“I don’t know why I so often seek other people’s approval,” my buddy Dave said as we sipped a cup of coffee after a workout at the gym. “I feel like I’m always looking for affirmation—someone to tell me I’m good, whole, perfect.”
He chuckled. “Maybe I’m an affirmation addict.”
His comment got me thinking. Maybe I’m an affirmation addict, too.
It bugs me when someone unsubscribes from my weekly email reflections. I often compare myself to other guys at the gym, and when someone who’s chiseled and ripped like Adonis says “hello” and encourages me, my inner affirmation addict wags its tail like a puppy dog who got a special treat. Like Dave, I, too, often crave others’ affirmation.
I did some research about why we seek pats on the back from other people. I wanted to know how to let go of the excessive need for approval.
It’s All About Self-Esteem
According to Juliana Uniacke in her article, “12 Examples Of Approval-Seeking Behavior (+ How To Drop Your Need For Validation),” the root cause of most approval-seeking behavior is low self-esteem. This feeling of inferiority rises from many factors, ranging from internal influences such as our natural personality to external influences such as our upbringing, cultural experience, education, and work life.
If we lack self-acceptance and are generally self-critical, it’s natural to seek validation from others. In its extreme, we become people-pleasers trying to make others happy so they’ll reward us with their approval.
Why Self-Acceptance Is Not Enough
I get what Uniacke suggests is the root cause of our need for affirmation. Following her and others’ advice, I’ve tried to offer my inner critic the gift of self-acceptance. I recite mantras in my head like I’m a good person, God doesn’t make junk, and I’m perfectly human.
But the affirmation monster often wins my mental tug of war. Maybe self-acceptance isn’t enough.
The Three Voices in Our Heads
After several days of trying to figure out the remedy for affirmation addiction, I asked God: “Creator, what are you trying to help me learn as I struggle with self-acceptance?”
A gentle stillness embraced me as I drew my attention to my chest rising and falling with each breath. After a few moments of quiet, I heard the familiar whisper that arises from my stomach like air flowing through a flute as God answered, “Which voice are you listening to?”
Tears softened my body as God’s response helped me recall what Don, my spiritual mentor had taught me. Don said there are these three voices in our heads:
Since God is love, the Creator’s voice is always the voice of compassion, affirmation, and encouragement.
Here’s a link to a 2 minute video about our Inner Voice from the recent podcast interview with What’s Up DJ. Click here to view it: Your Inner Voice.
(You can listen/watch the whole Podcast when it’s released today by going to What’s Up DJ’s and choose your favorite Podcast Site. Click here to view DJ’s Interview and other recent podcasts: What’s Up DJ? Podcasts).
Our intellectual voice
This voice sometimes mirrors God’s voice, but can often throw us into a tizzy when we overthink or over-analyze. We get stuck when we try to use only our brain power to solve questions of the heart.
The unholy one
The critical, condemning voice in our heads is the unholy one. It tries to tell us we’re bad, flawed, and headed for the psyche ward. If we don’t recognize and quiet this voice, it becomes an inner nag that draws us into despair.
As I recalled Don’s teaching, I realized I too often listen to the unholy one. I let the inner critic run rampant around my mind like a crazed squirrel, twisting me, confusing me, and telling me lies.
In that moment of meditation, I asked God for the gift of his affirmation. He reminded me that his blessing is all I need. I heard him say in my heart, “You are Divine Love, and so is everyone else. I created you in my image and likeness. All you need to know is I love, affirm, and respect you as the mirror image of myself.”
I received God’s words into my heart. I realized my self-acceptance flows from the Creator. It’s his voice that tells me who I am. His affirmation is all I need.
Sometimes God’s love comes from the words of others who are God’s vessels. I love it when someone tells me a blog I wrote inspired them. I melt when my wife tells me she loves and respects me. And when my buddy tells me he’s grateful for our friendship, I glow with joy.
Those moments of affirmation from others are icing on the cake. We receive them as gifts and lift them up with gratitude. As we ground ourselves in God’s voice of love and our voice of self-acceptance—knowing who we are in God—we avoid becoming co-dependent upon what others think or say. We find the cure for our excessive need for approval.
The Remedy for Affirmation Addiction
After that time of prayer with God, my mind still sometimes hears the unholy one criticizing me. The unholy one throws me into a mental tizzy as I hear him tell me I don’t measure up. I’m a failure. I’m on the wrong path.
His negative voice is strong, but I’m learning to ask myself, “Who’s voice are you listening to?” When it’s not the voice of love, I know to pay it no attention.
What’s the remedy for affirmation addiction? Listening to the voice of love and letting our self-acceptance flow from God’s heart to ours. It’s a work in process. It’s the work of a lifetime. It invites us to pick up and use these three life-giving tools:
Notice when you feel yourself clinging to negativity or the excessive need to be affirmed. Stop and ask yourself, “Who’s voice am I listening to?”
Open your heart and ask God to let you hear the Creator’s Voice of Love.
Set your mind and heart on the words of love you hear from the Creator. Let your self- acceptance flow from the heart of God.
The next time you notice yourself craving others’ affirmation, stop and recall you already have the unconditional love and acceptance of the Creator—the One who calls you Beloved. God’s approval is all we truly need. And that’s good news.
—brian j plachta
September Workshop—In-Person and Via Zoom
Finding Flow – A Field Guide to Discover Inner Peace, Balance, and Wholeness
Tuesday, September 13 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm at the Catholic Information Center
What does inner peace look like to you? How do you feel when you experience wholeness? Unpack these questions and discover a field guide for making a personal spiritual journey to your inner self and God. Learn four ancient practices that spiritual teachers incorporated into their lives to live in the Divine Flow. Presented by Brian Plachta, spiritual mentor, and author of Finding Flow – Spiritual Practices to Reclaim Inner Peace, Balance, and Wholeness (Paulist Press).