Cognitive skills: Approval

When Jack is born he is the centre of attention, smiled at a lot, waited on hand and foot and his every need is attended to, probably with lots of cuddles along the way. Life is really rather good and he get used to being adored. He feels secure. Then at twelve months or so, something exciting but of life-changing significance occurs; Jack becomes mobile! Almost overnight the idea that he can do no wrong is turned upside down as he detects a change in tone of voice while approval gets mixed with spasmodic but increasing disapproval: ‘Come away from there … Put that down … Don’t touch … I’ve told you once ... No, Jack!’… and so on. Maybe you were told you were ‘a naughty girl’ when ‘that was a naughty thing to do’ would have been less potentially damaging.


Jack wants to get back to the days of all-embracing approval and there starts a lifetime search for it. For some the effect is minimal, for others it can be overwhelming, especially if pushy parents are involved and even a disapproving glance can seem significant. The mother who longs for her daughter to be as interested in horses as she is. The father who hearing his son has got 11 straight ‘A’s and a ‘B’ comments jovially that it was a shame he hadn’t got the full set of ‘A’s. He was probably immensely proud but couldn’t stop himself, little realising how unhelpful he was being. All the son remembers is that he’d disappointed his Dad.

I’m sure we’ve all read articles written by famous people about their lives in which they refer to the huge influence of one or other of their parents and their strong need to please them. It crops up often in my ‘back-on-track’ coaching work.

So how do you deal with this demon of wanting everyone to approve of you? Tell yourself that it almost certainly originated from some aspect of your upbringing, that it is doesn't particularly matter what it was, that it is not unusual and that very few completely escape it. Above all, don’t blame your parents but try to recognize that they were behaving towards you in what they felt was the right way at the time and might well have been following the lead set by their parents a generation earlier. Don’t expect the suggestions above to provide a quick fix. Realistically it is better to loosen the roots of a belief you have held all your life than to assume complete removal. Work on the prospect of dilution rather than extinction of your belief by regularly telling yourself that it is totally unrealistic and that holding on to it is doing you no good.

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