Category Archives: Communication

Why don’t you like me: When approval seeking becomes a problem

 

Are you a people-pleaser?

We all want approval.  We want our partners to think we’re attractive and funny, we want our bosses to think we’re intelligent and hard-working, we want our friends to think we’re fun and dependable, we want our children to think we’re cool parents…and the list goes on.  It’s perfectly normal to want to be seen in a positive light, but for some people, approval-seeking can become an automatic and unaviodable behaviour that severely impairs one’s functioning and well-being.  This might sound familiar to you because it’s something that you’re currently struggling with, or it might be a problem that you’ve noticed in others.  Either way, it’s important to recognize when approval-seeking has become an oft-used crutch, and to take steps to reduce this maladaptive behaviour.  As Bob Marley said, “you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool everybody all the time”.  The same goes for pleasing people – sooner or later, one of your approval-seeking attempts will inevitably fail, and you won’t feel very good about yourself.

At this point, you may be wondering, how can you tell whether approval-seeking is a problem in your own life?  Some potential clues to watch out for include extreme anxiety at the thought of any potential conflict or disapproval from others, altering your own opinions or behaviour because you perceive that someone disapproves, acting contrary to your values and beliefs in order to please others, apologizing excessively, and finding yourself afraid to say ‘no’ to any request made of you.

On a clinical level, approval-seeking can sometimes be indicative of an underlying diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, but more commonly, the behaviour can stem from many different roots such as childhood bullying or insecure attachment.  Approval-seeking behaviour, many argue, is learned rather than inherent; therefore, it can also be ‘un-learned’. If you feel that this behaviour may be a problem in your own life, there are a few strategies that you can employ to try to reduce it:

Start by identifying: Are you aware of when you’re engaging in approval-seeking behaviour?  Sometimes, this behaviour can manifest in rather obvious ways (for example, doing things that you don’t want to do in order to gain approval), while other times, it may appear more subtly (for example, you might find yourself paying someone an insincere compliment).  Dedicate a few days to paying close attention to your own behaviour – don’t judge or criticize yourself, simply notice the patterns that emerge.  Pay attention to your own thought processes, and try to identify the areas of life (or the specific social situations) in which you tend to seek approval.

Move on to questioning: Now that you’ve identified where your approval-seeking manifests, you can move on to the harder work: questioning why you’ve been engaging in these behaviours.  The reasons may not always be clear – as mentioned earlier, approval-seeking often originates as a result of childhood experiences that you may not recall completely – but just do your best.  For example, if you find yourself spending your Friday night at a club with your friends even though you’re exhausted and were dying to spend the evening curled up on the couch with popcorn and a movie, ask yourself why you went out.  Were you scared that your friends would be disappointed in you if you bailed? And if they were disappointed in you, what would happen then?  Take the time to really interrogate your own beliefs and motivations – you might gain a lot of insight.

Tell everyone: If you feel comfortable, try explaining your quest to decrease approval-seeking to your friends and family.  Saying something like “I’ve noticed that people-pleasing behaviour has become a problem for me, and I’ve decided to work on it – so you might notice me saying no to things more than usual” can go a long way in setting the social stage for your behaviour change.  If your friends have been forewarned that you might say no to their requests sometimes, you might just feel more comfortable doing so.  If they truly care about you, they’ll almost certainly understand.  If you want to take it a (brave) step further, you can even try asking your loved ones to point out to you when they notice you seeking approval.  This last tactic runs the risk of hurting your feelings, however, so make sure to be cognizant of that.

Engage in self-care: You’ve been worrying yourself sick about pleasing other people, so it’s likely that you haven’t given much thought to taking good care of yourself.  Try using the time you gain back as a result of decreasing your approval-seeking to engage in some good old-fashioned self care.  Queue up your favourite Netflix show, sink into a hot bath, catch up with your significant other, read a book, plan a trip, or do all of the above – just make sure to take time for yourself to fully relax, and turn off your phone while you do so!

As always, it’s important to consider the valuable and often-neglected option of sourcing the help of a Psychologist to help you examine the reasons behind your approval-seeking behaviour and help you work to reduce said behaviour.  Above all, remember to be kind and patient with yourself when you’re trying to reduce approval-seeking behaviour.  This kind of big behavioural change definitely doesn’t occur overnight, and for many of us, this behaviour has been with us since childhood, so treat yourself with kindness and appreciate the small victories.  You’re doing something good for yourself just by reading this article – and before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a new sense of control over your life and toasting to your people-pleasing past.

