We are all actors performing the chapters of our lives. Some of us engage in this drama eagerly, sharing a great deal of what occurs on our social media, and freely discussing even the most intimate details with anyone within earshot. While appropriate self disclosure can be quite beneficial, it becomes problematic when all this exposure is an attempt for others’ approval. There’s all the world of difference from being the star of your own show and letting others’ approval become an addiction.
The Need for Approval and Social Media
The need for approval can be an addiction, complete with the physiological rewards of receiving praise, cravings and tolerance. We all benefit from healthy social interactions, but when we rely on compliments, “likes,” and “follows” for our self-worth, it’s a real problem. Being addicted to approval impacts all areas of our lives, from increasing our anxiety to diminishing our productivity. We can seek to ease the general feelings of emptiness we experience by seeking out approval from harmful relationships. We stay too long in groups, friendships and other affiliations, far after it’s become clear that we are suffering because we just want to be loved.
Physiologically, similar neurochemical processes involved in the positive effects of other types of addictions, including increased dopamine, can result from our social media interactions. This can create an addiction loop where we turn to social media for hit after hit of feel-good chemicals. Tolerance develops when a person needs more and more approval to get the same blissful buzz. Part of the addictive nature of social media is that we’re all on what we social scientists call a partial reinforcement schedule. In regular language, sometimes we get a lot of likes, but other times not so much. This pattern is what makes gambling so addictive. Layer onto this proclivity that some of us are high in the need for approval for various psychospiritual reasons and the perfect toxic formula is achieved.
The Dangers of Seeking Approval on Social Media
Social media is part of life for many of us. Statistics show that many of us check Facebook before we climb out of bed in the morning, beginning a trend for multiple check-ins during each day. Increased social media usage is associated with greater distress for some of us, especially those who were already at risk for anxiety, depression and other forms of distress. Social media can become a true addiction. On the other hand, social media is an amazing way to connect with like-minded individuals, which is especially important for those of us who don’t have such people nearby.
The dangers of social media was a popular topic in the advanced psychology seminars that I taught. After we discussed the research, students would share their opinions and experiences. What fascinated me about these informal sessions is how we were playing the dual roles of being the observer and actor regarding social media. My burgeoning social scientists were full of hypotheses and theories. The cleverer ones also provided insight on their own social media use. I knew that these were the students who could go onto successful careers because they demonstrated the very useful skill of being able to apply research to their own experiences. Another healthy ability that some of them had was that they didn’t look to their social media for approval, instead seeing it as a way to interact with others.
External Validation Shouldn’t Be a Substitute for Our Own Truth
Research demonstrates that seeking external validation via our social media posts or our IRL interactions can be incredibly problematic, damaging our views about ourselves, leading to distress and interfering with our ability to have nourishing relationships. Many of us are solitary practices, lacking in-person affiliations with like-minded others whether by choice or necessity. I recently wrote about the benefits of kinship in Don’t Call Me Sister: The Double Trouble Of Assumed Familiarity And Believing Only Women Can Be Witches. Finding groups that are supportive, enjoyable, informative and safe is a great blessing of social media for isolated practitioners. However, we can become dependent on these groups if we aren’t careful, using them for validation instead of focusing on our own strengths. In Are You A Firewalking Truth Weaver Or Are You Desperately Seeking Magic?, I talked about how we can – rightfully so – become so desperate for a solution to our problems, that we recklessly seek answers. Part of this desperation is about receiving external validation, which, of course, is not inherently troublesome, but it can become so when we substitute it for following our own inner voice.
Being An Empath and the Need for Approval
I’ve yet to meet a witch who wasn’t a highly sensitive energetic being, whether or not they were consciously aware of it. The use of the term “empath” bugs me because it has been represented as weak in the mainstream media. In addition, many self-declared empaths proclaim on social media that they are victims of everyone else’s energy. Being aware of the energies and spirits around us isn’t a burden, but we can be consumed by all that we take in if our boundaries are not firm. We are soul collectors, connecting to people and acquiring bits of them in our, sometimes unconscious, endeavours to understand the deeper world. When our natural abilities are under the control of our shadows, our addiction to approval can get out of control. I’ve seen this played out on social media so many times. My theory is that the dramatic flouncing, resulting from the most minor perceived insult, is a result of uninhibited addiction to approval. What I’ve observed through my lens as a social scientist is that the same people who flounce and bounce also get their sense of self worth from the compliments they receive. It’s weird, toxic and often ends up hurting innocent bystanders.
