When Our Need for Approval Gets in the Way of Connection


What are you looking for in your relationships? I think most of us want to be seen and loved for who we really are. We want assurance that we don’t have to change ourselves in order to belong.

Why is this so hard to find? Is it because we know the wrong people? Is it because there is something wrong with us? Is it something else?

It often seems like people, even my friends, don’t really know who I am. I want them to, but something gets in the way. When I take a step back and look at how I show up in those relationships, I start to see why.

While getting ready to hang out with people, I scan my closet to choose an outfit that mimics their style. I try to get a sense of what they think before sharing any of my own opinions—and I’m still generally as ambiguous as possible. I try my hardest not to say anything they won’t fully agree with or do anything they won’t like.

In short, I try to be exactly who I think they want me to be.

I go into interactions trying to earn approval. This is totally natural. We all do it sometimes. Many of us do it often. It seems to make sense that gaining that approval would be the first step to feeling connected—at least until we really stop to think about it.

The problem with seeking validation is that we tend to change or hide or exaggerate parts of ourselves. Even if the other person seems to approve of us, the person they are approving isn’t who we really are. We end up still feeling unseen or misunderstood.

Even worse, when we change to try to make other people like us, we’re reinforcing to ourselves that who we are we isn’t good enough.

Going into an interaction looking for connection is different from trying for validation. Instead of trying to win other people’s approval, we try to see them as who they really are and let them see us too.

This can feel risky. It’s hard to let go of trying to control how others see us. But there is also greater potential for satisfying connection when we’re willing to be vulnerable. Here are some things that are helping me shift into seeking connection more often.

Ask different questions

It’s helped me to become aware that there is a difference between validation and connection. I usually ask a lot of internal questions to figure out what I should do and say to make sure the other person approves of me. Asking different questions can help me shift toward showing up more authentically.

What would I feel great wearing today? Instead of How can I look like I belong with them?

What do I think? Instead of What do I think they think I should think?

What would I love to know about them? Instead of What do they think of me?

What am I excited about sharing? Instead of What would they think is impressive, smart, funny, or cool?

What are some of the questions you ask while trying to win approval? How could change those questions to help you show others a little more of who you are?

Set your intention

It makes a difference when I set my intention for how I want to show up before I am in another person’s presence—before there is so much pressure to make them like me. A couple questions I use are:

Who do I want to be? I wouldn’t choose to be someone who is preoccupied with measuring her own performance. I’d much rather be someone who is kind and listens well. I want to be someone who is excited about things that matter to her and willing to share some of her struggles. I want to be someone who is interested to learn about what matters to the people I’m with.

How do I want this person to experience being around me? I want other people to feel heard and not judged. I want people to feel welcome and safe. I want people to have fun and also able to go deep into the important things of life. I want people to walk away from time with me feeling more known and more alive.

How would you answer these questions? What would change if you thought about your answers before your next interaction?

The things I really want are a far cry from choosing the right t-shirt or loving the right movies, aren’t they? I think they are things most of us are looking for in our relationships. They are things we can have, even with people who seem very different from us. Most people are more interested in whether I am kind and genuine than whether I share all of their opinions.

But they are also the riskier things of connection. They acknowledge that making sure everyone likes us is not the highest goal. They open up the possibility of being more deeply known and also the possibility that someone will decide they prefer not to know us.

Some people do just want their expectations met and some won’t like who I am. Not everyone is going to click with everyone else. That’s ok. We don’t have to make everyone like us in order to have rewarding relationships. Being friends with everyone would actually be pretty exhausting.

It still feels easier in the moment to seek validation over connection—maybe it always will. But I’m learning that choosing to try for real connection is worth the risk.

I’d love to know…what helps you try to connect with people instead of seeking their approval? How are you going to shift your questions? What happens when you set your intentions?