The more you accept yourself, the less dependent you are on the acceptance of the others. This is a maxim that we can apply to our life. When we are fully aware of our potential and limitations, when we know each other sufficiently and feel comfortable with the person we are, we will not depend on the approval of the others. Therefore, the more you like your decisions, the less you will need that the others like them. To do it, you have to know the decision making process.
Where does the need for approval starts?
At birth, we depend completely on our parents or an adult to feed and protect us. As we grow, we become aware of that dependence, which is not only physical but also emotional. Then we realize that we need our parents because these are our main source of security.
In this way, we began to look, more or less consciously, for the approval and acceptance of the important persons for us. We understand that some of our behaviors cause rejection and others are accepted. The same happens when we enter the school and the first group of friends.
Of course, this process of seeking acceptance and approval is perfectly normal, it is the first “lesson” we learn to insert ourselves into society and abandon our egocentric position.
However, as we gain autonomy and independence, that search for approval must decrease. The problem is that sometimes the conditioning we received in our childhood is so strong, that many people fail to cut that umbilical cord. Then they become dependent on the opinions of the others and their mood oscillates according to the criticism or praise they receive.
The tangible sign that you could depend too much on the opinions of the others is when you start the decision making process and not only think about what is better for you, but also ask yourself what the others will think. In the worst case, you will end up making a decision that does not satisfy you just because you know it will satisfy the others. You will not make the decision you want but the one that commands social conformity.
Self-acceptance as a pillar of true independence
“I don’t know what the key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone”, said American actor Bill Cosby. Trying to like the others is a guarantee that you will not like yourself. In the search for approval and social acceptance you may end up losing the connection with yourself.
If every time you need to make a decision, you look outside, around you, wondering what the others will think, you will lose the connection with your “self”. To connect with your needs, dreams, illusions and desires, you have to look inside yourself. If you ask yourself “what do the others want?” instead of “what do I want?”, you will constantly be silencing your inner self, so it is not strange that there comes a time when, even when you ask yourself what you really want, you cannot find the answer.
Self-acceptance is one of the ways out of that trap. We must not forget that the search for external approval is due to the fact that we do not approve ourselves internally. You look in the others what you have not been able to give to yourself.
This is what the psychologist Vygotsky called the “law of double formation of the psychological processes”, according to which all our psychological processes have a social origin. This means that every psychological process appears twice throughout our development: first in the interpsychological field and then in the intrapsychological one, first in the relationship with the others and later in the relationship with ourselves.
This means that instead of seeking acceptance and approval outside, we must look for it within ourselves. When we accept our achievements and failures, being aware of our strengths and weaknesses, we develop a solid “self” that depends less on the opinions of the others.
The more certain we are in our decision making process, although our decisions will always involve a certain degree of risk and even the possibility of making mistakes, the less security we will have to look for outside. That confidence is acquired when we understand that we cannot avoid making mistakes, but that each error is a life experience that teaches us something or makes us more resilient.
At that point we will have really matured. And so then we can help other people get rid of the chains of seeking social approval by freeing them from the expectations we put on them too.