Approval Addiction Isn’t Low Self-Esteem

One of the most common misconceptions about Approval Addicts is that they are the same as people who have low self-esteem or self-image problems.  This is a mistake since while many people who suffer poor self-esteem can easily become Approval Addicts, they are actually two completely different kinds of people.

Someone who has low self-esteem believe that everyone else is better than them.  For instance as a child I believed that not being good at sports made me worthless and not as important as everyone else in my grade who could play sports.  In later years, teens with low self-esteem won’t loudly proclaim themselves worthless, but their attempts to hide every perceived weakness proves they still believe it.  This lack of confidence develops into a love of their comfort zone during College and adult years along with a refusal to try anything which could end in failure or embarrassment.

One reason why we link low self-esteem with Approval Addiction is because there aren’t many good definitions of what it actually means to be an Approval Addict.  Dr. Ed Welch in his book, “When People are Big and God is Small” does a good job of defining it using his desire for his wife’s acceptance in their marriage. “I needed love from her.  I could finally handle small amounts of rejection from other people, but I

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felt paralyzed if I didn’t have the love I needed from her.” (pg.13, par.1)  Its this paralyzing need for acceptance that separates Addiction from low self-image.

Now any man who couldn’t handle rejection from his wife obviously doesn’t have a large amount of confidence in himself, but someone with low self-esteem wouldn’t put themselves in the position to be rejected since the fear of rejection is too frightening for them.  Also at this point Dr. Welch probably had either completed, or was in the process of completing his Doctorate in Psychology which obviously takes lots of self-confidence.  While there are similarities between the two emotional struggles they are definitely different from one another.

Why is this important?  Because most people when hearing the phrase “Approval Addict” immediately start thinking about someone with low self-esteem.  Actually many of us remember a student in one of our classes at school who couldn’t look you in the eyes when he talked, was always picked last for kickball (or any other sport), and had the social life of a large rock.  In many cases these people are addicted to acceptance, but our idea of what an Approval Addict looks like should go farther than the kid who can’t kick a ball.

Low self-esteem focuses on what we cannot do (I am stupid, ugly, lazy, ect..) while Approval Addiction focuses on what others think of us (He has to love me, accept me, submit to my control).  So it’s not just the shy introverted kid who struggles with a desire to be loved.  The same can be said for the spouse who always has to win the argument, the businessman who has to be better than anyone else at work, the manager who has to be obeyed at all times without question, and even the teen or young adult whose boyfriend or girlfriend just HAS to love them.

We will try to take a closer look at how Approval Addiction can be seen in those around us later.  But maybe the best way to start defining this emotional epidemic is by realizing that Approval Addiction and low self-esteem aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Because of Who He is,

John Wilburn

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John Wilburn

Church planter, teacher, and disciple-maker in Barrouallie St. Vincent

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