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Words By Tara Wagner

15 Symptoms of Approval Addiction & People Pleasing That Will Destroy You

Tara talking to a group of women around a table in a coffee shop

We’re going to talk about approval addiction. Oh yes we are. We’re going there. I have 15 symptoms of approval addiction, and some of them are really going to surprise you. In fact, it is number 8, 10 and 15 that I think we really need to talk about.

Watch here or read the transcript of the video below.

15 Symptoms of Approval Addiction & People Pleasing That Will Destroy You Click To Tweet

We are talking about approval addiction because we all deal with this, especially in this day and age when we are constantly bombarded with ideas of what other people are thinking, and what other people are doing, and are we measuring up, and blah, blah, blah…

The thing that I find, though, is that most people are surprised to learn that they’re actually addicted to the approval of other people, and that’s because the symptoms of it are pretty sneaky. We can also be in denial about approval addiction.

So I’m going to encourage you to take part in some honest self-assessment. You don’t have to share it with anybody if you don’t want to, but look at these things for yourself to see where you might be doing things that are actually holding you back or turning into a bad habit.

For my aromatherapy buddies: I would encourage you to be diffusing the Align blend that has Bergamot in it, which is our oil for self-acceptance and self-approval. You can also diffuse it with some extra Bergamot just to give it that little kick.

Approval Addiction Symptom #1 – Worrying what other people think

This obviously is probably not that sneaky. We all have a tendency to do it. It can sneak up on us, but we’re usually very aware of the fact that our minds are in somebody else’s minds wondering what they’re thinking about us.

I’m going to have a whole other blog post coming up on this topic and what to do about it. So if this one resonates with you, be sure to hit subscribe to my newsletter or to my YouTube channel to get notified when I release that video.

Symptom #2 – Putting others needs first

Oooooh, I just triggered a few people, didn’t I?

Here’s the thing, we think it’s altruistic or wonderful of us to put other people’s needs first, and sometimes it is! Sometimes it’s necessary. But, it’s the whole oxygen mask thing. We need to take the time to attend to our own needs to make sure that we are the people – the best people – who can do the best for other people.

This is a sign that we are seeking approval from other people when we don’t want to upset them, when we make their needs more important than ours; not just important or urgent in that moment, but more important than ours so we push our needs down or we put them on the back burner in order to make that other person happy, which is just a way that we gain approval from other people.

Now again, there is a time and a place to put other people ahead of your needs, especially ahead of your wants, but it’s also very important to understand that that does not make their needs more important than yours just because they might be more urgent than yours at that moment.

large group of ducks all looking the same direction to demonstrate how we go along with others as a symptom of approval addiction
Symptom #3 – Going Along

This one is one that I could talk about all day long because some people that I really love deal with this one, and we talk about it all day long!

Going along with other people is when you have an opinion, you have an idea but you don’t want to rock the boat so you keep it to yourself and you go along with what other people are saying or doing, potentially causing more problems down the road because you’re holding back insight or information that might actually support the journey that you’re on, the conversation that you’re having, or the problem that you’re trying to solve.

When we go along with other people in order to keep the peace, we tend to actually create more war, either within ourselves or even in the relationships with those people.

It’s so important that we learn how to speak our mind, how to share our needs, how to share our thoughts and opinions in a way that still feels comfortable to us but that also allows us to honor ourselves while we’re still honoring, and loving, and supporting other people.

When we go along with other people in order to keep the peace, we tend to actually create more war, either within ourselves or even in the relationships with those people. (Tara Wagner) Click To Tweet
Symptom #4 – not having an opinion of your own

If you are the type of person who tends to defer to other people’s opinions, “Oh, I don’t know. What do you think?” that’s a really good sign that you might actually be seeking approval.

We will hold back our opinion when we feel uncomfortable sharing that opinion because we think that it might upset the other person or they may judge us in some way.

This also shows up in number five…

group of trendy professionals discussing ideas over a table of papers
Symptom #5 – asking for other’s opinions before thinking about your own

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with gaining feedback or looking at things through different perspectives, but it’s important that before we do that we have some knowledge of how we’re feeling about something, or what we’re thinking about something. We need to be careful that we’re not using opinions from other people that we admire, people that we want to connect with, as a way to form our own opinions.

Symptom #6 – changing our stance too often or too easily

When we do not feel confident in ourselves, when we are seeking the approval from other people instead of approving of ourselves, we will often lean whichever way that other person is leaning.

We like to mirror the people that we are wanting to gain approval and love from.

Now, this does not mean that we should be stubborn, that we shouldn’t listen to the opinions of other people, that we shouldn’t use those things to help us form a more mature opinion of something. It just means we need to be careful when we see ourselves easily going back and forth, and especially if you’ve seen yourself going back and forth between two opposite opinions depending on whose presence you might be in.

