Sunday, 24 October 2010

Strategies for Breaking Approval Dependence (BAD)

You have Serious Approval Dependence (SAD) and you know how you got it! By dint of your biological inheritance and how you were socialised you have constructed the very debilitating core belief that your worth depends on how others view you or how well you perform in your work, study, sex etc. If you have concocted this warped and destructive belief then you can deconstruct it and replace it with USA, Unconditional Self Acceptance. How do you do this? By self-awareness, vigilance and hard work, that’s how!

1. Know how you are feeling.
2. Understand that your feelings and behaviour are connected to your thinking.
3. Identify your habits of believing.
4. Decide whether or not your thinking is helpful, rational.
5. Challenge your beliefs with vigour.
6. Be forever vigilant.

Activating event (A)

You are a member of a parent group at your child’s school and you are generally happy to sit and listen at meetings. There are times when you have been inclined to say something about an issue of interest to you but you always stop yourself from saying what you want to say. You notice how anxious you feel; your heart races and you begin to sweat a little. You stop yourself from commenting as the opportunity goes by, and you castigate yourself for wimping out. Typical you think.

Is this scenario a repeat of many over the years where opportunity has gone begging and been missed, when the nettle was there to be grasped and you chose to avoid it. Is this a case of Serious Approval Dependence (SAD)? You bet it is and it’s nigh time you had a one on one with your enemy YOU!

How do you feel and act (C)?

Strategy one: Identify how you were feeling around the time you wanted to say something and how strong? (8/10 anxious). Determine whether this is a healthy negative emotion or a helpful one – does it help or hinder you achieving what you want? Answer: Not healthy because you didn’t do what you wanted to do, share your ideas with the group.

What are you thinking (B)?

Strategy two: Identify your self-talk at the time, what were you saying to yourself? Answer: ‘if I make a mistake, what would they think of me? My views are not that important, they seem more knowledgeable than me. It would be awful if I sounded confused or hesitant. I couldn’t stand it if they thought badly of me.’ This is irrational as it is stopping you from doing what you want to do.

Challenge your thinking (D)

Strategy three: Identify a particular statement and challenge it’s veracity (start a diary and record how you thought, felt and acted in various situations). Lets consider the statement:

‘I couldn’t stand it if they thought badly of me.’

Q. If they disagreed with my views would that equate to them damning me as a person?

A. No. A particular viewpoint is not ‘me’. I am more than what I say.

Q. If they disagreed with me would it be ‘so awful that I couldn’t stand it!’

A. No. It would hardly be catastrophic that someone would disagree with me. Breaking my leg could possibly be worse but even that is not catastrophic or so awful that I couldn’t stand it.

Q. Must others always agree with me? Should they see things as I do for me to be worthwhile?

A. Of course not. My worth is not at question here; my ideas and views may be but they are not ‘me’.

Q. Do I need others to agree with me for me to be worthwhile?

A. No. My worth is not given to me and cannot be taken away. I can only be worth – less if I believe I absolutely must have the approval of others to be worthwhile. I am worthwhile because I exist not because someone else thinks I am!

Q. What benefits could I gain by risking the disapproval of others?

A. I will see that the sun will rise again and the birds will continue to twitter in the treetops. Those who care for me and approve of me unconditionally will continue to do so. Even if I stumble and stutter I will not drop dead. I can practice my public speaking skills if I choose to do so. I will accept that sometimes I will stuff up because I am human and that’s what humans do.

Q. What will happen if I continue not to risk the disapproval of others?

A. I will perpetuate the mythological belief that somehow others views of me determine my worth. I will continue to practice Serious Approval Dependence and remain a ‘wall flower’ at the ball, waiting for someone to pick me!

Eleanor Roosevelt said

No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.

