istock_000005516070xsmall.jpgIt was the last day of the Great Big Dreams retreat.  We were sitting in a circle.  I was talking about decisions and commitment.

We had spent many hours over our three days together getting clear about intention.  I said that in my experience, intention begins the movement and the shift. But at some point you have to ground your intention with decisions and commitment and action.

Jeannie, a vibrant woman with wild curly hair and a constant smile, looked up and said, “But wait…”

She began listing all the reasons why it was so hard for her to make decisions or to commit.  Suddenly, she sighed. She concluded by saying, “Oh, forget it. It’s hard when you’re a people-pleaser.”

There were “amen’s” all around. Many of the women nodded their agreement.  They knew the pain of being a people-pleaser.

I interrupted the moment of martyrdom.

I asked Jeannie: “Are we really people-pleasers? Or just approval whores?”

It was one of those moments where I briefly wanted to take back what I had blurted out.  Jeannie could be livid with me. Or she could have a great big “Ah-Ha!” moment.  (My own approval whore doesn’t like these blurts one bit. “Be nice!” she says. “Just agree with them and shut up!”)

Jeannie’s giant burst of laughter told me it was the latter.  “Oh my God!” she shrieked. “That’s so true!”

Often, we think that we’re being nice girls and oh-so loving when we’re constantly making sure everyone else is okay.

But what we’re really doing is selling our hearts to get approval from anyone who will give it to us.  We’re ensuring that we will never have to face the discomfort of having desires or dreams (or preferences!) and acting on them. We want to make sure everyone will like us first.  Then we will be okay, albeit deeply unhappy.

Martha Beck aptly names it “being an approval whore.”

All weekend long, people said things like, “Well, you can’t just stop being her friend!”

“You can’t just not move your father-in-laws’ furniture!”

“You can’t just uninvite your family over for Thanksgiving!”

Well.

Actually.

You can.

You just can’t always do this AND have everyone like you at the same time.

And this is the catch for an approval whore.  It makes her panic. Who am I without their love and approval?

It’s a question SO worth asking.  And SO worth finding out the answer to.

In Martha Beck’s words:

Anything we do solely to please others, in the absence of either real desire or moral necessity is a way of selling ourselves, our lives, our energy. Ask yourself whether the dose of approval you expect to gain from this behavior is worth losing a piece of the real you. I’d be the last one to judge you if the answer is yes. All I ask is that you be aware that this is prostitution, not virtue.

34 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Princess People Pleaser

    While I am definitely in the ranks of people pleaser/approval whore (sorry sex workers, but that term works here), there is another side of this issue that stumps me: how to deal with my sister, who has so “mastered” the art of approval whoring, I call her the Queen (sorry to offend any monarchies here). I wish I could just blurt it out the way you did. It is infuriating the lengths she goes to, to put everyone else first and herself last, because she then sulks in self-appointed isolation, seething in anger at the people she has tried do hard to please, at how put upon she is. We do almost nothing together, it is so difficult for us to figure out what to do, even a simple dinner out together. Once we got past the usual, “anything, whatever you want,” she actually said, “Well, I am going to say ‘Mexican food,’ because I think that is what you really want.” Once, she was on a long car ride with our parents, cramped in the tiny backseat for hours, she never enjoyed the destination, she was so sore and in pain for days. She even complained that although Mom had offered to trade seats on a break, apparently she didn’t insist hard enough, and she didn’t offer to move up her seat (well, she did, but my sister said, “no, I want you to be comfortable,” and was in disbelief that Mom took her at her word. And she actually told me this story!) Recently, she offered to host strangers who were going to visit her mother-in-law in her nursing home. She insisted they stay with her, bending to accommodate their strict diet, chauffering them around, waited on them hand and foot, and then was angry they were so demanding of her. She vented for 10 minutes and I squirmed in guilty silence that I could not give her some valuable feedback; my own desire to please reigned over my ability to be authentic. I wouldn’t even have known what to say. I love her and I don’t want her to be mad at me. My family isn’t very good at taking criticism. I don’t want to wait until I am so fed up I blurt out something mean. I sense she feels so needy, I try to let her know how much she means to me, but I wish I could do more. Any ideas?

