Freedom from other people’s approval is an ongoing struggle for many of us, but when we experience small victories it’s important to step back and take stock of just how far we have come.
I used to crave approval like it was a drug. I was only okay if someone else gave me permission. The entire world looked different when I realized that I could give myself the approval I yearned for instead of searching for it from others.
It’s helpful with all growth to measure it in tiny incremental steps. Something in our human nature wants instant gratification (a condition only worsening with the internet available in our pocket, where any touch of a button yields immediate results) so anything less feels like failure. But the only way to sustain change is to approach it in little ways that don’t completely overwhelm us.
A person was angry with me recently and I didn’t become unhinged like I would have a few years ago. I was able to breathe through my anxiety and halt any developing shame spirals. I said calmly to myself, “I’m allowed to own my feelings and actions and this person is allowed to own theirs. We don’t have to agree. I’m okay.”
This type of positive self talk is huge in recovery from people pleasing. It takes us down off the ledge, turning mild hysteria magically back into tranquility. It felt so good to see how far I have come with my new and healthier skills. The exchange I had with this person knocked me off my stride for ten minutes instead of ten days, months or even decades.
The key to personal freedom is incremental growth. It’s one small alteration at a time, which over years adds up to a big difference in a moment of stress when you really need it. When a person can no longer push your buttons and get the expected reaction from you, you’ll know you have cut the cord and broken free. Now you are fully in charge of your own reactions and emotions, but this wouldn’t have happened for me without all of the hard soul work that came before.
We are all human. We make mistakes. We can become mired in a swamp of other people’s approval and get stuck, spinning our wheels and stewing over what other people are doing. But we can also make different choices, on any given day, and start to build a bridge to our own freedom. We can say, “This is unacceptable. I am worth more than this. I want kindness, honesty and love with no strings attached.”
We can stand up for ourselves and taste how joyful that feeling is. We are not responsible for other people’s happiness. Only our own. And getting to that understanding in our actual experience is what sets us free.