‘I’m a 30-Something Grown Up – But I’m As Insecure As A Child’

As part of our #BREAKFREE from Likes week, Ellen Manning reveals how she's planning to stop caring about other people's opinions

A worried mother told me a scary story recently. She’d noticed her young daughter had started taking pictures of herself. Nothing saucy, just pictures of her dressed nicely, looking her best, posing for the camera. Nothing new about that. After all, selfies are a thing. We’re all at it.

It’s what comes next that’s a bit worrying. Turns out the photos were for Instagram and Snapchat, with a massive focus on the number of ‘likes’ they got. Lots of likes = the girl felt good about herself. Fewer likes = she didn’t.

As the mum and I chatted, we talked about teenage angst, the need for approval, online and off. The need to be liked. ‘Isn’t it great’, we said, ‘That you grow out of that and stop caring so much about what people think?’

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that actually, I never have.

I would love to be one of those people who doesn’t give a shit about what other people think of them. Not the ones that just say they don’t, but the ones that really, truly couldn’t care less. The people who don’t worry whether someone likes them or not, who don’t get upset when someone says something they don’t like, who don’t cave in in arguments for fear of looking stupid or being disliked.

But I’m not. I do give a shit. Too much. I’m a 30-something grownup and I fight a daily battle with my need for approval, for people to like me.

I’ve been to events I didn’t want to go to. I’ve got drunk when I didn’t want to. I’ve taken drugs I didn’t really need to take. All to fit in and to be liked. Even worse in some ways, I’ve bitten my tongue when people say things I disagree with. I’ve lied about things I don’t like. I’ve compromised some of the parts of me that make me who I am out of a desperate need for other people’s approval.

It’s not like I’ve escaped the online approval issue either. It might not be to the same extent as my friend’s daughter collecting ‘likes’ like they’re golden coins, but the thought of someone slagging me off online is terrifying. If someone unfriends me on Facebook or disagrees with me on something publicly on Twitter, it hurts. it takes all my strength not to feel crushed

Wanting to be liked isn’t a new thing. In 1964 Crowne and Marlowe came up with the new psychological construct – the ‘need for approval’ or approval motivation. It’s based on the common human ‘need to belong’, and most people have it in varying degrees.

But what happens when that need to belong starts to trump everything else?

The more I read about it, the more I saw this need to be liked compared to an addiction. A damaging spiral with potentially catastrophic consequences. No wonder then, that the guys at Coaching Positive Performance call approval a ‘killer drug’ with its negative consequences ranging from a general lack of achievement to low self-esteem and increased stress.

A quick look at their list of some of the most common ‘approval-seeking behaviours’ and I may as well be looking in the mirror.

Changing or softening your position because someone appears to disapprove? Check.
Feeling upset, worried, or insulted when someone disagrees with you? Check.
Doing something which you do not want to do because you are afraid to say ‘No’? Check
Failing to complain when you have received poor service or a product not fit for purpose? Check
Asking permission when it is not required? That one too.
Attempting to coax people into paying you compliments and/or getting upset when they fail to do so? *Nods, mutely*

I could go on.

To quote, Martha Beck, author of The Joy Diet and Expecting Adam, I am an ‘approval whore’. I think I’ve known it for a long time. And I’m definitely not the only one.

Which is why it’s time for me to take a change. I need to #BREAKFREE from other people’s opinions, and go forward on my own. Yes, some people might not like my stance all the time. But the people who like me won’t mind. Because they’ll know that it’s important for me to stop chiselling off little bits of my soul every time I say something I don’t believe in or do something I don’t want to do.

It’s not about being an arsehole. As Sarah Knight gets at in her book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F**k, it just means that the next time I disagree with someone, instead of nodding and smiling and agreeing, I’ll politely tell them I have a different point of view. And the next time someone tries to get me to do something I don’t fancy doing, I’ll say ‘no thanks’.

No, maybe not everyone will like me. And no, I might not ‘belong’ in all the places I did before. But that’s something I’ll have to deal with.

Because either way, it’s important that I try. And it’s important that you do too.

After all, if I don’t work out how to #BREAKFREE from other people’s likes, I’ll never learn to like myself. 

Tweet Ellen at @eatwithellen or visit her blog: www.eatwithellen.com

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