Hi, my name is Amy and I am addicted to approval. Recovering, with the occasional relapse.
What this means is that for most of my life I’ve been obsessed with manipulating other people’s opinions of me.
Mostly I wanted to people to like me. But I was also terrified of rejection.
I used to obsess over my weight. I collected degrees, credentials, rewards… any kind of gold star. I call myself a “Performer,” one of eight “approval seeking personality types” I created after years of working with hundreds of others like me.
Basically what this means is that I thought if I looked good, dressed right, had the degrees, the hair, the guy, the house, I’d be okay. People would like me. I’d feel safe.
But mostly all that effort trying to maintain a façade of likeability, competence and perfection just left me exhausted, resentful (when people inevitably didn’t behave the way I’d hoped toward me), unhappy and in debt.
“Amy, No matter what you do, not everyone is going to like you.”
My mom would tell me this when I was a kid.
I remember that even though it was, well, kind of bad news, I found it oddly comforting…
After all, it’s a ton of pressure being all things to all people.
It’s impossible to make everyone happy.
And despite all my effort, there’s always somebody who isn’t satisfied.
How many times have you bent over backwards to make a great impression, do a good job or be of help and still get negative comments?
I know for me it only takes one wrong look or a little “constructive criticism” despite a sea of praise to set me back for days obsessively thinking about what I could have done or said differently.
And as a life coach I now know that I’m not the only one. There are too many people – talented and gifted people – who tolerate unfulfilling lives, soul sucking jobs, or draining relationships rather than risk the possibility of rejection, judgment or criticism.
So nowadays I share a variation of my mom’s advice with my own clients. I call it the One-Thirds Rule of Tribes. My math might not be spot on but it goes something like this:
- No matter what you do, a third of the entire known universe will never like you. (This is the bad news. Sorry.) I call them The Haters.
- Another third of the entire known universe (no matter what you do) will always take you or leave you. I call this group The Neutrals. As an aside, many of my family members fall into this category.
- The good news is there’s another third of the entire known universe who can’t get enough of you. I call them Your Tribe.
We All Want a Tribe
The truth is that feeling “part of” is a primal human drive. Here’s a fun fact: The brain registers physical pain and the social pain of rejection the same way. It literally hurts to be left out.
The problem is that most of us go about finding our tribe the wrong way. We spend most of our time and energy trying to “win over” The Haters and The Neutrals, as a result, leaving us UNRECOGNIZABLE to our tribe.
And the catch-22 is you can never truly “fit in” as long as you’re changing who you really are to do it. You’re settling for a false sense of belonging, and in the process you lose your ability to experience real intimacy.
As odd as it might seem, the solution and the most liberating thing you can do for yourself, is to give other people permission to judge you. (Hey, they’re going to do it anyway no matter how hard you try to prevent it.)
Be yourself. Do your thing. Share your opinions. Like what you like. I can guarantee you one thing: You won’t be ALL things to All people but you WILL find your tribe.
To find out your “approval seeking personality type,” click here to take The Approval Quiz.