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Living and Working for Other's Approval: Seeking Validation in a World of Expectations

To all but himself John appeared to be a success.

At age 50 John was Senior Partner in a law firm, he and his wife each drove the latest Mercedes, their children had the best education money could buy, they lived in an up-market area and had a holiday home on the Coast.

However, although John was good at what he did and was a respected member of the community, he felt he was a failure.

When love is made contingent upon performance

To John law was a copout. His father had wanted him to be a doctor and over the years his father’s goal had become his own. John repeated Senior/HSC twice in an attempt to get the requisite scores for admission to medicine. But it was no good and so with reluctance he gave up medicine and began to study law.

His father’s dream was shattered and although his son thrived in the new discipline his father would make no comment. Six months prior to his graduation his father unexpectedly died of a massive coronary.

Although John graduated top of his class he experienced no joy. He secretly believed that his father’s disappointment with him had contributed to his death.

John’s verbal and analytical skills were well suited to law. He thrived in this environment - excelling where he had struggled with the basic sciences. Components of law were easy.

The Price of Seeking Validation: When Other's Approval Becomes Too Costly

Unfortunately instead of feeling like a success he began to feel like a phony and failure; he did not value the accolades he received. In bed at night he often wished his father could see how well he had done although he knew that his father never would. He began to suffer badly from insomnia.

John clearly remembered the picture of hurt and disappointment on his father’s face when he told him that he had failed in his last attempt to get into medical school.

No matter how successful John would become unless he dealt with his father’s expectation and accepted that he had to fulfill his own life purpose and not his father’s, he would always feel that Law was the wrong vocation.

With the understanding of the influence this expectation had on his own life John was able to respond differently with his own family and although he had goals for his own children they were empowering goals: he wanted them to be happy, to be capable of independence and to take responsibility for their lives.

Unlike his relationship with his own father he did not define success for them nor was love made contingent upon their performance.

With help John came to acknowledge that his father was wrong. He stopped trying to prove things to his long dead father and started to live and enjoy his own life. At age 50 John finally grew up.

He no longer had any need for insomnia.

It is certainly legitimate to want others to think well of us but many people live for the approval of others. Self-worth for them becomes based solely on how significant other's view them. However, the price of approval can become too high.

In reality you can only control your own happiness. If it is based on others’ evaluations then even successes are transitory and enjoyed only briefly.

Seeking for validation is like feeding a never sated and ever hungry beast. If self-worth and happiness are based on the approval of others then you will never be happy in the long term.

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