I need love and approval from those significant to me - and I must avoid disapproval from any source.

I like to be liked - you probably do too. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is fine to want approval. Unfortunately, though, people often go beyond wanting it. They make approval into a need - an absolute must without which they think they cannot survive. When this happens, approval-seeking becomes a recipe for self-defeat:

  • It can be a source of anxiety which restricts your life. You avoid taking risks, trying new things where you cannot guarantee 'success', or any situation where you fear people might think badly of you. It makes you conform to what others expect rather than ask for what you want or pursue your own goals.
  • You may become oversensitive to criticism. Feeling hurt stops you using feedback from other people as a learning experience. Approval-seeking gets in the way of you dealing with your underlying lack of confidence and self-acceptance.
  • You might keep striving for what is an impossible goal. You will never be able to get approval from everyone significant to you - but even if you could, would they all love you enough to ever satisfy you?
  • Other people may even end up liking you less. Do you like or respect people who hurt easily, do not say what they mean, always try to conform, say yes to things they do not want, avoid taking charge of their own lives, or are always seeking love and attention? The more you demand approval, the less you end up with!

Know When You are Approval-Seeking

You are probably approval-seeking when you feel or act in ways that show you are worried about what others think:

  • Saying 'yes' to something you do not want to do.
  • Making a statement you do not believe in, agreeing with an opinion you oppose, or giving a compliment you do not mean.
  • Reacting to a criticism by getting defensive or attacking back
  • Apologising when you have done nothing wrong.
  • Seeking someone else's opinion on a matter of taste - for instance, on what to wear.
  • Asking permission before you speak up, make a decision, or buy something.
  • Asking others to confirm what you say - 'isn't that right...?'
  • Going out of your way to impress other people.

Identify The Irrational Beliefs Involved

What kinds of thinking lead to overconcern with what others think of you? To begin with, the fear of disapproval is often triggered by distorting reality.

Distorting reality

  • Mind-reading: you assume that someone is unhappy with you but fail to check it out; or jump to conclusions about a critic's motives by thinking that their intentions are hostile - they are out to get you, hurt you, control you, or make you lose your cool.
  • Personalising: you imagine that criticism is directed at you even when it is not.
  • Black and white thinking: you tell yourself that if people do not love you then they must hate you.
  • Over-generalising: you think that disapproval from a few people means that no-one will ever like or respect you; or that one criticism means you are being totally rejected as a person.
  • Fortune-telling: you assume that the disapproval will lead to serious consequences for you.

 Note, though, that while misinterpretations of reality may trigger your fears of disapproval, it will not be the underlying cause. The real problem is the evaluations you apply to disapproval: your awfulising, cannot-stand-it-itis, demanding and self-rating in response to it.


If you worry about how others see you, this shows that you do not accept yourself. You are, instead, rating yourself and relying on other people to confirm that you are OK. When you are not getting the love and respect you think you 'need', this plugs into self-doubts which already exist in your own mind.


Underlying this self-rating (or the fear of it) will be demanding. Do not pretend that you just want approval - if you are anxious, hurt, or hostile, then you are telling yourself that you need it. Watch for thinking like: 'For me to be happy and feel worthwhile, other people must love, accept and respect me; and hardly ever disapprove of me.'

Awfulising & Discomfort-intolerance

Awfulising and discomfort-intolerance will make disapproval or criticism seem worse. Are you telling yourself that if someone were to dislike or stop loving you this would be terrible or unbearable?

Disputing The Need For Approval

Can human beings overcome the irrational fear of being disliked, unloved and rejected? Yes - by getting hold of the idea that approval is not a need.

It is good to get love and acceptance from others. It contributes to satisfying and helpful relationships. It is useful when others have authority over you or control access to things you want: your parents, teachers, employer, bank manager, landlord and other such people.

Approval, though, becomes a problem when you exaggerate your desire for it into a necessity. In other words, you tell yourself that you must have it in order to feel good about yourself and be happy.

What is the solution then? Seek approval wherever you can get it. Do what you reasonably can to avoid disapproval from others. Work on yourself and your relationships to increase the chance of getting the love and affection you desire. But remind yourself all the time that while approval is important, you can survive without it. Then, when it is not forthcoming, you will feel disappointed instead of anxious or depressed, and you will be less likely to give up your own wants in order to please others.

In fact, expect disapproval. In the real world, positive feedback from others will not always be forthcoming. Not everyone is going to like you. Because different people have different ideas about what they want you to be, pleasing others will work only some of the time. If you expect disapproval, you will be less likely to overreact when it happens.

Remember, too, that it is human to be imperfect. So if you have been criticised because of something that you have done, this is proof of your humanness. When a criticism is valid this does not mean you are totally flawed. If you are able to rate behaviours without applying the rating to your total self (e.g. 'I am not a useless person, just a person who sometimes does useless things') then you will find it easier to listen to and learn from criticism. What if the criticism is mistaken? This shows that the other person is human. Either way, you do not have to feel bad because someone dislikes you.

