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Is Depression Pushing You into the Approval Trap?

We all like getting approval and recognition from others. Approval-seeking is good as long as it remains a desire or a want. For example, your boss approves of your work and you feel happy about it. When approval-seeking turns into a need or a necessity, then you become a victim of the “approval trap” that will either make you vulnerable for depression or if you are already feeling depressed, will make your depression worse. If you have low self-esteem, which is not uncommon in depression, and seek approval to give yourself a temporary boost, then you are setting yourself for the “approval trap.” The trap works somewhat like this:  Depression causes you to feel worthless → when you get approval from others, you feel better and less worthless → you try to seek more approval → in seeking more approval you do things you don’t want to do to please others and avoid your own needs → others get used to your approval-seeking behavior and stop approving your behavior → you feel treated like a doormat → this increases your worthlessness → you try harder to seek approval and the cycle goes on.


Approval seeking behaviors
If you do any of the approval-seeking behaviors below, you may be prone to fall for the approval trap:
·         Feeling insulted or put down when someone says something contrary to your view points.
·         Needing to belong to a group to avoid being seen as inferior or rejected.
·         Needing repeated reassurance from others about your actions and your own self-image.
·         Changing your stance or viewpoint just to please others.
·         Sugar-coating your opinions to avoid displeasing others.
·         Upon receiving criticism from others, indulging in all-or-none-thinking or overgeneralization or mind reading and making critical self-judgments such as, “I am worthless,” “No one likes me,” “Why can’t I get anything right?” “I am such a loser,” “I am stupid.”
·         Feeling depressed or anxious when someone is disapproving.
·         Disliking doing things for others but are unable to say no.
·         Being overly agreeable despite having contrary viewpoints so that you don’t upset others.
·         Seeking permission to do routine things in your life from a significant other.
·         Seeking attention in unhealthy ways, such as acting out, faking knowledge about things, putting down others who may be competing for attention, being late for all occasions that gets people’s attention, and sharing bad news on purpose as you enjoy the attention you get.
·         Discounting other positive things in your life and dwelling only on criticisms.
·         Over-interpreting non-verbal cues to feel that people are putting you down or are disapproving.
·         Ignoring small signs of approval such as a smile because you are used to compliments and other bigger gestures of approval.
·         Forgetting to give approval to others because you are too engrossed in your own approval-seeking thinking and behaviors.
·         Losing your sense of identity because what matters to you is what others think about you.
·         Repeatedly blaming others on how you feel as then you don’t have to take any risks and change anything about yourself.

Strategies to curb approval-seeking behaviors

Here are some specific strategies to counter your approval-seeking behavior, especially if depression is driving you to seek approval to enhance your sense of self-worth:
·         Recognize that as a human being, you are biologically wired to feel happy when you get approval from others. However, excessive approval-seeking is not normal and is based on the irrational assumption that you are not too sure about your own self and view others’ opinion about yourself more important than your own opinion about yourself.
·         Replace your need for approval with a desire for approval. When approval is not a necessity, you won’t feel hurt or rejected when you don’t get it.
·         If someone disapproves or criticizes you, it may be a result of their own irrational thought process or emotional disturbance and has nothing to do with you. Rational and emotionally balanced individuals do not put others down.
·         Resist the temptation of giving into somebody’s opinion, especially when they are manipulatively withholding approval upon you changing your thinking or behavior, but you believe in yourself. Be assertive and respond back with something to the effect, “I think you are hoping that I would change my outlook on this and who doesn’t like approval, but to be honest, this is how I feel about the situation.”
·         Actively seek someone who is disapproving or critical of others and tell yourself that it is alright for them to be the way they are and that it has nothing to do with you. This enhances your skill of dealing with people who are opinionated and critical.
·         Watch for “isn’t it” after your statements, which puts you in an approval-seeking position. For example, when striking a conversation with someone, you comment, “It is a hot day today, isn’t it?” You can simply express your opinion without expecting others to conform to what you believe. This frees you from self-doubt and approval-seeking.
·         Trust yourself and stop seeking verification of facts or validation of your emotions when you are doing something that is in line with your values.
·         Don’t over-apologize. If most of your statements of disagreements start with, “I am sorry, but…”, then inadvertently you are seeking forgiveness for people disliking you for not conforming to their expectations. Seeking excessive forgiveness is a form of approval-seeking behavior and if you feel that the only way you will feel better is by seeking forgiveness, then you are giving too much control to others over your feelings. Seeking excessive forgiveness is different from apologizing when you have done something wrong as the latter is not driven by your approval-seeking tendencies.
·         If you give disapproval to someone, does that make them a worthless person? No, it doesn’t! You will still treat the person with compassion and kindness, especially if they are someone important in your life. For example, you don’t approve of your son’s career choice, but you will not label him as worthless or lose your affection or compassion toward him. Use the same compassion and kindness toward yourself when you are at the receiving end of disapproval or criticism.

To learn more about evidence-based self-management techniques that are proven to work for depression, check out Dr. Duggal's Author Page.




HARPREET S. DUGGAL, MD, FAPA


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