is often followed by regret and guilt. And certainly. don’t do it for the approval of others. Besides, it is against what the Bible teaches us.
- Find your identity in the right place. Do not give others the power to define you. Your identity is found first and foremost in Christ. He already approves of you, not because of what you do, how much money you make, who you know, or any other material measure you can imagine. He approves of you because He loves you, you are His and made in His image. And God’s love is not earned, it just is!
- Confidence and validation lead to a strong sense of self. Where you find confidence and validation matters. Both come from knowing you are a child of God. So quiet the negative voice in your head that is inconsistent with who God says you are. Read God’s word to know what he says about you. You are loved, cherished, desired, affirmed…and so much more. Do your beliefs match what God says about you? If not, that’s not God’s voice in your head.
- Surround yourself with others who find their identity in Christ. Keep each other honest. Renew your thinking when the culture tells you otherwise. Our identity is not in our sexuality, gender, wealth or fame or any measure apart from God. It is solidly based on knowing to whom we belong. And we need others to remind us of this because the culture always says otherwise.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. You are wonderfully and fearfully made. A unique creation with your own gifts and talents. Be brave. Be yourself. Do you! But when you do, be consistent with your values and beliefs. Comparisons fall short and lead to anxiety.