When we mistake approval for love

If this title were a question, the answer would probably be ”in 99% of the situations.”

Sometimes I enjoy taking a step back and just looking at us, people, noticing how we made such significant advancements from a technology point of view and how, on the other side, seem to fail to grasp some basic truths about our own existence.

There was this metaphor I read somewhere and that, in relation to the gap between the progress of technology and the progress of self awareness, said that it is almost like a bunch of monkeys suddenly got a hold of some super smart machines. They might be having more complex tools and fancier equipment than before, but they’re still monkeys; actually, they might be even dangerous than before, now that they hold such powerful gadgets.

Now if we can just move forward, and let the fact that I just called all people monkey slide…

One of the psychological and human arenas where it seems to me like we fail to understand a lot of things is… love. And I am talking about this perspective that most of us seem to accept, the perspective of conditional love.

Conditional love claims that I can only be valued, appreciated and loved by others if I act in a certain way or if I confirm the expectations of others. This perspective leds us to think that if we said what we really think and expressed our true selves, we would lose the affection of others. And this works both ways – in other words, if I am an adept of conditional love, this is what I seem to get from others, but also what I can offer.

In order for me to give love to others, they should also do certain things and meet some expectations.

The thing is, this is not love, this is approval. It is a transaction in which somebody offers a things, an external image, in exchange for affection.


We equate love and approval ever since we are little children, when we are rewarded for doing something, and punished for doing something else. As children, we quickly learn the ropes of this game where we are valued for what we do, not what we are: this game in which, if we were to yearn for the big prize of human connection, we had to put on display a show of niceness and whatever other values were important in our families.

The child wants love, and if he won’t get it, approval is the next best thing.


How can we tell if we adopt this perspective of conditional love?

The first clue is in the relationship we have with ourselves. We can never give others pure love if we don’t experiment in it in relationship with ourselves.

How could I be filled with love for another human being when I treat myself harshly, with criticism, high demands and punishments in disguise for the times it looks like I am not ″doing the right thing. ″ Loving myself unconditionally means:

  I accept myself even when I can see my  ″ flaws″. I accept both my power, my gifts, my talents, but also my weaknesses, my emotional reactions, the things I am not really good at.

  I talk to myself the way that I would with somebody I cared about. I invite you to notice how your internal self-talk sounds like: what do you tell yourself when you’re having a bad day? What do you tell yourself when you made a mistake? What do you tell yourself when you compare with others? How could you raise the volume of the voice of inner wisdom and compassion?

  I believe I deserve the best and act accordingly. That means accepting and communicating my needs, both towards myself, and others, following my dreams, the goals that are important for me; it might mean giving myself stimulation, challenge and growth, but also rest, play and connection with others. Simply put, I make the best decisions for myself.

  It is okay for me to honor my personal truth, and my values. If this leads to a deterrioration or a loss of relationships, although I acknowledge the pain of that, I understand that relationship was not authentic or healthy for myself.


The second clue in figuring out if we are adepts of the perspective of conditional love is how we behave towards others. It is very interesting to notice what happens when our love for someone else depends on what she does and the degree of the fit between her and the ideal we hold in our minds.

When we conditionally love somebody, there is very little space available for the other person to freely manifest. Most of the times, we will find ourselves fighting, debating and get an expectation hangover looking at the difference between the reality of our partner or friend and the picture-perfect ideal we had. We are sad, frustrated, angry to see that this other human being has flaws and vulnerabilities.

We come to other human beings so they can fill this inner void of love and happiness that we can’t fill ourselves. By not allowing ourselves to love ourselves unconditional and by refusing to put otherselves first in our lives, our resources of happiness and satisfaction get emptier and emptier. No external supplement of approval could ever fill our need for acceptance, fulfillment and love. When we love unconditionally, we unite with another person to share the joy and the abundance of good we already have, not to take a sip out of their own empty bottle.


What I like to ask myself (well, I don’t like it, I hate it, but it’s really useful and revealing), and what I also invite other people to ask themselves when they really want somebody to be in a certain way is:

Why do you need that person to be like that? What do you get from that?


Another tough question that works for me when I notice my expectations from others tend to rise to the sky, is:

If I dated myself, how would it be? Or if I were my own friend, how would that be?


What becomes possible when we explore unconditional love?

  we clear the way for healing many of the wounds and the misunderstandings we have about ourselves, others, life

  we choose to live in honesty with ourselves and others

  we claim responsibility for our own happiness, which frees us from the disappointment of expecting it from others and encourages us to take healthy actions

   our relationships become easier and more authentic

  we redeem ourselves from the doubt and the fear experienced when we play the approval game, and we discover our personal power 

  we built an enduring relationship of support with ourselves, which will be there to help us in every situation. I cannot stress the value of this relationship enough, it’s like a having a super good friend who we know for sure will always be there.


How can we explore unconditional love?

The first step is to become aware of the perspective we have now. So I invite you to reflect on the following questions:


  Who do I seek approval from?

  In what circumstances do I act different than how I would naturally would, just to win this approval?

  What are the situations in which I hide my personal truth?

  In what ways am I compromising?

  How do I sacrifice myself?

What dreams and wishes of mine have I ignored?

  What are my expectations from others?

  In what situations do I expect others to give me something that I cannot offer myself yet? (love, attention, approval, joy, adventure)


Here are some simple and really yummy and effective practical tips you will benefit from following:

  practice unconditional self acceptance: one example of that is talking to yourself in a compassionate and supportive way even when you don’t act they way you wanted.

   Acknowledge your own needs. One simple exercise that I practice and reccommend to the people I work with is asking yourself as often as you can during a day: What is it that I need right now? And then go and give yourself that. This is especially useful when you feel unconfortable or are having a rough time.

  Celebrate the vulnerability, the anxiety or the fear you feel when you are honest with what you think and you ask for what you want. Celebrate these difficult conversations, because this is a sign that you are now more authentic than before.

  Keep your batteries charged! Self love – and also love in general – is about actions, not just about words or thoughts. Take daily time to do the things you like, the things that make you happy and inspire you. Give yourself the opportunity to practice your hobbies, to take care of your health and spend time with the people you love.

  The gratitude practice. I invite you to train the muscle of gratitude – of noticing all the amazing things you have in your life. Another great exercise is asking yourself at the end of each day: What are the top 3 things that make me feel proud of myself today? The more you become aware of them, the easier it will be to communicate and express them with others as well. And in doing this, you also train your ability to see the good in others.

  Give only what you want to give in your relationships. Escape the mindset of obligation, duties, and ″have to’s″. Be honest when you are not in the best state to listen to a friend with the attention you would want to give. Be honest when you don’t want to spend time with somebody. Just, in general, be honest with what you can give. This frees the relationship from pressure and you will see for yourself that, from this space of freedom, you will actually end up sharing and giving to others something that is so much more beautiful, loving, and filled with joy and peace.




Rate This Article:
No comments

leave a comment