The Freedom from Wanting to Be Liked, Understood, Noticed, or Appreciated
The desire for approval (to be seen, appreciated, or loved) is one of the strongest motivators of our actions and feelings.
Approval covers a lot of things we want from ourselves and others. It includes wanting:
- Acceptance: we want to feel that we belong with the people we seek approval from.
- Appreciation: we want to feel someone recognizes our value and our abilities, and appreciates them.
- Attention: we want to be seen or heard. We seek validation, and want to know that we matter.
- Love: to be loved is one of the strongest human desires.
- To be liked: is second to love. We want to be liked by our friends, peers, and society in general. To be popular is even better.
- To be understood: we want others to understand what we say and do, and sympathize with us.
- To be cared for: we want others to care about us, and take care of us.
Today wanting approval is more prominent than ever. Online connectivity and social media turned wanting approval into an addictive habit.
As strong and addictive as wanting approval might be it usually sits stealthily in the background—hidden from conscious thought. And because it’s hidden from our conscious awareness most of the time, it clouds our minds and twists our truths.
We mostly act from a place of wanting approval from others, or worrying about not having it—instead of focusing on what we genuinely want to do and being okay with it.
We’re practically giving up our own power and choosing to be held hostage by other people’s actions and opinions, which will eventually lead to disappointment and emotional pain.
If you’re interested in letting go of wanting approval and being free, consider the following thoughts.
The trap of wanting
Wanting something means that we don’t have it. We seek what we feel is lacking. As time goes by and we continue to want approval and not get it, we become desperate. I’ve learned that:
The universe does not respond well to desperate neediness that ignores what we have and focuses on what we don’t have.
Wanting to be loved, appreciated, or understood means we subconsciously look for situations where we don’t have validation and we want someone to give us the missing approval. We always find what we’re looking for. So looking for lack will show us more lack.
And even if we had all the approval in the world, it will not usually last, or won’t be enough, and we’re back to wanting.
Why let go of wanting validation from others
Besides focusing on what’s missing as mentioned above, let’s look at the reality of what we deal with.
Someone loves what you’re doing and praises you, so you feel amazing. Then you get a flat out rejection, and you feel miserable.
We move through life bouncing between rejection and praise, yes and no, and a whole lot of nothing (meaning we don’t get any attention at all). And our feelings go along for the ride, springing from ecstatic to depressed, and eventually sinking into apathy or despair.
Who wants to live in emotional turmoil most of the time?
It’s exhausting with no reward whatsoever, other than feeding emotional addiction and desperation.
To let go of wanting approval is freedom to be and do what we desire, regardless of how others are going to react to it.
The argument against letting go of wanting approval
As I try to live from a place of freedom from wanting others’ acceptance and recognition, a couple of issues come to mind.
Am I being selfish for not caring about what others think?
One can argue that not thinking about how others would react to our actions is selfish. There is a difference between wanting approval and being selfish or inconsiderate.
Letting go of what others will think or do means that we live authentically, but still consider the consequences of our actions and take full responsibility for them.
Selfishness is acting without regard to others’ welfare. Selfish acts probably have an undertone of wanting one form of approval or another (think of rebelling as a cry for attention, or negative publicity as a way to be seen).
I can argue the opposite point and view wanting approval as a selfish act. When we look at the world from a place of wanting to be accepted, loved, or appreciated, we only focus on our wants and how we can get them met.
We think the world revolves around us and should respond in a way that suits us. If someone doesn’t act the way we expect him to, we start thinking that we must’ve done something wrong for the other person to withhold his approval. In this case we’re disregarding the other person’s right to feel and do what he wants. And that’s selfish.
Wanting approval is a survival imperative; we can’t let it go.
Approval is part of our survival mechanism. We need others to care for us, to accept and protect us. How can we not factor in their reactions if we need them to survive?
We may need to be cared for when we’re born, or if we still lived in tribal violent societies. Fortunately, it seems most of humanity is moving towards more harmonious living, with less violence and more acceptance.
At this time and age we don’t need approval to survive. We can live peacefully with others and be authentic and truthful. We’re more likely to be appreciated for being our unique selves than for trying to do things that will get us attention.
Any time we feel we need outer approval, it’s because we feel an inner lack of self-worth or self-acceptance. So we look for others to compensate for what’s lacking … to make us feel that we matter … that we have value.
It may not be easy to recognize and let go of wanting others’ love and acceptance. We’ve been programmed from a very young age to seek approval. We want our parents’ love, our teachers’ recognition, our boss’s appreciation, and so on.
But it’s not impossible or undoable. With a bit of awareness and choosing to do what feels right to us in this moment, we can gradually shift to living more freely and authentically.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to get along with other people. But when we turn it into a motivation and a reason for whatever we choose to do/or not do, we give up our power and freedom.
We are most free when we’re doing our thing for its own sake, as it is—without over-thinking or worrying about how it’s going to be perceived.