Listen In! Getting Out from Under Approval-Seeking

Sunday morning. 7 a.m. Fog.

And yet:  joy comes.

Susan and I have a real conversation here and engage in some productive soul-scraping for y’all.  Today we talked about approval seeking, which was a means for survival as children in dysfunctional families, but gets in our way in our grown-up lives. Is agreeing with others and hoping that they approve of our actions, decisions, and opinions really living? Not as of yet.

Listen in:

Listen to internet radio with Susanks on Blog Talk Radio

Visit Susan page: Empowering Solutions on Facebook. Some great conversations happen on her site.

And find me at Guess What Normal Is.

Enjoy! Comment!


  1. Amy Eden says:

    As promised -

    What might it look like when a person puts into action un-doing the approval-seeking stuff in their life?

    1.) You’ll find yourself smiling authentically and less when you’re in mask-mode (you’ll smile when you mean it, not when you’re protecting yourself from scrutiny.)
    2.) You’ll find that you voice your opinion without having pre-scripted it in your head and you’re not sure what the reaction will be.
    3.) You’ll find yourself saying to members of your family of origin: “‘That’s not how I remember it; the way I remember it, x, y, z.”
    4.) You’ll find that you sweat a bit more, for a bit – because you’re think you’re risking acceptance by speaking your opinions, but
    5.) You’ll feel more relaxed in your body as you become your own parent and know that your approval of YOU is the only approval you need. (This is a partial list!)

    Adult children LOVE lists, by the way :-)

  2. Vlada says:

    Living with my father who is ACoA is a constant doubt about my thoughts, feelings, actions; constant doubt about what is reality. Yesterday, my mom was showing to him some old pants, she thought they were green; my father says they are blue; my mother doubtfully needed another opinion so she asked me for the color, and I saw green. Damn…
    Crazy making, gaslighting. What kind of need is that? A need for control? Distorting others perception is his specialty.
    But I recognized also this weird need of mine to desperately need sometimes to be right, to match my words with reality. Talking to my friends, or other people, I get so caught in swallowing them into some casual conversation, but the only fix for me is the “acknowledgment of the reality”. This feeling of matching some silly everyday things with reality with a “third person” became my drug. I just can’t get enough!
    Well, its strange how desperate I need a change from my fathers crazy making. In the same time, I need that change desperately in him, but his brain is so wired in denial of reality, just like his alcoholic father denied his alcoholism. My grandfather denied his alcoholism. My father deny reality. Wonder what am I denying…

    • Amy Eden says:

      Wow, very right-on. Great insight too. The acknowledging reality thing – can you share an example? I’ve been in situations in which it felt urgent that people acknowledge the “truth” underlying a situation — especially when it’s a truth that contains inconsistencies and proves dysfunction or proof of magical thinking. I wonder if that’s at all similar to what you have in mind?
      I wonder if it at times that getting at Truth feels so urgent — urgent that others SEE the problematic reality of a situation because, for me, my brain is still unfurling from the many years of having to agree with twisted perceptions…manipulated till my eyes saw blue pants.
      Yet they were GREEN.
      I love that.

      • Vlada says:

        I’m glad that you liked one perspective of a grandchild of alcoholic.
        I’m also grateful that you helped me understand so much stuff about my father, even this one about “unfurling your brain from the many years of having to agree with twisted perceptions”.
        My father never explained himself to us; he said, he didn’t wanted us to hate our grandfather cause of his alcoholism. Living with my father, there was no dysfunctional thing to point onto with a finger – there was no alcohol, so everything should be good. But no. Cause he did not explained where he came from and never made his behavior explained, I developed hatred towards him, his behavior: denial, crazy making, gaslighting, parentification, fear of abandonment, lies (you described and explained lying beautifully), approval seeking, hyper-vigilance, boundaries issues, not allowing our independence,.. He never read even one ACoA article, he is to proud to do that. His age of 64 makes him “so smart”.
        But reading ACoA articles, I understand him, myself, and feel where is the framework of an ACoA, that there are things outside of it.
        Also, since I have heard about ACoA movement, I took that heavy cross to try to change all my family dynamic and my father too. But after years, I am giving up on that cause – you can’t help a person who thinks that he has no problem. There is just not enough time, he needs to want that too. All he cares is to be nurtured and that need of his programmed us to be a people pleasers. His issues became his parenting style. So reading ACoA stuff helps me a lot too…
        (sorry for mixed feelings through this post)
        Thanks Amy for everything and wishing you the best with a new book! :)

        • Amy Eden says:

          Thank you. :-) Ah the mixed feelings are normal, valid, and perfect. Being from this kind of family system produces those kinds of strong and mixed feelings, it’s that way.
          One of the hardest rocks to bang my head against is the one of not being able to change others. It’s so exciting to find out about all the ACoA stuff and there’s a desire to want to “help” and “enlighten” the whole family, and save everyone, and SHOW them the way they are sick, but that is one thing we can’t do. We can only save ourselves, that is our only job. Unless we want to go crazy :-)
          There is a bit of “abandoning” the family when we heal, I think. I feel like in order to heal ourselves, we are in some ways saying good-bye to our families of origin (sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically as well – saying good-bye to the dynamics) and setting off on a journey that is very solo at the start. We leave our “sick” families and go out to heal ourselves. Eventually we find functional others to share life with, but for me there was a feeling of leaving everyone behind that was scary and a bit lonely. I wish we could bring others with us — it reminds me of the movies in which the “hero” leaves home and tries to convince others to come on the journey, but they don’t want to leave the comfort and familiarity of home (i.e., denial). And the hero goes on his journey alone. (Until he runs into others on the journey, and shares time with them as he goes forth…)
          It sounds like you may be starting a journey? :-)

