I would like for you, my dear reader, to sit back and take a moment to ask yourself this: do you or do you not care what others think of you? And if you do, to what extent? Your answer is not really going to be surprising. Of course you care. Who doesn’t? And why is that a “bad” thing? Why should you stop? Or should you stop at all? What is the use of what I like to call “social approval“? What is it? And why can needing it actually be detrimental to our self-esteem and self-confidence? Let me try to shed some light!
We as humans are born with a a body and a complicated psyche that develops and grows as we make the transitions from baby to toddler to child to teenager to adult to elderly person. It shouldn’t be very surprising then that the “concept” of social approval has it’s roots in childhood, too. We care from an early age on what others think of us – and you may spend the rest of your life not knowing how to stop caring about what others think of you! We work hard as children to gain the approval from our parents, our teachers, our (older) peers and social rejection has a multitude of negative effects on us; don’t be mistaken, though. Social rejection doesn’t start at the playground or schoolyard when a child is bullied or for some reason or other excluded from a game/group; it begins in what should be their safest place, their own home, their own living room.
We want to be accepted and loved just for who we are and those emotions are absolutely fundamental to humans and their mental /psychological development. When we as children experience rejection it causes feelings of isolation and lonelieness – on a physical health level those feelings can lead to a lack of sleep, lack of energy, they can even wreak (scientifically proven) havoc over immune systems. Kids that get excluded will be sad – and can potentially grow up to be “excluded” adults that suffer from depression; depression won’t make it easier to take steps toward being INCLUDED and socially accepted – hence the vicious circle starts. Deeper levels of depression follow as does social anxiety which then in turn makes people navigate their worlds constantly worried about being socially rejected. I would even go as far as saying: a feeling of exclusion can also contribute to suicide. On top of the vicious circle for the one suffering, though, this exclusion and rejection can potentially disrupt society at large. People who have been excluded often lash out against others thus contributing to violence.
It is harder than you might imagine to even see and understand social rejection for what it is, harder still to cope with it once we realize and accept it’s existence in our lives. I would suggest that we should assume that EVERYONE of us experiences rejection/disapproval on a semi-regular basis throughout our lives…. how so? Well, it’s impossible to go through your entire life with everyone being nice to you all the time, isn’t it?
When we eventually admit to ourselves that a) we want and need social approval and b) we may not be getting it from a certain desired source, then what are we going to do? How do we deal? It has been suggested that the best way to deal with it is to seek out other sources of friendship or acceptance; to not keep the rejection to yourself because you are either embarrassed or play it down to not being a big deal. Keep in mind that chemically, our bodies respond to rejection like they do to physical pain; the pain should be taken seriously and seeking out “help” or support from others can be key here. Don’t keep it to yourself, please. Talk about it! I promise you, you will be surpised how many people you end up talking to will actually know exactly what you are talking about because at one point or other in their lives they have been in the exact same place you are in now.
The Psychology Behind Our Need For Approval – Understand Your Ego
I would like to ask you to bear with me for a minute here and think of the following “insane” notion: what is your life like – and what would it be like – if you didn’t give a good goddamn about what other people thought of you? What if you could go through your day in complete disregard of other people’s opinions (no matter if good or bad) and make not one single self-conscious decision? Would you feel liberated? Free? Of course you would. You could be free to do whatever you wantred and have a clarity of mind that comes with not being constantly preoccupied with thinking about the judgment of those around you. Then WHY THE HELL CAN’T YOU DO JUST THAT?
If we look at our society at large it appears that we have created a culture that is not just driven by but obsessed with the notion of “what other people think,” which makes for a lot of tension between the desire for approval and the fear of disapproval. Businesses, families, friendships, sports, politics – everything is, if not completely driven by this tension, at the very least heavily influenced by it.
How much of what you do every single day is motivated by the concern of what the world thinks of it? It is almost a feeling that your very existence relies on other people’s judgment of you; that you exist only as a mental image in other people’s minds. Which is mostly unconscious, of course, because when we drag it up to the surface and into the light we can see clearly just how insane it really is.
Lets face it folks! We live in a world of EGO. In this world, the promise of approval and the threat of disapproval are commonly used tools that people use to get what they want from each other—or rather a single tool, a double-edged sword where one always follows the other. And you’ve all seen how this works: one person can be said to almost purchase another person with approval, and then attempt to control their behavior with the threat of disapproval.
Approval is an ECONOMY : some people have a high approval rating and the only way others can get some is by attempting to get the well endowed ones to share their lot. And because approval is subject to inflation just like money, those with high approval don’t want to give too much away to those who have little as that would diminish the “purchasing power” of their approval. However, the EGO is insatiable, alway hungry for more, always in need of reassurance and so the constant feeling of insecurity then dictates that we always try to gain more appoval (or at least keep the status quo). This can be achieved in different ways, like for instance by disapproving of others, becoming famous, and by forming alliances with others on a similar level of approval as themselves in an attempt to pool their resources and form a collective ego. These collective egos can then be seen manifest in a group of friends, companies, religious organizations, political parties, and cultural niches. Layers upon layers of these complicated networks, all intended to maintain and drive the game of approval and disapproval. A game that operates on many levels, and that, once you’re on the lookout, can become almost comically transparent at times.