  • e

    here are the ones i’m sticking with for now. i’m sure i’ll wonder in about a month if i would have been better going with another word:

    1. I’ve changed ORDER to “DIVINE ORDER” not sure why maybe because everything in my life is always in a state of disarray and i’ve been trying to get more organized and this made the word order less scary to know things are lining up as part of a bigger purpose to help remind myself to have order and structure in my life.
    2. CONFIDENCE – every close girlfriend/gay best friend of mine and every guy i’ve ever dated since high school has told me that I need more of this. Maybe I need to start listening to what life has been trying to tell me.
    3. HEALTH/HEALTHY – I debated with this because I’ve really been blessed with good health. What i mean is for it to encompass everything. Healthy relationships. Healthy habits/lifestyle. Healthy living space etc. Which hopefully will bring me even better health and energy
    4. EXPANSION which I have changed to POSITIVE EXPANSION. My first thought when I saw Expansion was ooh that’s good then I was like wait I dont want my expansion in everything (eg my behind!). So I adjusted it. I would love to expand on the business, creativity, writing, friendships, and positive things that have been happening in the last year for me. I guess it’s kind of like growth but this seemed even more Success/Career related and excited me more.

    (if i can throw in love as a general blanket word too that’s something i’d like more of in every area of my mind/body/heart)

  • connie carpenter macko

    Sigh… so wish I had been up to date on my google reader before thanksgiving. Perhaps had I read this, I could have been a wee bit more ready for the fiasco that was our family gathering. Maybe I will call my mother up and explain why taking all the grandchildren into a room away from their parents and berating them and feeding them racist nonsence and hurtful opinions was horribly damaging. maybe I will just stopping whoring myself for her approval (which I NEVER get anyway) and just be able to live with myself at peace for a change!

  • Andrea

    Well, this does hit home. I have called myself a “temple prostitute” for years and I meant exactly what you are describing. The only problem is that I believed the “temple” part of it….that it was really very clever and cool and holy of me to be able to do this. Frankly, I am ready to leave the temple and let the gods find their next prostitute. One foot out the door…..

  • Bettie

    Christine – can you recommend a coach? I’m too busy getting everyone’s approval!!

  • Bettie

    WOW! WOW! WOOOOWWWWOOOOWWWOOOOW!!!
    i think this might be me. All wrapped up in confusion and matrydom, angry, desperately wanting to change my life – but how? when I’m so drained, and busy, making everyone else happy. And my back hurts… tomorrow I”ll think of me. Yes. I get it. I stumbled on this blog today. It was meant to be

  • Vicki in Michigan

    Sometimes it pays to be “the bad one.”

    They already know you are bad, so you can do what needs to be done, even if it is unpopular or makes the matriarch sad or whatever, without fear of disappointing someone………

    “Well, what do you expect, from *her*………….”

  • Ria

    How serendipitous! I just wrote about the exact same thing… that is so easy for us to shelve our needs (or desires or dreams) for everyone else’s. And your question, “Who am I without their love and approval?” cuts right to the heart of the matter, illuminating WHY it is that we do that!!! Thanks, Christine!

    Ria

  • Candace

    Thank you, Christine, for “doing the work” and “walking the path.” We all gain from your insight. Thanks for helping us to remember. Candace

  • Christina

    OK…so when I read this I thought People pleaser-that’s me, no way was I prostituting myself for approval. Then I re-read my response to “How to Say No (Before You get Put on the Spot). Yikes!!! That was a long hard cold look in the mirror.

