How to Get Unstuck From the Approval Trap

How to Get Unstuck From the Approval Trap January 18, 2020

For most of my life, I’ve been stuck in the “Approval Trap” because I’ve been fearful of losing the approval of others. In my experience, it is possible for you to find your own voice and act from a place of personal power. Many of the women I interviewed for my studies on divorce felt that being raised in a divided home impacted their self-esteem. Keep in mind, you will exercise personal power when you speak up for what you want and need. Don’t buy into the guilt trip others may try to lay on you.

If you feel overwhelmed with the frenzied pace that you’ve been keeping trying to please everyone, you are not alone. As a woman, you may have taken on a caregiver role. Some girls, who were leaned on too much by their parents during and after divorce, develop a sense of helplessness because they can’t solve the problems in their family. This kind of helplessness can lead to low-self-esteem if it goes on for a while. In his book, Making Peace With Your Parents, Dr. Harold Bloomfield, coined the term the “Approval Trap” to describe people who bend over backwards seeking approval from others due to unresolved issues with their parents.

Experiencing parental divorce can often set the stage for being stuck in the approval trap. Even in the case of a “good divorce” children witness their parents confronting each other about conflicting values and beliefs. They often become travelers between their parents’ two worlds and have trouble resolving these differences. As a daughter of divorce, it’s easy to see how you’ve become overly focused on what your parents want. But as a young adult, it’s time for you to work on asserting your needs in a way that’s respectful to others.

The first step to writing a new story for your life is to examine your self-esteem and beliefs about relationships. Often women get stuck in the “Approval Trap” because they lack self-awareness. The following steps to gaining self-worth and shedding toxic self-defeating messages will enable you to exercise personal power and gain control of your life.

  • Examine your childhood including your parent’s divorce from an adult perspective. Likewise, if your parents didn’t divorce but had a high conflict relationship, you might have a high need for approval and low self-esteem. Therapy, reading, and keeping a journal can aid you in the process of recovery.
  • Recognize and accept that the way you feel about yourself inside reflects the way you relate to people outside. If you are too agreeable, make a list of things that are important to you and begin pursuing some of them. Share the list with a friend.
  • Remember to be honest about your own needs. You are not obligated to meet the needs of others. That is their responsibility and only you know what’s best for you.
  • Make choices that impact the way you want to live your life. This involves moving out of a place of viewing yourself as a victim. Set goals and make new choices to change your life – such as taking time to do the things that you enjoy rather than deferring to the needs of others.
  • Believe in yourself and work on self-acceptance. You are okay just the way you are.

As you begin to create a new story for your life, your parents and significant others may react in a negative way. They may need time to adapt to the new you. But with faith and hard work, you can learn to separate yourself from your parents’ pain and the expectations of others. You are worth the effort and deserve a freer, more creative life.

Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

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