  3. Vlada says:

    I’ll try to keep it as short and direct as possible (but I generally wouldn’t) :)
    Thank you for your replies (feeling VIP getting your responses).
    Sorry for the way my feelings towards my father sound, if you as an ACoA identify with him.
    You are very right about this sadness and loneliness about getting out of the denial alone. Sometimes I call my stuckness with them and their denial “codependency”, but I guess it’s not. Somewhere I read: “If you don’t abandon your family of origin, you’ll abandon yourself.”
    That urgency you’ve mentioned, for the Truth… ah, it feels like wasting precious time of life in denial when you know there is Help!
    “Please, you functionally others; come into my life, get me out of this loneliness of reality, give me one clue that I am not going crazy and not doing this wrong!” Its pretty painful leaving them behind :(
    The way you speak out of denial, Amy, feels like a fresh glass of cold water when thirsty :)
    Cause of you, I think my anger towards my father fades, I understand him more. His brain hasn’t even started to unfurl from the many years of having to agree with twisted perceptions, like you’ve mentioned. I understand that.
    PS. Sorry for my English, I’m from Serbia.
    Thanks Amy a lot!

    • Amy Eden says:

      You’re welcome! :-) It’s an interesting conversation, I appreciate your point of view, and I’m honored to have someone from Serbia visit my site, that is wonderful. So thank you, too.

      There’s the feeling of abandoning one’s family, and then there’s actually cutting them off — different things. Doing and feeling. Some people feel that cutting off family or one person is what they need to do. There are certainly some situations in which the abuse is too painful to process in any other way. I’m not a fan of “black and white” approaches to anything, though I used to take them, because I think doing that is acting in the same vein of rigid living that I learned from being raised in an alcoholic family system. I am a fan of balance and trying to navigate the gray area — for example, continuing to interact with one’s family in a way that feels comfortable and applying our new boundaries and limits with them (that can take many different forms). I believe that when we can courageously alter the dynamic we have with the source, an alcoholic/addict/ACoA parent here and now, it’s powerful and it helps future relationships; it prevents us from just repeating an unresolved dynamic and working out the drama with some future, unsuspecting person we’re trying to love.

      This may or may not resonate with you, but I re-read this passage last night while looking for a quote to include in a chapter in my book – actually I read it twice because it was just the right gentle reminder I needed in that moment:

      We all do better in life when we can stay reasonably connected to important others; when we can listen to them without trying to change, convince, or fix; and when we can make calm statements about how we see things, based on thinking, rather than reacting. We all do better when we can process an important issues and take a clear position rather than relying on silence or blame. We all do better when we have a clear bottom line (“I am not able or willing to live with these behaviors”) rather than communicating through our behavior that “anything goes.” We all do better when we can deal directly with our most difficult family members rather than talking about them with other relatives. And finally, we all do better when we can de-intensify our anxious focus on the other’s problem and put our primary energy into clarifying our own beliefs, convictions, values, and priorities, while formulating plans and life goals that are congruent with these.” — “The Dance of Intimacy” by Harriet Lerner (author of The Dance of Anger)


  4. Wendy says:

    I don’t know, Amy. For some it is too difficult to be around the people that tormented them for decades, even with the best of intentions. I feel a lot of guilt over going no contact with my entire family, but I don’t see any other way of recovering right now. My family is still chock full of active addicts, child abusers, etc. Last time I saw my sister about a year ago I told her I was suicidal and she turned her back to me and said, “Oh ok, can do you mind if I keep doing my exercise video? Don’t worry, my friend lost her cat last year and she had to go on antidepressants. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Your dad was mentally ill so you probably are too. There’s no reason to keep looking at the past.”

    How can I possibly bridge that gap? My family members keep their true selves so hidden, and they have no interest in seeing or acknowledging who I am. For now, I must stay away from those destructive relationships to nurture and love myself the best I can. Guilt is definitely an issue I struggle with, but it’s better than the crushing heartbreak of being around my family. I’m not sure what I would get out of communicating with them other than a bit of relief from the guilt. But a desire to “not” feel guilty is pretty reactive…so for now, I’m still maintaining no contact. I think it’s ok behavior for some people, even if it may be avoidant. It’s uncharted territory for me. I don’t know what else to do. I think I have to learn some fiercely strong self-love before I walk back into that lion’s den of hate, invalidation, and cruelty. I’m not there yet, so I stay away. And the longer I stay away, the better my life is getting. I think it’s the right choice for me, even it is the most difficult choice I ever made.

    Thanks for the interesting posts!

    • Amy Eden says:

      Wendy thank you for sharing your truth, and pain too. It’s valid, so, so valid. I’m glad you added your voice to the conversation, the voice of someone who needs to keep from interactions that are too painful. There’s no rule book here (for better or for worse :-) Two years or so before her death, I’d gone 10 years without seeing my mother (she was in a different state, so it wasn’t difficult) and I’d throwing away letters from her and not reply to them even when she enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope. I was that mad. That hurt. Towards the end I found a way to have limited interactions, after I’d done a lot of work that I could not do while interacting with her and the craziness, and even then our interactions weren’t without emotional pain.

Leave a Reply