What causes approval seeking behavior?

Have you ever found yourself saying ‘yes’ when you really wanted to say ‘no’? Or maybe you’ve laughed along with a joke that didn’t sit right with you, just to fit in? This is what we call approval-seeking behavior. It’s something many of us have experienced at some point in our lives. In a world where the likes, comments, and views on social media can feel like they measure our worth, it’s not surprising that seeking approval has become a common habit.

As a counselor, I see firsthand how striving for constant approval can impact one’s life. The need for approval can sneak into our relationships, our work, and most importantly, how we see ourselves. This blog aims to look deep into what causes approval-seeking behavior, why it can be more harmful than helpful, and how understanding its roots can empower us to make healthier choices.

So, whether you’re reading this because you’ve noticed this behavior in yourself or someone else, or you’re just curious about the topic, I hope you find some valuable insights in this blog post.

Understanding Approval-Seeking Behavior

Definition of Approval-Seeking Behavior

Let me start with what approval-seeking behavior actually is. In simple terms, it’s the pattern of behavior where a person’s primary motive is to receive approval or avoid disapproval from others. This can look like always trying to please people, avoiding conflict at all costs, or changing one’s opinions and actions based on what they think others want to hear or see.

Healthy Desire vs. Problematic Approval-Seeking

It’s natural to want to be liked and accepted. As social beings, a certain level of concern about what others think of us is normal and even healthy. It helps us build relationships and live in harmony with others. But, when this desire crosses over to constantly needing others’ approval to feel good about ourselves, it becomes problematic. It’s like a compass that always points towards others’ opinions, leading us away from our true north – our own values and beliefs.

Psychological and Social Aspects

Approval-seeking behavior isn’t just about personality traits; it’s deeply rooted in our psychology and social experiences. It often reflects our inner dialogues – how we talk to ourselves, what we believe about our worth, and how we perceive the world around us. Socially, it mirrors the values and expectations of our culture and immediate environment, especially in this age of digital connection where much of our social life plays out online.

Understanding this behavior is crucial because it’s often a silent driver of many of our actions and decisions. When we start to recognize it, we’re better positioned to address it.

Root Causes of Approval-Seeking Behavior

Childhood and Parental Influence:

Approval-seeking behavior is often traced back to our childhood. The way we were raised, especially the kind of relationship we had with our parents or caregivers, plays a significant role. If, as children, we constantly felt the need to earn our parents’ love or approval through our achievements or behavior, this pattern might carry over into adulthood. This isn’t about blaming parents; they did the best they could with what they knew. However understanding this connection helps us see approval-seeking as a learned behavior, which means it can be unlearned.

Societal and Cultural Factors:

Our society and culture set certain standards and norms, and it’s natural to want to fit in. However, when these norms are rigid or when there’s a strong emphasis on external validation (like physical appearance, success, and wealth), it can fuel our need for approval. In today’s world, social media platforms are hotspots for such comparisons and approval-seeking. It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring self-worth by likes, followers, or the curated lives we see online.

Psychological Factors:

Psychologically, approval-seeking is often linked to low self-esteem and a fragile sense of self-worth. If deep down we don’t feel good enough, we might rely on others’ approval to feel validated. Fear of rejection and the need to belong also play big roles. We’re wired to be social creatures, and the fear of being left out or rejected can drive us to go to great lengths to fit in.

Personal Experiences and Traumas:

Our past experiences, especially any form of trauma, bullying, or rejection, can shape our approval-seeking behaviors. For instance, if someone was bullied in school for being different, they might learn to suppress their uniqueness to gain approval and avoid further pain.

Consequences of Chronic Approval-Seeking

Impact on Mental Health:

Chronic approval-seeking can take a toll on our mental health. It often leads to stress, as there’s constant pressure to meet others’ expectations. Anxiety can creep in because we’re always worried about how we’re perceived. Over time, this can lead to more serious issues like depression, as continuously relying on external validation can erode our sense of self-worth and make us feel powerless in our own lives.

