How to Need Less Approval and Attention from Others
A therapist explains how to build a stronger sense of self
As humans, we often use our relationships to manage anxiety. We borrow confidence, calmness, or reassurance from our family, friends, or even strangers on the Internet. And we are quick to lend them back when others are distressed.
There’s nothing wrong with supporting each other, but too much reliance on “borrowing self” can weaken a few skills:
- Your ability to evaluate yourself.
- Your ability to regulate your own anxiety.
- Your ability to tolerate others’ anxiety.
When you lose the ability to be more objective about yourself, you rely on others responding to you in a positive way. You need agreement, approval, attention from others to feel like you’re living a good life or doing good work.
The trouble is, people’s willingness to indulge this need will vary over time. Your cheerleader boss might leave and be replaced with someone more hands off. Your partner might get tired of walking you through every bad mood. Or a friend might not be able to answer every panicked text.
The more we rely on approval and attention, the more life is like a rollercoaster ride. We ride the highs when people give us want we want, but our mood and functioning will plummet the second we can’t get it. We also put more pressure on our relationships to function for us, which can lead to resentment or outright conflict.
So how do you rely less on “borrowing self” from others? You looks for ways to build yourself up.
Building self can look like:
- Considering what you think before you consider polling others.
- Evaluating your work regularly.
- Defining your beliefs, values, and principles for living.
- Working on self-regulating anxiety when you’re distressed.
Questions like, “What do I think?” or “What can I do for myself right now?” seem so simple. But we rarely engage our brains this way when stress is high. Your anxious brain wants you to grab quick fixes or encouraging replies from others. It doesn’t want you sit with discomfort while you practice knowing your own mind.
I often ask my therapy clients, “What power does another person, or a 2am Google search, have that you don’t?” Feedback can be useful, but so is your own thinking. The more we use it, the less power we give to the reactions of others. And the more the reactions of others, when negative, begin to feel less threatening.
So this week, consider where you’re giving too much power to others. When can a few good questions from your own brain be more useful than a nod from your boss or a few likes on social media? The more you build up our own capacity to evaluate yourself, the more you can enjoy attention and approval for what they are: nice, but not necessary.