Letting Go of the Need for Approval from Others in Recovery
Author: Tiffany Le GPsyN
One of the most common maintaining factors of the eating disorder that clients at Westwind have voiced, is the need for approval from others or the fear of failure or rejection. Not feeling “good enough” works for the eating disorder and often leaves us feeling disappointed, hopeless, and discontent. When we seek others’ approval, we end up missing opportunities to learn how to approve of ourselves, even if others don’t. It becomes easy to fall into the cycle of always trying to chase “the next best thing” when we live our lives based on the standards and expectations of others, whether it be friends, family members, or even strangers. Although shapeshifting may seem like the most viable option when it comes to avoiding judgment or criticism, it may not be the most sustainable option. When we choose to act or think in ways that do not align with our values and beliefs systems, we are pulled further away from our authentic selves.
The eating disorder’s goal is to keep you detached from your life, but at the same time, it creates a façade that you will be lost without it. It is only until you bring awareness to your core values, beliefs, preferences, needs, and goals that you can slowly start to let go of the desire to adopt those of others. At Westwind, we talk about the concept of “workability versus believability,” which means committing to actions that reinforce what you eventually want to believe but may not fully believe yet. Constantly trying to impress and prove yourself to others or the eating disorder can be exhausting and minimize your self-worth and individuality.
Small actionable steps that you can take to find your own voice may include practicing expressing your opinions freely and interrupting the urge to match the opinions of others. The first step is catching yourself altering your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours whenever someone questions you or disagrees with you. Taking these actionable steps can help to reaffirm that it is a matter of wanting approval, instead of needing approval. Since no two individuals are exactly the same, it is inevitable for disagreements to occur within our daily lives. It is common for people to feel flustered or embarrassed when put into situations where they feel like they need to have all the answers, otherwise their perspectives are invalid. If you ever encounter a situation like this, remember to PAUSE and take a breath before speaking. Chances are, you have all the evidence you need to support your decision-making and if not, you are just as capable of problem-solving as anyone else.
Getting into the habit of following your “gut feeling” or intuition can lead you towards making more concrete decisions. This notion is similar to the idea of listening to your body when it comes to nourishing and caring for it. Your body is smart and knows when it is sick or well, full or hungry, and satisfied or dissatisfied. Your intuition mainly stems from your past experiences, which can serve as strong evidence. If you are used to trusting the word of others over your own, it may feel uncomfortable to rely on this gut feeling at first. However, we typically grow when we are uncomfortable and what we practice grows stronger. Following your gut feeling can also eliminate any moral distress that may derive from people-pleasing.
In order to embrace our authentic selves and gain a sense of inner peace, it is important for us to dedicate time to doing things for ourselves. It may not be easy to say goodbye to the need for approval, but it is possible. Just like recovery, letting go of the fear of failure or rejection is a conscious choice that can allow you to live a fuller life. Recovery is a great opportunity to begin being honest with yourself when considering the intention behind your actions, so that you can differentiate between whether you are doing something you want to do versus something you think you “should” be doing.