If we did not receive approval from those close to us in childhood we may grow up to have an excessive need for it from others later in life as a kind of compensation and in order to raise our shattered self-esteem. This can make us vulnerable and excessively anxious to make everybody like us and admire us. Of course, this is impossible to achieve.
It is just not possible to interact fully in society without sometimes experiencing disapproval and rejection. Very often, such rejection and disapproval do not mean that there is anything particularly wrong with us.
Indeed, it could be much more to do with failings in the other person, obvious examples are prejudice, discrimination, biased and irrational thinking or misdirection of emotions which were not originally generated by us (for example, ‘displacement’: the psychological term for when somebody takes something out on us which was not our fault; or ‘projection’ : the psychological term for constantly ‘seeing’ in other people the things we don’t like about ourselves and may have repressed).
Frequently, too, a person’s behaviour towards us might be due to distorted beliefs stemming from psychological wounds that have been inflicted upon them in the past (for example, a woman who distrusts men because her husband used to beat her).
When we are (inevitably) sometimes rejected, a useful exercise is to calmly think about why we have been responded to in a negative manner and analyze if it really was something to do with us or to do with something else not really connected to us.
For example, perhaps the person who behaved in a negative way towards us was over-tired or under a great amount of stress. In such a case, the disapproval is likely to be ephemeral, in any event, and something we do not need to dwell upon or take personally.
Obviously, when someone rejects us it does not mean that we are of no value. Even if we have done something wrong, one action or set of actions does not define us as a person (either in the present or in the future). To become defined in such a way would be absurdly limiting and simplistic. Human beings are, after all, complex creatures (hence expressions like: ‘he’s the sum of his contradictions’).
Individuals who have an excessive need for approval often feel that it is imperative that EVERYBODY approves of them. I repeat, this is impossible, and, in my view, undesirable (often, history has shown us, the most enlightened and edifying views can meet with vicious opposition). We do not need the approval of everyone we meet in order to live a happy and meaningful life. Also, other people’s views of us should not be given equal weight (for example, most of us would value the view someone we respected had of us more than the view a stranger had).
It is also important to point out that we can sometimes feel hurt and upset if someone criticizes us in a manner which we do not feel is warranted; to avoid falling into such a trap we need to remind ourselves that we need not let our mood be affected adversely by something negative someone says about us if we know it not to be true.
Finally, it is worth saying how it might be helpful to react when someone disapproves of us when we HAVE done something we regret. A constructive response might be as follows:
a) we can learn from the criticism
b) just because we know we have done something wrong, it is illogical to overgeneralize from this and view ourselves as a wholly bad person
c) accept that we feel temporarily uncomfortable but to keep in mind, too, that this feeling will pass and that we are not necessarily being totally written off as a person by the individual we have upset, let alone by everybody else forevermore!
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.