    And although the word “whore” is a bit icky, so is the word approval junkie or addict, but sometimes in this day and age of trying to not step on anyone’s sensibilities, the truth hurts. Thanks Christine for having the guts to point out the obvious to the sometimes oblivious (just raised that way I guess) and giving us the opportunity to receive a swift kick in the blog and make adjustments if we want.

  • Malea

    Hi, I love this blog, and this is my first time posting. I really get what this post is saying, and as a woman I relate to it in many ways. As a person who writes a great deal for my job, I also understand the impact that using a word like “whore” here, and exactly how you used it to shake up people’s perceptions of themselves, changing from virtuous to, well, not virtuous.

    However, I’m also passionate the rights of women, and am particularly involved in sex worker rights. And every time I stumble on talk of hookers or whores (and thank god no one is here using “pimp” in a way that is positive or glamorous), I find it a bit hurtful towards these women (and men, and those who don’t fit into either of those boxes), who are marginalized and discriminated against in so many ways. I just wonder whether, as thoughtful people, we might want to choose our words somewhat differently, moving away from words like hooker and whore, which are so often used against women, and not just those actually engaging in sex work. Just a thought.

  • Suz

    Wow! Thanks for the dose of reality; sometimes a blunt statement is just what is needed. So this morning I stand up and say, ‘Today I am not for sale’!

  • Monica

    Christine-this is off topic, but is in response to your newsletter regarding that little voice that asks, “Who do you think you are?” Check out this web video.

    http://www.whodoesshethinksheis.net/

  • Mary Miller

    Wow! I am my very own red light district. It never occurred to me that all my bending over backwards to please everyone (wink, wink), was actually about ME finding new and inventive ways of getting approval-love me, love me, love me. Great insight-thanks!

  • Jeanie

    My name is Jeanie and I’m an Approval Whore-aholic. Everything is about what other people will think. I clean the toilet the day before our cleaning lady comes. I even feel the need to justify my morning latte to my husband, in case he thinks I’m being extravagant during tough times. People will think I’m a drama queen if I mention that my mother is back in ICU, critically ill, on the other side of the world. My boss will think I’m slacking off if I work from home. I have to go out to community functions, no matter how much I don’t want to, in case people think I’m a hermit. But then… I try to remind myself that to 95% of the people I encounter every day, my existence and actions are completely irrelevant. People are wrapped up in their own lives. They don’t sit back, pondering the state of Jeanie’s toilet rim.

    Thanks Christine, another great post.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks everyone! These are great to read, as usual!

    William — if you know what your “yesses” are — then the best way I know how to begin to actually do them is to first intend, then DECIDE – and lay out a plan/schedule for doing them. Hire a coach too! I can’t tell you how much that has helped me in my work.

  • Debra

    Christine, I found your website through Martha Beck’s site and I’m so glad I did. I’ve been reading your old posts the last few days and it’s been very uplifting for me. Thank you. I wasn’t resonating with being a people pleaser, but maybe I’m not as self-aware as I think; one reason I was on Martha’s site is to find a dream for myself, and then I read your insight that we seek approval from others to avoid having dreams of our own. Also, I really enjoy reading everyone’s comments above– thank you all, too!!
    Debra

  • Mindful Mimi

    Christine,
    This is soooo true. I have been chasing approval of every single person in the world for most of my life. Where is the root of that I wonder. I wanted to be liked by everyone. It took a while (and my husband to clarify things) before I realised that you can never reach the stage where you are loved by everyone, nor do you want to. But the real issue was to find out why I was so people pleasing and yearning approval. That took some time. And it took some more to find a way to live without that need.
    I can now say that I have found it. I relapse from time to time and that is fine. As long as the biggest chunk of my life is lead by the real me for the real reasons.
    Thanks for making me realise I have come a long way.
    Mimi

  • Tracy McCabe Stewart

    Guilty! 🙂

    Tracy

  • William

    Am I enabling if I tell you that I approve a lot of this posting? 🙂

    Over the years I’ve gotten better at whoring for approval less, but mainly on the side of saying no to others rather than yes to my long-term needs and plans. Anybody have tips on building up that other side?

