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 ….

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