Finally, note that disapproval or criticism is not unbearable. You have been criticised before, and you are still alive. You do not like it - but it is uncomfortable rather than awful. If you remind yourself of that, you will make it even less uncomfortable.

Approval-Seeking Versus Self-Acceptance

Is it time to change what you tell yourself about what other people think of you? Compare the two lists below:

Approval-seeking beliefs

Self-accepting beliefs

Because I can't stand to have others think badly of me, I must avoid disapproval at all costs. I do not like disapproval - but obviously I've stood it till now. It is uncomfortable, but hardly the end of the world.
I should not have to face criticism and disapproval. Why should I, in particular, be exempt from criticism? It is part of every-day life. So best I expect disapproval and learn how to handle it.
It is shameful to make mistakes or behave badly. There is no law against making mistakes. Not only is it human, mistakes aid learning. I can acknowledge the ones I make without moralising or feeling ashamed.
To agree with a criticism is to admit there is something wrong with you as a person. To agree that you've erred is to admit that you're a person who sometimes errs - nothing more.
Critics are always out to hurt you. Critics may sometimes want to hurt you - but most people will be concerned more about actions than about condemning the person.
The opinions of other people are more likely to be right than mine. So I'd better not trust myself. I've got just as much chance of being right or wrong as anyone else. I'd better take note of others' opinions, but, in the end, decide for myself what is best for me.

Getting Into Action

Now it is time to move from rethinking to action. Below are some strategies for acting against your fear of disapproval. The first few will help you get moving against approval-seeking right away, and the rest are for longer term use:

  • Practice handling disapproval. Deliberately set out to attract some disapproval from other people. The idea is to practice handling it under low-risk conditions of your own choice - to discover that you can stand it and that the sky does not fall in. For example, express an opinion (and stick with it) to someone you know will disagree; buy an item of clothing you want but which your partner thinks does not suit you; or let your lawns grow longer than usual. Be sensible - do not try this on people who have power over you. But do not avoid it either.
  • Start tackling the things you have been avoiding. Go to the meetings, social occasions, or other situations you have been side-stepping for fear of what others may think. You probably will not feel ready - but do it anyway.
  • To help yourself cope with these exposure exercises, do a rational self-analysis in advance. Note what goes through your mind while you are there, then do another analysis afterwards.
  • Practice doing more of the things you'd like to. Make a commitment to give yourself, each day, something you want or do something you think you'd enjoy. As time goes on, it will become more natural to act on your own desires without fear of what others will think.
  • Resist the impulse to ask someone else's opinion. When buying clothes or other items, where the choice involves nothing more than individual taste, act on your own. Seek advice when it is appropriate, but when it comes to the final decision, you choose.
  • Do not always seek confirmation of what you say. As well as getting in touch with your own wants, be more independent in expressing your opinions. Avoid, for example, finishing sentences with: '... don't you think?', '... wouldn't you say?', '... isn't that right?' and the like.
  • Check out your interpretations. Sometimes it might be a good idea to ask other people just what they are thinking. Prepare yourself in advance, though. In the real world there will be times when other people will disapprove. So remind yourself that although you will not like it if they do, you can still stand it; and while you'd prefer their approval, you do not absolutely need it.

There may a block to change to get out of the way: the fear that you will become less than human. Do you worry that if you stop needing love, approval, and acceptance from others you will become self-centred or somehow non-human? This is far from the truth. In reality, you will be freer to love and concern yourself about others when you do not expect them to always repay you in kind. And accepting yourself will make it easier to accept them too.

Finally, keep things in perspective. While you do not need approval, it is still desirable to have some people like and accept you. Could a few changes be to your advantage? If there are things about you to which people react negatively - slovenly appearance, habitual lateness, losing your temper, aggressiveness or other tendencies - and you dislike the disapproval, consider making some positive changes.

There may be some things you cannot change - for example, the shape of your body or a disability which makes you less physically attractive. But you could still develop social or communication skills or other assets which will, to some extent, compensate and add to your appeal.

Remember, though - you do not have to change. If the disapproval does not bother you, it is not an issue. By all means make changes to gain more recognition from others. But remember - it is not essential to your survival.

If you keep approval as a preference rather than a need, you are more likely to stay in charge of your own life

Other helpful resources

Links within this programme

Separating your self-view from your performance.

Keeping reasonable boundaries between yourself and other people.

From Approval-Seeking to Self-Acceptance

Is it time to change what you tell yourself about what other people think of you? Here is a new rational belief to replace the old one:

'Love, approval and respect from others are all good things - but they are not absolute necessities for my survival. And while I dislike disapproval, it is uncomfortable - not catastrophic; I can stand it - as I have many times before. Better that I learn to accept myself, independently of what others think of me.'