Strain on Personal Relationships:

In relationships, whether with friends, family, or romantic partners, approval-seeking behavior can create strain. When we’re always trying to please others, our genuine self takes a back seat. This not only prevents authentic connections but can also lead to resentment, both from ourselves for not being true to who we are and from others who might feel manipulated or unable to know the real us.

Hindrance to Personal Growth and Authenticity:

Constantly seeking approval keeps us from exploring and embracing our true selves. Personal growth is about discovering and nurturing our own values, beliefs, and strengths. But if our focus is always on pleasing others, we miss out on the opportunity to develop these aspects of our identity. It can also make decision-making difficult, as we’re more tuned into what others want or expect than what we truly desire.

Managing and Overcoming Approval-Seeking Behavior

Strategies for Building Self-Esteem and Self-Acceptance:

One of the most effective ways to reduce approval-seeking behavior is to work on building your self-esteem and self-acceptance. This means starting to value yourself for who you are, not for what others think of you. Practicing self-compassion, where you treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding as you would a friend, is a great place to start. Regularly engaging in activities that you are good at and that bring you joy can also reinforce your sense of self-worth.

Importance of Self-Awareness and Understanding Personal Values:

Becoming more self-aware helps you understand your motivations for seeking approval. Reflect on why you feel the need to please others – is it fear of rejection, low self-esteem, or something else? Once you understand this, you can start challenging these beliefs and replacing them with healthier ones. Identifying and living according to your own values, rather than those of others, is also key. This can guide your decisions and actions and lead to a more authentic life.

Role of Therapy and Professional Guidance:

Sometimes, it’s helpful to seek support from a counselor or therapist. They can provide a safe space to explore the reasons behind your approval-seeking behavior and develop strategies to overcome it. Therapy can be particularly beneficial if your behavior is rooted in deeper issues like past traumas or deeply ingrained beliefs about yourself.

Real-life examples of what causes approval seeking behavior and how they overcome

Overcoming the Need for Parental Approval:

Anna always strived to meet her parents’ high expectations. Despite achieving success in her career, she never felt satisfied because it wasn’t the path she truly wanted. Therapy helped her realize that she was chasing her parents’ definition of success, not her own. Through self-reflection and counseling, Anna gradually learned to value her own desires and aspirations. She eventually made career changes that were more aligned with her passions, leading to a more fulfilling life.

Breaking Free from Social Media Validation:

I also recall Samson, who was caught in the cycle of seeking validation through social media. Constantly comparing himself to others online, Tom’s self-esteem was deeply linked to the number of likes and comments he received. By consciously reducing his time on social media and engaging in activities that fostered real-life connections, he began to detach his self-worth from online validation. This shift not only improved his mental well-being but also helped him develop more genuine relationships.

Transforming After Peer Rejection:

Lily’s case is also a good example. She faced peer rejection in her school years. This experience led her to be overly accommodating to others to avoid further rejection. Through counseling, she learned to process her past trauma and understand its impact on her behavior. Lily worked on building her self-confidence and started setting boundaries in her relationships. This journey wasn’t easy, but it empowered her to live more authentically and form healthier connections.


As we’ve seen so far, approval-seeking behavior is a common human experience, influenced by a variety of factors including childhood experiences, societal pressures, and personal traumas. It’s important to remember that seeking approval is not inherently bad; it becomes problematic when it dictates our actions and compromises our authenticity.

Overcoming this behavior begins with understanding its roots. Whether it stems from a desire to please parents, fit in with societal norms, or a response to past traumas, acknowledging these causes is the first step. Building self-esteem, cultivating self-awareness, and, if necessary, seeking professional guidance are critical steps in this journey.

Remember, the goal is not to become immune to others’ opinions but to reach a place where these opinions do not define you. It’s about finding a balance where you can listen to feedback without losing sight of your own values and beliefs. This path leads to a more authentic, fulfilling life, where your sense of self-worth comes from within, not from the approval of others.

Old Soul
Old Soul

I love poetry and philosophy. My complex thought is constantly being woven and rewoven, as I encounter new experiences and learn new things. This ever-evolving network of thought not only guides my actions and perspectives but also fuels my passion for writing

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