Don’t give anyone or anything permission to determine whether you are worthwhile or not. You don’t need it, you exist and that’s that!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Breaking Approval Dependence (BAD)

Approval addict, empath, love slob, approvalist, co dependent, need junkie are terms that come to mind to describe those who suffer from conditional self-acceptance (CSA). Dr. Albert Ellis’ REBT explains that when an individual has a compulsive need to secure another’s approval it is self defeating. The antidote is unconditional self-acceptance (USA).

USA - the belief that self worth is not diminished by failure or rejection i.e. I have failed= I am not a failure. I have been rejected = I am not a reject (I am always worthwhile).

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I’d like you to like me
But I don’t need you to!

CSA- the belief that self worth is diminished by failure and rejection i.e. I have failed = I am a failure. I have been rejected = I am a reject (I’m worthwhile if you think I am).

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Please like me
As I need you to!

Where do we start to help the person who needs to be needed, who absolutely must have the approval of significant others? If she seeks help this would be a useful place to start. She may be aware that she has a help compulsion that is both self defeating and also not helpful to others (deny them opportunities to do for themselves for instance). She may say that she feels anxious a lot of the time and is obsessive about doing excellent work and helping others too readily, even when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to fit everything in. You may ask what is wrong with wanting to do excellent work? Nothing at all if you don’t damn yourself when things don’t turn out as you believe they must! The perfectionist believes failing to do things perfectly equates to being a failure, being imperfect and that’s terrible! She may say she feels angry when others don’t acknowledge her appropriately as she believes they should. She may also comment on others who may not do things properly or who aren’t capable enough and who therefore need to be rescued. Who else can do things better and is more capable of doing the job? She is of course.

She may relate that in childhood she never seemed to do the right thing and was never good enough. Her dad would say that she was hopeless and her siblings were favoured over her (her sister was better, prettier). She tried so hard to get the approval of her dad but she never seemed to measure up. (I must try harder! I’m such a failure!) She learned that she was not worth much if her dad didn’t think she was. She believed if her dad didn’t approve of her then she was unworthy and worthless. She had developed Sustained Habits of Inflexible Thinking Syndrome and one such habit was to believe that her worth absolutely depended on the approval of significant others. More flexible and realistic thinking can accommodate her very human tendency to make mistakes and to deal with rejection in a healthy way such as believing that her worth is not given to her or taken away by others. She can work on Flexible and Realistic Thinking Skills.

Counselling scenario excerpt.

Cl = client Cr=counsellor

Cl: My colleague makes me so angry. He doesn’t show me any gratitude for what I do.

Cr: You say your colleague makes you angry and that he doesn’t appreciate your work.

Cl: Exactly. I only want to make things easier. I am just helping. He should be more gracious.

Cr: So your colleague is making you angry because he doesn’t show you his appreciation as you think he should?

Cl: He is so unprofessional and disrespectful.

Cr: Can you give me an example of something you have done for him?

Cl: I organised a meeting for clients and made sure that refreshments were available. I prepared a program and everything!

Cr: Was he not happy with what he asked you to do?

Cl: He didn’t ask me. That’s the point. I did it so that he wouldn’t have to do it. He’s so ungrateful.

Cr: So what would make things better for you? What would help you feel better?

Cl: He should acknowledge my efforts and appreciate the things I do. I am so unappreciated and it’s not fair!

Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance explains that behavioural and emotional disturbance (C) is generated by the bullshit we tell ourselves (B) not because of the activating event i.e. what happens (A). The client above is clearly blaming her feelings and actions on A, the unfair colleague who doesn’t appreciate her. You can hear the blame in statements like: ‘He makes me so angry.’ How does he make her angry? Is she not in some way responsible? It would be very unfortunate if others always determined how she felt and behaved. Do others control her? Clearly she is not taking responsibility for her actions and emotions. So what is making these feelings of anger and depression? Is her colleague the culprit? Is he to blame?

Ellis’ ABC model incorporated B, the beliefs we hold to be true. Our client above has constructed a set of rules for life (B) and the question is what are they? Are they helpful?

