As adults, very few of us are immune from caring about what other people think. And when we become preoccupied with a need to be liked — or try too hard to be everyone’s hero — we risk abandoning ourselves. “Being dependent on approval — so dependent that we barter away all our time, energy, and personal preferences to get it — ruins lives,” wrote Martha Beck in O, The Oprah Magazine. In other words, taken to the extreme, approval-seeking is a recipe for stress, burnout, and a whole host of issues that threaten our well-being.
One reason it can be difficult to break up with our validation-seeking ways? We’ve been operating this way for a long, long time. “Our concern with how other people evaluate us is a big part of being human,” says Sara Valencia Botto, MA, in her TED Talk drawing on her research into early childhood development. In fact, this tendency emerges “before we can even utter a complete sentence… and it becomes an integral part of who we grow up to be.”
So is it even possible to fight something that’s been ingrained in our operating system since we were babies? Short answer: yes! These tips can help:
The first step to loosen the grip that people’s opinions have on you is simply to accept this as a normal part of being human. “It is easy to say, ‘don’t let [him or her] get to you,’ but it’s not realistic,” Jessica Methot, Ph.D., an associate professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, tells Thrive. Once you come to terms with the natural tendency to want to be liked, you can begin to let go of some of the fixation on others.
Avoid the overthinking trap
If you find yourself stressing about what someone thinks of you, you might be creating a concern that only lives in your head — not in reality. “Someone not returning an email immediately doesn’t mean they are purposefully ignoring or undermining us,” Methot says. “Consider the possibility that your coworker just returned from traveling and is catching up on emails, or is overwhelmed by another project.” The only thing worse than caring about someone’s real opinion is obsessing over an opinion that likely doesn’t exist.
Make friends with disapproval
Often, we seek validation from others because we think we can’t handle being rejected or disliked. If you tend to turn on yourself when you don’t get the approval you seek, you may need to replace self-criticism with a hefty dose of self-compassion. For example, if a colleague or a friend isn’t too keen on a choice you’ve made or something you’ve done — and gives you the cold shoulder — remind yourself that your value as a human being doesn’t come from whether or not someone likes you. Bottom line: Just because someone else thinks something about you, doesn’t mean it’s a fact.
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