I’m also a master coach and an expert on approval seeking. And in my research and study, I’ve found that many women use approval like some people use alcohol or drugs. But unlike those addictions…
Approval addicts don’t get hangovers.
The negative consequences are largely invisible. On the outside, approval addicts are some of the highest-functioning people you’d ever meet. They look like they have their shit together. To the untrained eye, they may even look “perfect.”
But I know better. I can spot an approval addict coming a mile away.
Mostly because I was one.
When you’re addicted to approval, you may not even know it. I didn’t. People thank you. They praise you. They say nice things about you. That’s good, isn’t it? How could that be a bad thing?
But you know there’s a problem when…
… on the inside despite all the kudos and gold stars, you still feel miserable and stuck.
I know, because I’ve lived it.
Here’s my story
Back in 2007, I worked at a progressive think-tank in Portland, Oregon. I always wanted to change the world, make it a better place. And I believed that working in public policy was the way to do it.
Seriously. I wanted people to look at me when I walked down the street and whisper, “There goes Amy Pearson. Did you know she solved the hunger problem in Oregon? How does she do that and stay so thin?!”
And I did my best to shape my life into the image I had of who that person should be. For instance…
Good people stay up on current events
During that time in my life, I had 3 newspapers delivered to our house. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Oregonian.
I kept trying to fit in by doing things that I thought I “should” do.
I didn’t know it at the time, but deep down, I believed I was not “enough.” I ran a courtroom in my mind, and used my flaws and mistakes as evidence that I didn’t measure up enough to be worthy of all the things I really wanted… prosperity, abundance, love, all that good stuff.
The only way out, I thought, was to do things that would “redeem” me.
Things like having subscriptions to multiple newspapers… newspapers that I didn’t even read. I mean, I read them sometimes, but mostly because I thought I should. And when I didn’t, I felt bad. Because that’s what good policy makers do – read newspapers daily (and I wasn’t measuring up).
Meanwhile, on the inside…
I didn’t really LIKE the policy work I was doing.
But I thought if I kept doing the “right” thing I’d be happy…
Even though in my heart of hearts, I didn’t want to read newspapers like an informed citizen and responsible policymaker.
What I really I wanted to read was woo books on past life regression and reincarnation.
But what would my public policymaker colleagues think of me if I actually said that out loud?
So I kept on doing what I was doing, even though on the inside, it didn’t feel like I was doing work I was meant to do. On some level, I knew that—because I just felt this low-grade misery, even though on the outside, my life looked like a success.
It took me a long time to realize I had a problem. The negative consequences were there, but I hadn’t made a clear connection between my approval seeking and rejection-avoiding and the results I was getting in my life. I just felt confused.
Maybe that sounds familiar to you.
And so, for a while, I just wondered: why, why, why? Why am I so miserable and stuck?
Everything looks so good on the surface. I’m always doing the “right” things. I’m such a good person…
This approval trap is a silent epidemic that is invisible to most. It leaves its victims confused and ashamed for being so miserable. You probably live a very privileged life. You “have it all,” so to speak. Everything looks so good on the surface. But you have a secret. You are stuck. You are miserable. And you are pissed off.
Now back to our story…
And then, everything crashed.
Fast forward. I was 6 months pregnant — twins! — which was a really big deal because I’d been through 5 years of infertility hell.
I was so happy to finally be starting a family.
I remember it was a Saturday evening, and I was at home, working on a report about the mortgage interest rate deduction.
There was a knock at the door.
I got up to see who it was.
It was my brother, Aaron, and he didn’t look good.
He’d come to tell me that something was wrong with my mom. She wasn’t breathing. And she was in the hospital. We didn’t know it then, but her heart was failing.
Now, I should mention here that my mom was my number one cheerleader. I’d fully expected her to show me how to take care of my newborns, and that she’d be over at our house 3 times a week to pitch in and help out. Do the dishes, change diapers, whatever. That’s just the kind of person she was.
And then, 3 months before I gave birth to my twins, she died.
My life felt like a complete blur.
I had these helpless little babies. And they both cried. A lot.
So there I was, with not one but two crying babies. Babies I’d worked for 6 long years to finally conceive… but now that they were here, it kinda sucked.
I felt like a failure in motherhood — that defining role we are “supposed” to play as women. I’d tried to conceive for 6 long years, so that felt like a failure. And then when I actually had the twins and didn’t actually like it all that much, that felt like a failure on top of a failure.
But wait, there’s more.
To top it all off, my OWN mom was gone.
My mom, the one who looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes. Who always laughed at my jokes.
Something had to change— and the one to change it was me.
That was a pretty dark time in my life. But I made two big decisions:
- I needed to learn how to “mother” myself.
- I gave myself permission to be happy. Not happy if such-and-such happened. Not happy someday. Happy right here, right now.
On the surface that may seem like a little thing, but reading those woo-woo books symbolized a new beginning for me.
I realized that I didn’t really care about foreign policy, current events or the price of gasoline (gasp!)—so I stopped pretending that I did.
I enrolled in Martha Beck’s coach training, where I saw for the first time how I’d been living my life from a place of constant, dull anxiety about always doing the “right” thing, making the ”right” impression.
And I began to explore what happened if I did “my thing” instead.
What happens when you quit doing the “right thing” — and do your thing instead.
What I discovered was that it didn’t really matter how my life looked on the outside. What mattered was how I felt on the inside
And over time, I realized how much time and energy I wasted collecting “gold stars” so I could get other people to approve of me—and discovered how that was at the root of so much of my misery.
I became determined to learn how to live my life from ANOTHER place.
… A place of giving myself permission to be happy, no matter what.
… A place of actually asking myself “what is it that makes me happy?”
… A place of peace.
… A place that’s me, uncensored.
For a woman on a mission, caring about what others think keeps you invisible + miserable.
Here’s the thing: as I started to grow my coaching business, I saw that the same thing that had been keeping me stuck in my life was keeping me stuck in my business, too.
How you do one thing is how you do everything, as they say.
And I started to see this with my clients, too. A large part of what was keeping them from living THEIR mission was what I now call The Approval Trap!
I believe at the root of approval addiction is a basic human need to belong. We want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s a basic human need. But when you live for approval you never truly find belonging. You sacrifice yourself for a false sense of belonging called “fitting in.”
And that’s what leaves you miserable—because you can’t connect with your real work in the world when you’re preoccupied with what other people think of you (or are embarrassed to read woo-woo books instead of the newspaper).
Now, I spend my precious time on this planet doing what I truly love –– helping women like YOU actualize their dreams.
Showing you simple yet profound ways to break free of what’s holding you back.
Giving you the tools to create anything you want in your business, projects, and life.
Holding the lantern as you blaze your trail doing the work you know you’re meant to do.
And inspiring you to live brazen, inside and out. So you set the world on fire with the full-strength, uncensored version of you.