7 signs someone is always searching for approval, according to psychology

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Humans are social creatures. We long to be accepted and fit in.

Some people, however, take this need to extremes.

They rely on external validation so much they lose sight of who they are.

It may be due to low self-esteem or bad childhood experiences.

Whatever the cause, they ask for excessive reassurance, a habit that stifles personal development.

If you’re among them, it’s time to prioritize authenticity over your need to be liked.

Here are 7 signs someone is always searching for approval, according to psychology.

Being aware there’s a problem is the first step toward growth.

1) They over-apologize

Has apologizing become your default setting?

You do it when other people bump into you at the grocery store.

When a friend you’re hanging out with is in a bad mood that has nothing to do with you.

When you express a controversial thought, disagreeing with the majority.

Over-apologizing can be a sign you crave social acceptance, according to psychology.   

You likely do it because you’re afraid of displeasing others and seek reassurance that you are still accepted.

And while this behavior may seem harmless, it comes with downsides:

  • It reinforces negative self-perceptions and feelings of inadequacy
  • It leads others to see you as a pushover
  • It diminishes the value of genuine apologies
  • It signals an inability to set boundaries

Stop accepting responsibility for stuff that isn’t your fault.

You don’t need to say “sorry” for taking up space.

You deserve to be here.  

2) They have trouble saying “no”

Being unable to turn down requests from others is another sign that you ache for people’s approval.

You want them to accept you, so you put their needs first, often to the point where you disregard your own.

According to psychology, people-pleasing can have negative consequences including anxiety and depression.

In short, it’s no good.

Take it from a recovering people-pleaser: this habit leads to resentment and emotional burnout.

Back in the day, I was so preoccupied with keeping the peace that I rarely advocated for myself, preferring to go with the flow and ensure everyone else was happy.

The behavior became instinctual, and it took me a while to realize it was a problem.

That I was unhappy because I catered to everyone but myself.

Once I did, it took even longer to do something about it.

I was afraid of being perceived as selfish and had to engage in a lot of self-reflection to figure out why that was.

Ultimately, I started to listen to my gut and uphold my own needs and desires.

I realized that no one else would.  

I hope you follow suit. Saying “no” is incredibly powerful.

3) They ask for input when making decisions

We make a staggering number of decisions every day, from what we eat to what we wear to what grocery store we frequent to what we buy.

Many of these decisions are made unconsciously or automatically, while bigger choices take pondering.

What we do for a living. Where we live. Who we marry.

People who are always searching for approval have difficulty making any of these decisions without external input.

While it’s natural to want to ask for advice from people you trust, it’s also crucial not to overdo it.

When you ask for input about everything from what you wear to who you date to what kind of music you listen to, you don’t trust your own judgment.

Your loved ones have your best interests at heart, but only you know what’s best for yourself.

Don’t lose sight of that.

4) They seek validation on social media

Do you measure your self-worth based on the number of interactions you receive online?

Then you might rely a little too much on outside validation.

Psychologists point out that feeding on likes and comments is a temporary fix that fails to address deeper issues.

If you’re having problems in your relationship, for instance, posting a pic of yourself and your boo looking happy on Instagram won’t solve those problems, regardless of how many double-taps the picture receives.

As a millennial who has been around since the days of Hot or Not and MySpace, I had to constantly tweak my relationship with these websites.   

I went from oversharing and yearning for that addictive instant validation to building healthier social media habits so that my happiness doesn’t hinge on strangers liking an online post.

As long as I’m happy with that post, all is well.

Perhaps you can develop a similar philosophy?

5) They want feedback at every step

A consistent need for approval affects your professional life, too, especially if you’re in a leadership position.

It hurts not only you but your team and organization, according to psychology.

Even if you’re not managing others, approval-seeking behavior prevents you from taking professional risks.

Years ago, when I was considering quitting my job to become a full-time freelancer, some loved ones were wary of me making such a big change.

They would have probably been more at peace if I knew where my next salary would be coming from.

Luckily for me, I took the leap, a decision I never regretted.

When you seek reassurance from colleagues, supervisors, or clients regarding your work, you may be perceived as lacking confidence or initiative.   

You probably also struggle to assert yourself in professional settings and negotiate for what you want.

Your need for validation is holding you back.

6) They chase a generic version of success

For approval-seekers, success is often measured by external factors.

Praise. Recognition. Awards. Promotions.

Success means realizing your full potential, according to psychology. Which means that it should look different to everyone.

While some people agree with the socially acceptable definition of success (stable job, healthy relationship, money in the bank), for others it’s not that easy.

Trouble is, if you always search for approval, you may never properly sit down and figure out what you want.  

Instead, you run around chasing goals the world says you should aspire to, but accomplishing them doesn’t bring you much happiness.

Ideally, you should stop measuring success by external accolades, and rely on more meaningful indicators like fulfillment and personal growth.

Perhaps you would be happier climbing mountains than climbing the corporate ladder.

You would rather stay single than get married or start a family.

Maybe you prefer a job that pays the bills instead of a demanding career, so you can spend more time with your loved ones.

You only have one life.

You shouldn’t live based on someone else’s standards.

7) They have perfectionist tendencies

Another common trait among people always searching for approval is perfectionism.

You set an excessively high bar for yourself not because you chase excellence, but because you want others to pat you on the back.  

You think that if you’re flawless, others will have no option but to accept you. So, you:

  • See things as either perfect or meaningless, with little room for nuance
  • Have an intense fear of failure or making mistakes
  • Are your own worst critic and focus on perceived flaws rather than recognizing your achievements
  • Overwork in pursuit of perfection, sacrificing your physical and mental health
  • Procrastinate on projects out of fear of not being able to meet your high standards

According to psychology, perfectionism which involves an intense desire for others’ approval can severely impact your well-being.

Eventually, the pressure will become way too much.

Final thoughts

People who are always searching for approval can curb this tendency by boosting self-esteem.

The more confidence you have, the less you depend on external validation.

Working with a therapist, repeating positive affirmations, and celebrating your successes go a long way toward crafting a better self-image.

You owe it to yourself to give it a try.

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