The excerpt above contains key words that tell us what our clients’ rules are. You may have noticed some ‘shoulds’ dispersed throughout the dialogue.

‘He should be more gracious.’

‘He should acknowledge my efforts and appreciate the things I do.’

This kind of thinking is irrational in the sense that no matter how much you demand something the reality is you may never get what you want. What’s the use of demanding what you can’t have? Now you can healthily prefer that your colleague gives you his approval but that is different to demanding it. Her rule is:

‘People I respect absolutely should treat me well.’

You may also have noticed that our client is damning her colleague in absolute global rating terms like:

‘He is so unprofessional and disrespectful.’

His actions may be deemed unprofessional and disrespectful but is he unprofessional and disrespectful? He is and he does are different terms with different meanings. Our client is making a judgement that her colleague is bad for doing bad. Her rule is:

‘He should acknowledge me and because he doesn’t he is unprofessional and disrespectful.’

Our client also shows signs of low frustration tolerance because she is not getting what she must have. Consider:

‘I am so unappreciated and it’s not fair!’

It would appear that when she doesn’t get what she needs and must have she can’t stand it and it is awful. Her rule is:

‘When I don’t get what I must have (his approval) I can’t stand it and it it’s awful.’

An REBC (Rational Emotive Behaviour Counsellor) would help the client understand the B-C link, B meaning the thinking that drives the behaviour and emotions (anger/hostility) at C. Whilst there are a few irrational core beliefs that can be challenged as outlined above the one to focus on as a priority is the clients belief that:
‘I need the approval of others to be worthwhile.’

To be continued ….

Monday, 4 October 2010

APPROVALISM – the philosophy of the ‘love slob’

An approvalist is one who practices the philosophy of Approvalism. An approvalist lives life for the service of others seemingly without thought for self, ministering to the needs of others, making life ‘better’ for them. A good approvalist needs to do for others and her worth is measured according to how others view her and how helpful she can be to others. Approvalists say ‘yes’ to others demands and requests and are ultra sensitive to the needs of others (they must be rescued and saved). If they don’t perform to their own lofty expectations or (quelle catastrophe!) others don’t seem to value them (as they should) then they tend to harshly judge themselves as being ‘bad’ and may down themselves harshly! They will think, ‘I should have known that he needed support. I should have been there. I should have done better. I am a loser. It’s my fault he is in such a mess.’ They may also experience deep anger and direct it towards those ‘who do not appreciate me, after all shouldn’t they be grateful for what I am doing for them?’ (‘They are not good like me they are bad!’).

The approvalist has a ‘help’ compulsion, seeking out others to help even when not invited to. They tend to over empathise with the other, feeling what they feel, experiencing ‘their pain’. Such ‘empaths’ seek to be continuously approved of. They will forever revisit the bottomless ‘well of approval’ as each fix of affirmation is never enough. They don’t believe that they are that worthy of others appreciation and will find it difficult to accept their thanks and praise.

Why would this be so? How could it be that a person would become so dependent on others for their quick and fleeting ‘feel good’ fix? How does one become an approval junkie?

Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy refers to ‘love slobbism’ to describe a person’s self-defeating tendency to think they need the approval of others to be worthwhile. This behaviour is driven by a ‘must’ or a ‘should’ belief based philosophy internalised over years of socialisation amid role models who may have themselves suffered the debilitating effects of ‘musturbation’ i.e. ‘My son/daughter should always ‘make’ me proud and they should always be highly regarded by others. They must not let me down as that would shame me.’ If any of these irrational demands are not met it’s considered to be catastrophic and awful, so awful ‘it cannot be tolerated.’

The approvalist has been taught as a young person that she is 'good' when she does good. When she does as she is told, follows instructions and conforms to rules and expectations she is rewarded and she feels good. She works hard at school and gets good grades but when they are sometimes not good enough, she feels she has let others down and she must try harder next time so they will be pleased. She believes doing bad is being bad!

