Seeking approval is a part of being human. Maslow said being respected by others is one of our basic needs. However, particularly seeking approval of who we are from outside sources will only lead to frustration, inauthenticity, exhaustion, and feeling captive to the opinions of others. No one wants that.
But can’t it be terrifying and difficult not to care about what other people think? Heck yes! It’s scary knowing that by revealing who you are or by making a certain choice, other people may be disappointed in you, disrespect you, or dislike you. The more you love and respect someone, the harder it is.
Is it worth the risk?
I say yes. Even if it means someone doesn’t want to date or hang out with you. Even if someone thinks less of you. You will be content because you are loving and accepting yourself. In situations where it’s tempting to look to others for my worth, I always think, “This is who I am. I have shown you my authentic and vulnerable self, and if you don’t like me, there is nothing I can do about it.”
But all of this can be told another way, a story illustrating my—disastrous—search for approval and eventual realization that “your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.”
The Bad Beginning
When I was a senior in high school, I started dating my first boyfriend. Three months later, he broke up with me over text because he “couldn’t be in a relationship with me and God at the same time.” That was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard and didn’t accept it as a valid reason.
Doing the exact opposite of what I should have done, I continued to pursue him. I spit in logic’s face, hopped in my car, and went 100 mph down Hormone Highway. But why would I do this?
- It was my first romantic relationship, and I had no idea what I was doing.
- Hormones. All of them.
- I quickly and deeply care about people—especially him—and I genuinely wanted to do whatever I could to make him happy. I thought that if I could only prove to him how much I cared, then he would want to be with me. Right? Right? Bueller?
- No one likes being rejected—especially those of us who always seek to be the best. The rational part of me knew I was worthy of dating him, making his rejection all the more confusing. For the majority of my life, failure just wasn’t an option. It wasn’t something that I grew from: it was a devastating example of inadequacy. Thus, I started my mission to prove my worth to him.
- Finally, I wanted him to accept my point of view and say he was wrong about not being able to have a relationship with me and God at the same time. We came from very different religious points of view, and his didn’t make any sense to me. Instead of just acknowledging what he believed and moving on, I argued. I pushed. I tried to persuade. Brilliant idea, right?
The Dastardly Deed
Let’s fast forward a few months to the day of my high school graduation. Not much had changed between him and me, mostly just the dating label. So how did I pull off this comeback? In the most naive and demeaning way. I knew his biggest weakness was his physical attraction toward me, so I exploited that. Because I thought if I could physically entice him into spending time with me, then I would have an opportunity to show him how much I cared about him and to talk about getting back together. Did anyone just cringe out of humiliation after reading that? Yeah, I did too.
So, it was graduation day. We were together. In my bed.
“We should have sex,” he said. Instantly, I froze. I was in no way ready for this unexpected proposition. “C’mon. Just a little. Just to see what it feels like. Please?”
Even though my common sense, my morals, and my sympathetic nervous system were sounding the retreat, the part of me that thought his wanting to have sex meant that he wanted to be in a committed relationship with me—the part that desperately sought his approval—won.
A few days later I learned he was pursuing someone else. After a week of silence, he finally responded to my communication. Over text, of course. He said these words that are eternally branded into my mind. “You’re right. I used you for sex. I never really liked you.”
Cue Brenna’s self-worth shattering.
The Annihilating Aftermath
I was utterly devastated, livid, betrayed, and broken. How could he? I offered every part of myself to him, but ultimately I meant nothing. For a year after that, I was lost. Combine my bad decision making with the religious crisis that I was going through, and I started questioning everything, incapable of making a decision without asking multiple people’s advice. My friends noticed, and I felt myself losing their respect.
Even after all the pain my ex-boyfriend inflicted upon me, I spent the next seven months in an arduous, yet successful campaign to date him again. While there were many noble reasons why I did this including love and forgiveness, one was selfish—one was needing to prove I was good enough for him, and the only way I would be satisfied was if we started dating again.
The Illuminated Insight
It wasn’t until three years later when we broke up for good that I fully understood someone’s not wanting to date me doesn’t mean I am worth anything less. It doesn’t mean I am not good enough. And it definitely doesn’t mean I failed.
Asking yourself, “What could I have done better? What’s wrong with me? Did they ever really care? Why am I not good enough?” are all questions that will never lead to answers but will always lead to agony and strife. We were never getting back together, so I had to make a choice: love and accept myself, move on, and be happy or dwell and be miserable.
This mindset has revolutionized how I deal with ending relationships. Earlier this year after dating someone, he told me he didn’t want to pursue a relationship. All I responded with was, “Okay! That’s cool,” and I meant it.
- I’m done trying to convince people who don’t care about me that I am worthy of being cared about. It’s an emotionally exhausting sales job with zero return on investment.
- In a romantic sense, this man couldn’t control his feelings of indifference toward me anymore than I could control my feelings of admiration for him. How could I fault him?
- I have nothing to feel bad about or regret when I present myself as genuinely as possible.
- I consciously decide that no one is allowed to bring me down. No one controls my happiness but me.
Everyone, I implore you to experience the vast and uplifting freedom that is not letting the opinions of others determine your self-worth. I know it isn’t easy. However, you will have the courage to be authentic when you understand that you are enough. Trust me—you are.