Undisciplined empaths, by this I mean ones who aren’t actively seeking to manage their abilities, often end up in toxic relationships and chaotic situations. This is the voice of experience speaking, I suffered from a huge addiction to external validation, stemming from a childhood where any positive reinforcement was lacking. It took me years to recover.
Validation and Self Love
Looking to others to validate our ideas, thoughts and lives is a symptom of Shadow Syndrome. When we are operating as our shadow selves, it’s easy to fall into approval addiction. The shadow craves external validation. If you find yourself relying on social media and your in-person relationships for your self worth, turning the energy away from the shadow towards your true self is in order. Where attention goes, energy flows. As long as we are looking to others for validation, we’ll need their approval to have a sort of pseudo-happiness. Self love requires breaking this addiction. Read my guide using color magic here.
Don’t Believe the Insults or the Compliments
The major work of self love is ending the reliance on external validation, instead learning to seek only our own approval. The healthy way to accomplish this is by doing our internal work, healing the shadow, finding our sovereignty, and by engaging in relationships that are authentic. There’s a confusion that someone paying us a compliment actually cares about us. This simply isn’t the case. When we rely on our interactions to determine our value, each compliment is fuel that will only keep us going until just before we get the next one. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give or graciously receive praise, but we need to check ourselves for becoming hooked on it. Kind words, sincerely expressed, are a beautiful part of our interpersonal interactions.
“Likes,” “follow,” and pithy compliments on social media are not usually such things. The same goes with insults, especially online. Getting overly hurt or a huge head (due to compliments) is a sign of a fragile sense of self. It’s helpful to think of the shadow’s addiction to approval as fragility of our sense of self because it highlights the potential for mending the weaknesses. Those parts can be healed by weaning ourselves off the need for approval.
Sovereignty: Self Approval is What Matters MostWhen I started to write here on Patheos Pagan, I was seeking approval. Of course, doing what I do, approval of others is key to my being able to pay my bills. This is about resonating with others rather than need their approval. In the beginning of the Keeping Her Keys blog, I tempered what I wrote in an attempt to win the favor of my imagined audience. At times, I dialed down my opinions and practice of witchcraft in order to conform to what I thought would be acceptable. I even authored a few pieces where I wandered into what some call the big tent of paganism, which happens to be a place I don’t belong. Seeking approval in places that don’t reflect our truth is always a disaster. Then one evening I wrote about toxic witches, completely not caring what anyone thought. This marked a huge transition, a claiming of my unique perspective. An act of radical self love and authenticity. Being sovereign over our lives means doing such things.
Banishing the Need for Approval
In our pursuit of true sovereignty, holding the mirror up to ourselves is an ongoing requirement. The first step in overcoming approval addiction is to own that we are actually hooked on it. Below is a list of 13 signs of approval addiction and some tips for banishing them. If you check off most of them, then it may be time for you to start a full-blown banishing.
#1. Staying in Toxic Relationships
Have you ever found yourself in a relationship where you really don’t care about the other person? Perhaps they have a much higher opinion of you than you do them, or they value the relationship more. Balanced relationships are real. If we are addicted to approval, we’ll remain in fake relationships just for the validation that someone wants/loves us. We do the same in toxic relationships where our partner engages in gaslighting and other harmful practices.
Banish: If you find yourself avoiding the person or upset whenever you interact with them, it may be time to extricate yourself from the relationship. Warding yourself against the damages of the person through rubbing salt on their image can help.
#2. Being a Fake-Nice Witch
Sincerity is truly magical, as is kindness. Save both for those who bring out the best in you, unless you really need to fake it. If you find yourself perpetually being nice to people you loathe, then that’s approval addiction.
Banish: Building upon #1 but shifting the focus to ourselves because it takes two to tango. When you are tempted to fake-nice someone, imagine instead that you are giving them $100. Swap out the insincerity for sending kind words to someone who you care about.