'The codependent-in-training is taught to walk on eggshells. To ensure survival, the child learns to be extraordinarily sensitive in reading the moods and thoughts of others. The child learns very early to pay attention to and tiptoe around the dysfunctional family members - at the child's expense. These interactions take place silently, implicitly. The child learns to ignore the self's inner needs, instead pretending that all is OK.' Why Be Codependent? by Dr. Irene Matiatos

Her mentors comment on the behaviour of others, expressing approval when they behave correctly, as they should do. They will scoff at those who don’t behave accordingly and may judge them unfairly. They may even feel angry and aggressive when someone happens to be driving in ‘their’ lane on the highway or feel unfairly treated if the person they open the door for does not acknowledge them as they should!

She will notice how her mentors will feel aggrieved when things don’t go their way. The weather, the government, their in-laws etc appear the ‘make’ them so unhappy. She will be harshly criticised when she doesn’t live up to the expectations of her role models and may be compared to other siblings who ‘always do the right thing.’ She will try harder to be the person others want her to be because she believes her value is dependent on the views of others.

In time our subject will have constructed a set of philosophical beliefs that will undermine her efforts to be happy and successful. She believes she must achieve the lofty goals she sets herself, she must meet others approval (or she is hopeless/worthless/a dud). She will often feel overly anxious as she tries to solve the problems of others who must be saved (as she is the only one who can save them!)

The approvalist has learned to be co-dependent, needing, not preferring the approval of significant others. She needs someone to need her, someone to rescue and to depend on her, someone who needs to be needed. If someone needs her then she can indulge her own need to needed. Co-dependency …

'… is a dysfunctional relationship with the self characterized by living through or for another, attempts to control others, blaming others, a sense of victimization, attempts to "fix" others, and intense anxiety around intimacy.'

REBT deems this irrational to the extreme, as the person who has this affliction will feel and act in ways that are self-defeating. She will continue to be at risk as long as she believes that her worth is inextricably linked to the approval of others. What are the options for the approvalist to rehabilitate herself? How can she be delivered from self-sabotaging Conditional Self Acceptance to the light of self helpful Unconditional Self Acceptance?

The approvalist may question how she feels when she doesn’t get the recognition she ‘must’ have. Or maybe not as she may already ‘know’ that she feels angry because a significant other has made her angry. Maybe she doesn’t know at all why she feels as she feels as her only focus has been on others feelings and never her own. She perhaps will direct anger at them either overtly and/or passively. After all someone else has made her angry and therefore he/she deserves to be treated accordingly. What makes her anxious or angry? It is those who don’t agree with her, who don’t acknowledge her, as she believes they should! They are not feeding her addiction to be needed or approved and are therefore a threat to her well being. If they are making her feel this way then it would be logical to remove them from her environment (if they are not there they can’t hurt her however this is not a practical option). Just like a splinter makes inflammation and infection, just remove the splinter and all is well!

Alas physical hurt and emotional hurt are different. In a physical sense if I pinch you, you feel hurt and this would be true of the majority of people. If I don’t acknowledge you, you may feel some degree of emotional hurt. An approvalist will experience more extreme emotional discomfort than a person who is not when they don’t win the approval of significant others. Why? Because the approvalist needs approval and the self-accepting person does not! If the belief that ‘I need the approval of others to be worthwhile’ can be constructed over time then it can be deconstructed and replaced with Unconditional Self Acceptance and as Dr Albert Ellis would say this will deliver the sufferer from the despair of ‘shithood’ to the hope of ‘self worthyness.’

Whilst the co dependent has learned over time to control others and her environment and minister to the needs of others she could now turn her attention to something that has been hitherto ignored: her needs.

This is a major undertaking and the beginning of a journey that will require a lot of hard work and support to get well. The process will be enlightening and challenging and will be explored in a blog to be posted soon.