When we do not feel confident in ourselves, when we are seeking the approval from other people instead of approving of ourselves, we will often lean whichever way that other person is leaning. (Tara Wagner) Click To Tweet
Symptom #7 – not taking a stand at all for what you believe in

This is probably a pretty obvious one to most people.

When you are approval seeking, you don’t want to rock the boat. You don’t want to take a stand on passionate issues because you don’t want to upset people.

  • So you’re going to shy away from politics.
  • You’re going to shy away from personal topics.
  • You’re going to shy away from social topics.

…anything that you think someone else might not agree with you on simply because you don’t want them to disagree with you because you don’t want to feel a sense of rejection in that disagreement.

Image of two woman wearing almost identical pink skirts and white shoes
Symptom #8 – becoming the chameleon

Addiction Approval symptom number 8 – and this is one that I struggled with for years, and years, and years – and if I’m not in a healthy place I can still see myself doing this, it is becoming the chameleon.

Now, what I mean when I say becoming a chameleon, obviously that can apply to the things that we’ve just been talking about in terms of our opinions, but it can also apply to your personality, your likes, your tastes.

If I’m feeling very insecure, if I’m not loving and approving of myself, if I’m not in a healthy place, I will often pick up the mannerisms, or even fashion of other people simply because I don’t feel secure enough in myself. It goes along with that same mirroring effect that we were talking about before.

This was even so bad that as a teenager when I was really struggling with my sense of self, if I hung around people with an accent too long, I started picking up their accent. This was completely unconscious, probably a little bit annoying to other people, but that’s what you do when you don’t have a strong sense of self and you’re seeking that approval, that acceptance, that sense of belonging from others.

Symptom #9 – Getting sick or offended when others disagree with you

This is one of the more obvious symptoms of approval addiction. Our emotions are always signals of our unmet needs or of needs that feel threatened.

Now, think about your stomach as being your gut, your sense of self, your solar plexus. When we feel an upset stomach, it’s very often related to that sense of self or to feelings of confidence or security. It can also be very closely related to a feeling of belonging. Feeling sick when other people disagree with us or are upset with us is just our mind’s way of telling us that our needs for love, for support, for belonging, for approval are being threatened in that moment.

Getting offended isn’t something that everybody does, but it’s very closely related. Underneath those feelings of offense, we might still have that same sense of rejection. We’ve just learned to manage it with self-defense, which means getting upset, getting our feathers ruffled so that we can defend ourselves in what feels like a dangerous situation. Drop me a comment below if you know what I’m talking about when I’m talking about this.

This also ties into number 10…

Image of a woman talking with her hands to over-explain herself as a sign of approval addiction
Symptom #10 – over-explaining yourself

If somebody says something to the contrary of what you’re thinking or trying to do, if you feel a need to explain, and over-explain, and justify, this is often a sign or a symptom of seeking approval from other people, of approval addiction.

When you feel confident in yourself, you do not feel the need to over-explain yourself. You don’t feel the need to justify what you’re doing because you already feel good about it.

  • Can you think of a time in your life when you have done the same thing? (We’ve all done it.)
  • How did you feel when you were doing it?
  • What thoughts or emotions were coming up with it?

Usually, we’re worrying about what the other people are thinking about us and so we have to explain. We have to fill the gap or the silence. We have to make sure that they understand our point of view. And this is usually because we’re just seeking approval from those people.

Again, the more you love and approve of yourself and what you do, the less you find yourself justifying or explaining anything to anybody.

The more you love and approve of yourself and what you do, the less you find yourself justifying or explaining anything to anybody. (Tara Wagner) Click To Tweet
Symptom #11 – over-apologizing

Isn’t it funny in our culture how hard it is to apologize when we really need to but how easy it is to apologize for things that just don’t matter?

One of the things that I notice a lot is when people apologize pretty much just for existing. We’ll be walking down an aisle and somebody will say, “Oops, sorry,” and move out of the way and I’m going, “A, you weren’t in my way. And B, it’s okay. You can be here, too.”

Symptom #12 – passive-aggressiveness

Oh yes, we’re going there.

Passive-aggressiveness is usually just a deep need to say what you want to say to express yourself, but instead you hold back because:

  • You’re afraid of what the other person might think.
  • You’re afraid of rocking the boat.
  • You’re afraid of maybe possible rejection.

So all of those emotions, all of those thoughts come out in passive-aggressive ways instead. This is probably something we could do an entire video on itself, symptoms or signs that you are actually passive aggressive. (Drop me a comment below if you think that would be helpful.)

SYMPTOM #13 – feeling shame around your knowledge or your skills.

