Their voices were quiet, but I could tell the man and woman were arguing. She seemed calm and dispassionate. He was full of rage. They were sitting near me Monday evening.
His angry words got louder. Finally, he stood and glared down at her.
“I don’t care what you think of me,” he said loudly. “I don’t need you or your approval!”
And then he stalked out of the restaurant, never looking back.
I knew he was lying, but I have no idea whether he knew that. If he hadn’t cared about the woman’s approval, he wouldn’t have been so angry. He wouldn’t have protested so strongly. And if he really hadn’t cared what she thought of him, he wouldn’t be a normal human being.
I’ve been fighting this battle all my life. I don’t want to care what anybody else thinks about me. I don’t want my actions to be shaped by fear of being hurt by your disapproval. I’ve often lied to myself and I’ve sworn I didn’t care.
I don’t want to need you, but I do. I don’t want to crave your approval, but I do.
I need you to like my work. To understand my work and my motivations. I need you to be interested in my thoughts and to admire the best about me. I need you to believe in me. I need you to see the fears in my shadows and still think I’m good enough anyway.
I crave all of that — and more — but I hate myself for having such a powerful need for your approval and admiration.
It’s not everybody whose approval I crave, of course. It’s the relatively few who I care about enough to want to please. I want the approval of crowds far more than I like to admit to myself. But the approval I really crave is from the few whose disapproval can hurt my mind and crush my heart.
It’s popular in society to teach people that they shouldn’t need others’ approval. It’s common to praise those lone wolves — mostly in books or movies — who walk alone and don’t care what others think. I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment, but I don’t see how it’s very realistic.
Our need for approval has been used all our lives to control us. Parents used it. Teachers did, too, as did religious leaders in many cases. Everybody who’s been in a position of power or authority over us has used it to shape us to their liking. We probably weren’t even aware of it at the time, but people gave us conditional love and approval in exchange for our acting as they wanted us to act.
They controlled us. They molded us.
My experience is that the more aware you become of this need for other people’s approval, the more you deny it. With everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve been like a stage performer who was only too aware of the audience. I’ve had one eye on that audience, eager for their applause. Desperate for their approval.
This makes me vulnerable to others’ control. And I don’t like that. I fear losing control — because I’ve experienced hurt from those whose approval I craved — but my quietly hidden need for approval from others is so powerful that I blunder forward anyway, even though I rage at myself for having the need.
My need is manipulative. It makes me change myself — to try to be what would get me the love or approval or admiration I need. It unconsciously shapes my behavior and it even pushes me at times to be what someone else might want.
Would she want this from me? Would she want me to become that instead? Would this make her proud of me?
I constantly fight this inner battle and I believe almost everybody else does, too. In fact, I think those who deny most loudly that they want approval from others are almost always those who are deepest in denial.
And that’s what I recognized in that man tonight. I saw someone who desperately craved that woman’s approval. For some reason, she wasn’t giving it to him — so he desperately needed to believe he didn’t need her approval.
He was lying to her. But more importantly, he was lying to himself.
I don’t like to admit that I need your approval. I sometimes still lie to myself and claim it doesn’t matter. I tell myself I’ll be fine without getting the approval I crave. I assume that would be the emotionally healthy thing to feel. It seems safer. And it doesn’t threaten to hurt me so much.
But when I’m honest with myself, I know better. And I hate the fact I’ve unconsciously given you this control over me — because it’s most often a need which brings pain to all of us.