A Little More Conversation: Relationship Communication Tips

 

You’ve probably heard people say before that no  is perfect; that no matter how compatible two individuals are, behind every lasting couple is a large amount of hard work.  Possibly the most important kind of ‘hard work’ that gets done in good relationships is quality communication.

Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky once remarked that “much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid”.  Similarly, a 2013 study examining which interpersonal skills were most predictive of romantic relationship success found communication to be the most significant predictor examined; that is, communication skills were more important in relationship maintenance than were conflict resolution skills, knowledge of one’s partner, life skills, self management, sex and romance, and stress management.

In some ways, we’re more connected now than ever before . The ubiquity of social media, email, and text messaging has created a world in which our loved ones are constantly reachable at the press of a button; as a result, many people would likely argue that communication isn’t an issue in their relationships.  However, some argue that quality is more important than quantity in determining relationship success: if we can’t communicate about the tough stuff and the heavy stuff, we may as well not be communicating at all.  We live in an interesting time, romantically speaking: divorce rates are high, people are getting married at a later age, and social media and the internet have made meeting potential partners almost as easy as going grocery shopping.  The lucky among us will find people with whom they want to spend their time long-term, but even perfect couples can run into stumbling blocks when it comes to communication.

So what is a well-meaning couple to do if quality communication seems awkward, embarrassing, daunting, or simply impossible? Luckily, psychologists have been studying this very subject for many years, and a few significant findings exist that just might be of use in your love life:

Stay positive: A 2006 study found that the more positively spouses reacted to each other’s good news, the better their relationships tended to fare over time. This advice is fairly intuitive: if you act positive and happy most of the time (and especially in relation to the events transpiring in your partner’s life), your relationship is more likely to have an overall positive tone.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to act like Pollyanna when you feel like crying (honesty, after all, is another important facet of partner communication); it simply means that erring on the side of positivity is generally a healthy relationship communication tactic.

Listen first, talk second: When your partner is telling a story, expressing a point of view, or explaining something to you, try not to be forming your next rebuttal while they’re speaking.  Listening with your complete attention is one of the most important relationship communication skills – after all, it’s pretty easy to tell when somebody is waiting for their turn to talk rather than listening.  If you love your partner, you should value what they have to say equally or more than you value what you have to say.

Argue smarter: Contrary to popular opinion, it’s okay to fight or argue in your relationship – in fact, conflict can actually be a good sign that you’re addressing issues rather than burying them. When you find yourself in a dispute, though, there are a few ways to ensure the conversation goes as productively as possible. A good way to convey that you understand what your partner is trying to communicate is to repeat back what they’ve said to you, but paraphrased. For example, if your girlfriend has just finished a five-minute rant about your laziness around the house, try replying something like “I get that you feel like I haven’t been pulling my weight”. You don’t have to agree with her, but simply acknowledging that you understand her point of view can go a long way.

Make time for each other: We all lead busy lives, and especially if you and your partner have children or have different schedules, quality time together can often fall by the wayside.  Notice when this happens, and communicate to each other that you want to plan to spend an evening doing something fun together or just enjoying each other’s company. Remembering why you fell for your partner in the first place (and telling them that you remember) can be powerful.

Share your feelings: This one might sound obvious, but it may not be for some people: it’s important to tell your partner what you’re feeling, both when those feelings are positive and when they’re tougher to express.  Tell your partner when you’re having a good time spending the day with them; equally, tell your partner when you’re feeling down.  Your romantic partner should be the person who is most privy to your feelings, mainly because they are likely going to be the person most able to augment the good emotions and alleviate the pain of the bad.  Of course, you don’t have to tell them literally everything that passes through your head, but sharing how you feel can go a long way towards building a sense of connection and safety.

No buts allowed: Try to avoid the word ‘but’ when arguing or apologizing – as in “I’m sorry, but…”. This tiny word is a powerful weapon that, whether used intentionally or unintentionally, does wonders to undermine the level of respect you’re conveying towards your partner.

Whether you’re married, dating, or single, it’s important to gain a quality understanding of relationship communication skills and to continue building on your existing skills over time. Love isn’t always easy, but most of us would likely agree: the work is worth it.

If you would like to learn more about effective communication for your relationship, contact us for an appointment.