The Social Image And How To Rise Above It
Whether we realize it or not, whether we want to admit it or not, each of us possesses a social image of ourselves; to those who may not know us particularly well, this how we allow our identity to be perceived. It is that image which determines how others treat us – and more often than not even how we treat ourselves. However – in how far is that image a reflection of our character? Or is it more likely that our identity within society can become a carefully constructed illusion? Think about your own social media accounts, for instance – are they an honest representation of yourself? Or are you, perhaps, even unwittingly creating an image that is socially enhancing, one that will allow you to be perceived as popular or well-liked? DOES IT MATTER TO YOU how many facebook friends you have or how many likes you get for a post? Of course it does. And that in itself isn’t a bad thing. Its what happens when People don’t follow, don’t like – how do we experience that? How does that make us feel? And do other people really manipulate us, using approval and disapproval as social weapons?
Again, of course they do. People use disapproval as a tool to either inflate their sense of self or to control others. They may do it openly – like say out loud in your face that they don’t like you or disaaprove of something you have done – but much more often they use rather sneaky ways or subtle ways and make backhanded critical remarks or sneak you disapproving glances. In many cases these are almost like long-term subliminal negative advertising campaigns, where someone will make repeated but barely perceptible stabs at something you like and identify with. And here is the KEY to your social FREEDOM. When someone criticizes something you like or identify with you take it PERSONALLY. Your sense of self is invested in those things you like, identify with or in how you behave or look.
Taking things personally is the root of the problem – —or rather, the root of the problem is that we are identified with a person; a story-line and a bundle of concepts and associations that we think of as ourselves. Once we learn how to not identify ourselves ONLY with the person, the EGO, we have transcended the reach of the ego and all of its “games” altogether. In other words: the key to becoming independent of other people’s opinions is simply to let go of the EGO, and thus cease to take anything personally, whether it is praise or derision. The polarity of approval and disapproval can then no longer affect you, and you are free to observe the game with detachment.
Now, if you don’t feel ready to tackle it on that very deepest level yet, there are other ways of looking at it that may be helpful to start off with. In an everyday situation when you need an affirmation of why you can be independent of people’s opinions, saying to yourself that “you are not a person” may not work. It is important to remember that these are just words, and their only real purpose is to point beyond themselves. So instead of using that core-level pointer, let’s put it like this: you simply let go of the polarity of approval and disapproval; nullify the polarity by ascribing the same value to both; value neither approval nor disapproval. The only reason why you are afraid of other people’s disapproval is that you value their approval, and when you see that their approval is of no value to you whatsoever, the promise of it will not work on you anymore and thus the threat of disapproval will cease to work as well.
To be able to let go of the promise of other people’s approval, we need to see that people’s judgment is fleeting, insubstantial, and very unreliable either way. The reason we’re afraid of the polarity is because we know how unreliable it is, and that approval can become disapproval in an instant. And the delusion that keeps us attached to it even while seeing how unreliable it is, is that we try to convince ourselves that if we just get enough approval it will finally become secure and permanent. But you only have to look at some extreme cases of this to see that even the world’s highest approval rating is not beyond the basic laws of the polarity – check celebrities that fall from grace (Michael Jackson, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton etc). All those people have experienced the volatility of universal approval and they are a prime example of that SOCIAL IMAGE we try to portray to achieve that social approval.
So you have to ask yourself this: do you want to be seen and known as who you really are? Are you happy and content with who you really are? Are you proud of yourself? Or would you rather paint a – at least in parts – false picture of yourself and make people believe you are thinner, prettier, more popular, fitter, nicer, richer etc etc etc than you REALLY are?
Here is the bottom line: the people who actually KNOW you, YOU, with all that you are, every fault, every mistake, every wrinkle, every extra pound, every crazy loop of your brain, every character flaw – in other words, the people who LOVE you, your friends, your family, your social circle – you don’t have to be anyone else other than yourself for them – and should never have to be. People can only TRULY love you and TRULY approve if they know the REAL YOU. Everything else? Is fake, bullshit and kidding yourself. Be YOU. Be more than just your EGO. Be more than just your glossy pictures on facebook. Your friends will see you in your sweatpants on a bad hair day with no make up and red rimmed eyes. They will love you not inspite of that but because that is you, too. You wouldn’t post that on facebook for ALL PUBLIC to see with the headline: “feel and look like shit today, hate the world, and could stuff myself with fast food until I throw up”. Neither do you post a picture of you yelling at your kids when they have finally managed to find – and kill – your last nerve. You just post a pic of y’all having a grand ole’ time. But I bet your real friends have been witness to you losing that nerve on more than one occassion 😉
Be real. Make a choice. You are great, you are good, you are flawed, and you suck at times – but you are loved and wanted!
If you enjoyed this post, found it interesting, revealing or could identify (or not) I would like to hear back from you. If you hated it and thought I am full of shit, I would also like to hear back from you 🙂 so please feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks!