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How “Wanting to Be Liked" Gets You Rejected

As long as you remain dependent on others for approval, happiness is fleeting.

Do you long to be liked by others? Do you work hard on your friendships, try to be a good listener, try to be understanding and empathic — all in the hope that other people will like you more?

Sadly, when all your energy goes toward pleasing others, you’re likely to get the opposite in return.

How Approval Seeking Backfires

Rather than being genuine, you labor to create an image that you think people will find appealing. In the process, you compromise your authentic self, gradually becoming less honest, less natural, and less “you.” The more you hustle for approval, the less others feel at ease with you. They sense something counterfeit in your responses, have trouble trusting you. They may even begin to feel manipulated. All this can make a relationship with you exhausting.

That’s why people feel weighed down by approval seekers: their neediness is an energy drain. Sooner or later, they start to avoid you, forget appointments or not return your phone calls. The very thing you're working so hard for — friendships and close relationships — gets you the opposite. You’re left confused and hurt.

Childhood Scars

We all bring our unmet childhood needs into our present-day relationships as a way to heal the emotional wounds we suffered in our past. But as long as we remain dependent on others for approval, our happiness is fleeting.

In my psychotherapy practice, I have found that people who long for approval often have experienced some emotional trauma in their childhood. They may have suffered verbal abuse, physical abuse, or emotional neglect. Whatever the situation, they didn't feel valued or celebrated for their uniqueness. Instead, they got the message that love was conditional; they had to work hard for it. Being themselves just wasn’t enough.

Scratch the surface of approval seekers, and you’ll find individuals battling low self-esteem. They don't realize their value, so they seek affirmation from others. Yet whatever comfort they gain doesn’t last. No matter how much recognition they receive, soon they are laboring for validation again.

Healing Emotional Trauma

Taking ownership of your fears and anxieties is the first step toward improving your relationships. Rather than expecting others to heal you, start by healing yourself.

This requires you to take a good look at the anxiety that fuels your neediness and longing for approval. The more you can deal directly with that anxiety within yourself, rather than trying to work it out through relationships, the more you will begin to heal those old wounds. Unearthing old wounds in individual therapy will help, but is of little value if you can’t apply those lessons in daily life. You’re going to need to develop more mindfulness in your interactions.

Start by noticing how you’re feeling when relating to others. Ask yourself these five questions:

  • Am I genuine?
  • Am I working for approval?
  • Am I agreeable to avoid conflict?
  • Am I reacting genuinely, or am I objectively crafting responses?
  • Am I caretaking, or am I responding truthfully?

The more you become aware of the unconscious forces that shape your interactions, the more you will be able to make new choices. This doesn’t mean you should start picking fights or spouting self-serving opinions. It means you will begin to speak with your authentic voice. People who are faithful to themselves are far more interesting than approval seekers. Originality is always more attractive and compelling to others.

The Group Therapy Solution

Group therapy is the ideal option for people struggling with relationship issues because it exposes bad habits more directly than individual therapy. In other words, it empowers your therapist with greater insight into your social dilemmas.

In individual therapy, people report on events, leaving much room for distortion. For example, a person may report feeling victimized, but never realize his or her role in fostering that outcome. Furthermore, when working one-on-one, therapists may wonder if they are getting an accurate version of events in someone’s life. When an event is reported, there is always the chance for exaggeration or misinterpretation.

In group therapy, therapists get a live demonstration of interpersonal behavior. Group re-creates a social environment, which provides your therapist with the opportunity to see all your bad relationship habits in action.

The golden rule of group therapy is “What happens in group, happens in life.” In group, negative tendencies that prevent you from having healthy relationships will come to light. Then your therapist can then intervene and steer you toward better ways of relating. The thought of joining a therapy group may make you anxious, but when it comes to breaking the approval-seeking habit, it's the express lane to better relationships. (See "How to Make Love Last.")

For more on groups or clinical workshops, visit my website.

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