I see this more with women than with men. We hold back where we might shine.

We might do this because we are afraid of feeling judged. We might do this because we are afraid we’re going to make the other people feel bad. But ultimately, we do this because we’re afraid for some reason that we will experience rejection if we allow ourselves to really shine, share our gifts, share skills without apology, just really sharing our passion for what do, sharing our knowledge, our experience, our hard work.

We worry that people will see it as bragging. We worry that it will make other people feel bad. And instead, we end up just making ourselves feel bad because we shrink, and we hide, and we can’t just be ourselves.

Symptom #14 – not complaining when you need to complain.

Ever been in a restaurant and gotten a hair in your food, but not said anything to the waiter? It happens.

If it hasn’t happened to you, I promise you know probably 20 people who have not complained about bad food, bad service, bad treatment.

We do this when we don’t want to rock the boat or we don’t want to make other people unhappy. We’re putting their comfort above our own needs. Guess what? —It’s okay to offend people, it’s okay to upset people, and it’s okay to share with other people when you are offended or upset.

We were never promised smooth sailing. There’s an old proverb that says, “Smooth sailing does not make skillful sailors.” Sometimes we need to rock the boat. We need to shake things up a little bit in order to make things better. Holding back legitimate complaints is not helping anyone.

Smooth sailing does not make skillful sailors. -African Proverb Click To Tweet
Group of people raising a toast to someone
Symptom #15 – relying on compliments or praise as a source of energy.

If you ever catch yourself fishing for compliments, fishing for praise, and then just wrapping yourself up in it and kind of wallowing in it (in a good way) to make yourself feel good, to feel energized, to get motivated, this is a really sneaky sign of approval addiction.

Our source of energy should not be what other people think of us.

Yes, that can help us feel good, but if we rely on that in order to feel good, in order to feel motivated, we’re doing ourselves and other people a huge disservice. No one should have the responsibility of making sure that your needs are met and that all your feelings are positive, even the people that love you most.

I always get people with this one. They never quite catch it right away, so let me explain it this way:

It’s not your job to make another person happy. It’s not their job to make you happy. It’s our job to make sure that we’re happy enough to help other people make themselves happy.

It's not your job to make another person happy. It's not their job to make you happy. It's our job to make sure that we're happy enough to help other people make themselves happy. (Tara Wagner) Click To Tweet

It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one.

If we take responsibility for other people’s motivation or happiness, if we allow other people to take responsibility for our motivation or happiness, we rob ourselves of the experience of growth.

It’s important that we understand where real motivation comes from, where real energy comes from:

It comes from self-approval. It comes from doing the things that you know you need to do because they hold value and meaning to you.

When you are doing the things you know you’re meant to do, you are so motivated – you are so energized – Yes, you get tired. Yes, you can have burnout moments. Yes, you need to take some breaks – But you’re so motivated that you don’t rely on other people to boost you up anymore. That motivation is coming intrinsically.

The more we are addicted to approval, the more we seek the praise and the validation from other people, the more we waste time and energy on things that actually don’t matter and steal it from the things that do.

Here’s the thing, you’re here for a purpose. You may not know it yet, but whatever your purpose is, it’s going to annoy some people. It’s going to piss some people off. It’s going to offend some other people. And then other people just won’t get it, and then other people just won’t care.

You need to not care about all those other people.

If you’re here for a purpose, if you’re here for a reason, if you feel called to do something important, the only thing that matters is the people you’re here to serve and what you’re doing for yourself to be able to serve them.

Seek approval first from yourself. The right people will also approve of you. The wrong people will fall away.

Seek approval first from yourself. The right people will also approve of you. The wrong people will fall away. (Tara Wagner) Click To Tweet

Now, none of this talk on approval addiction is explaining where this actually comes from. And if you would find a conversation like that helpful, let me know. I’ll see what I can do to put together a blog.

You can also learn more about mindset, how it works, and how you can begin to change yours right here

Grab my free Bottlenecks to Breakthroughs training. This is a free 15-minute video to show you my exact coaching process. This will introduce you to the framework that I use, give you some exercises to get started to change your own mindset or limiting beliefs, and it will also put you on the waiting list from my upcoming Belief Breakthrough course.

You can learn more about it here or grab it by clicking the button below.

I would love for you to also join this conversation and share any of the symptoms of approval addiction that you’ve noticed in your own life or maybe in the lives of the people that you love.

Drop your thoughts in the comments below!


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Tara Wagner

I’m Tara Wagner, creator of the Breakthrough Boss®. I help small biz owners overcome burnout and create part-time schedules with full-time profits. Not with some new marketing strategy, but with a holistic approach to how you operate. Click here to learn more.
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