#3. Never Being Yourself
This one is such a lesson for me. I struggled to just be myself for many years. If you find yourself changing your appearance, behaviors and beliefs to fit in, then that’s the shadow doing their thing. This is different from healthy identity exploration where we try on new ways of being as part of our spiritual growth. The difference lies in why we are doing these things. If we are driven by an internal passion, chances are that we are okay.
Banish: Practice being your authentic self with those you trust, even if it’s just in a healthy social media group. Go slowly. Excessive self disclosure is a sign of approval addiction.
#4. Panicking Over Minor Disagreements and Insults
Back to the fragile sense of self problem involved in approval addiction, if we freak out whenever someone speaks against us, we are in trouble. Conflict and diverse opinions are necessary for growth.
Banish: If you find yourself overreacting to minor slights, resist the urge to say or do anything right away. Sit with it for a while. Talk to yourself about the issue as if you were seeking your own advice. Is it really getting all bent over?
#5. Backpedaling, Downplaying and Lying for Approval
So, you said what you had to say and now you regret it because it wasn’t popular with whomever you wanted approval from. What’s a witch to do? The same thing happens when we lie because we are currying the favor of another. Changing our minds because the approval of others depends on it is problematic.
Banish: This can be such a trigger. If you find yourself backpedaling and downplaying know that the other person has no right to try to force you to do so. When your ideas are met with disapproval, be gracious but firm in them.
#6. Going With the Flow
Closely related to #5, but more about doing nothing than revising our opinions and behaviors. Listen to me, inaction is a form of action. If you are being wronged, you need to do something. If you’re going along with the group to avoid losing their support even when you know it’s wrong, then that’s unhealthy external validation.
Banish: Sometimes you have to banish yourself. Removing yourself from a relationship or group may be in order.
#7. Creating Drama, Spreading Bad News and Gossiping
Talking trash about another witch may get you attention, but not trust. Same thing with creating drama. The problem here is that those prone to such things rarely have the insight that they are doing it.
Banish: If you do these things, stop. Talk about the wonderfulness of others instead. If you’re in a relationship with someone, or in a social media situation that constantly does this, get out of there.
#8. Prefacing Your Opinions and Unnecessary Apologizing
If “I’m sorry,” and “I think” often fall out of your mouth, then you’re prefacing your thoughts for approval. I was guilty of this practice. People who truly care about you don’t need to hear these words.
Banish: These expressions. Instead begin your sentences with what you actually have to say. If you do need to apologize, once is enough.
#9. Faking It Because You Can’t Admit What You Don’t Know
This is like a rampant disease. Not everyone is an expert on everything. You’re not fooling me one bit.
Banish: If you don’t know something, admit it when necessary. Don’t make things up for approval.
#10. Needing Likes, Follows and Compliments
I discussed this above, but it bears repeating. Counting up such superficial things as evidence of our self worth is a shadow game we can’t win.
Banish: Stop counting them. Right now.
#11. Fishing for Praise
This one is hard for us to self-discern, as are all the rest of this list. Fishing is saying things like, “do you like this outfit?” or posting clickbait pictures that are sure to garner positive reinforcement. At the extreme end, it’s creating drama to draw attention to yourself. Always needing to be the center of attention is shadow work.
Banish: Do you like how you look? That’s what is most important. Stop turning to others for words you should be saying to yourself.
#12. Group-Jumping and Putting Your Nose Where it Doesn’t Belong
It’s like this: person X is always changing social groups because the previous one just didn’t do it for them, or they were sent packing for their dramatic attention seeking. If you are always struggling with your relationships and affiliations, perhaps it’s because you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.
Banish: I’m suggesting the opposite this time: stick it out. Perhaps your initial reactions are just the shadow’s addiction to approval.
#13. Pointlessly Correcting Others and Micro-Managing
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could banish this from the world? If you find yourself pointing out minor errors that don’t impact anything or overly correcting, this is probably out of control need for approval, especially if you are doing this to someone more successful than you. It’s a bizarre dynamic of attention seeking; trying to topple the achievers to make ourselves look better.
Banish: Focus on your own work.
We all enjoy validation from others, the magical part is to not take it too seriously whether it’s good or bad. The most magic can be found in valuing our own opinion – and selves – above all others.
If you enjoyed this article, find more on sovereignty in True Magic: Unleashing Your Inner Witch