  • ChickiePam

    Ha! God I needed that laugh! Thank you so very much! The biggest problem with being an approval whore is that it never ends. You can never do it all, never please everyone, never get it all done, never, never, never. I know, because I’ve tried. I don’t do it as much anymore, thankfully!

    I have worked in my life to live authentically. To discover what I am here to do and to live according to my values and beliefs. For so long I lived the life that my parents lived, or what I though was expected of me. I’m pretty much free from that now. And with a sudden empty nest resulting from my daughter’s passing, I am continuing to evaluate who I am and where I am going.

    I have been successful at some things, and not so successful at others, but find that my regrets are few. The regrets that I do have are over the things that I didn’t do and not over the things that I did and failed at. That knowledge keeps me going.
    Thanks,
    Pam

  • Deb

    I think the line in the film “In Her Shoes” was most eloquent (read: it got my attention):

    It’s where Rose tells her former co-worker she doesn’t want her job back and didn’t love the work, but she had kept doing it because (not a direct quote)”I was afraid that without all those people to please and tasks to complete I would fall apart.”

    It hit me that I did someone’s work for them for the same reason. And all that busy-ness was getting in the way of my own work and my sleep. And on top of it I still wasn’t getting any approval.

    When you’re right, you’re right Christine.

  • Kevin Blake

    As a complete and utter Approval Whore this really resonated with me.
    It also got me thinking, “Do I always do it to get people to think well of me?”
    And while a lot of the time it is, I also think I use it as an excuse to avoid doing those things I most want to do and am most afraid of failing at.

    Thanks for this article Christine.
    Now I can work on not using this as yet another excuse to not try.

  • Wendi Kelly-Life’s Little Inspirations

    Christine,

    I just laughed out loud when I read this! I am that “Other one” that just says no and walks away leaving people standing there with their mouths open. But…then later when I get home I think…gosh, I probably shouldn’t have done that…now they won’t like me…and then the guilt sets in.

    Thanks for giving me permission not to be a whore. 🙂

    P.S. We are still working on getting up to Wisconsin this weekend, it would be a stay over so we have to find someone to feed the dogs, if we can get someone to do that, we will see you there!

  • Connie

    Approval Whore checking in and reporting great progress on setting boundaries and just saying NO! Thanks for the reminder

  • Jannie Funster

    Some one pointed out some years ago I cared too much what people thought, then I went totally the other way and ended up in jail.

    Well, I jest on the jail.

    But where do we draw the line between helping out and being a doormat? This of course ties in with the preemptive no, so if we get good at knowing how to keep our balance and saying No in the first place we may not need to pick up the pieces later.

  • Glad

    I adore Martha Beck! I think I’ve read every book! I’m so happy to see her mentioned here!!

  • sheista

    When I saw “people pleaser” I thought, “that’s me”. Then I read “approvoal whore” and thought, “that is a more accurate description”. This is something I’ve been struggling with.
    And this is the catch for an approval whore. It makes her panic. Who am I without their love and approval? This question puts it into a new perspective.
    Thanks.

  • Emily

    I’ve gotten a LOT better at saying no or doing what is right for me even if others don’t approve. Often time, however, after I do something I think others don’t approve of, I find myself apologizing or making excuses for why I did. (i.e. trying to get so & so’s approval back) I kind of annoy myself when I do that 🙂

    I recently made a move and shift in my life that several people didn’t approve of and I’ve been practicing simply staying true to ME without apologies or excuses. It’s been challenging but I feel much more authentic and centered when I simply do what’s right for me and leave it at that.

  • alina

    It is so wonderful that you keep on sharing your ideas with the rest of the world. Thank you:)))

  • pati

    When will I learn? When I realize the pain of not going along . . . hurts less than the pain of going along.

    Thanks, CK

Leave a Reply to e
Cancel Reply