Breaking Your Approval Addiction

“My name is Erin, and I have an approval addiction.” It’s true. I crave compliments, praise, and adoration more than almost anything else. I’d jump through almost any hoop to get people to rise to their feet and applaud for me. I really, really, really, really want you (and everyone else in the world) to like me.

When we live for the approval of others, it’s like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

It’s always been this way. As a little girl I told the same jokes over and over pandering for a laugh. As a student I wanted an A++ on every assignment and in every class because that was the measure of approval in that world. As a wife and mama I want my family to think I hung the moon. If they could write that on a card for me and leave it at the breakfast table every morning, that would be top notch. I’ve been an approval addict for more than thirty years now. Even as I type that sentence, I worry you will think I’m old and therefore, not approve. But all that time craving gold stars has taught me a thing or two. Namely, that approval addiction is exhausting. More seriously, it’s idolatry, a sin God takes very seriously, because God is the only one worthy to sit on the throne of my heart. I also think God takes living for something other than Him, including the approval of others, so seriously because it robs us of the abundant life He died to give. That’s why Jonah 2:8 says,

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake the hope of their steadfast love.”

With the Lord’s gracious help, I’ve spent years combatting my approval addiction. While I’ve not yet crossed the finish line, I no longer live purely for praise. I’m okay if everyone doesn’t like me. I don’t crumple under criticism. And a bigger, more important shift has happened—I want God’s approval more than man’s. Here are three strategies I’ve learned for breaking my approval addiction.

1. Recognize the Colander Effect

When was the last time you came home from school and thought, Whew! I got enough compliments today. I don’t need any more for a week. Um. Never. Right? It simply doesn’t work that way. The more compliments we get, the more compliments we crave. If someone tells us they like our hair a certain way, we wear it that way for a week. If someone notices our outfit, we wear it every chance we get. Yep, compliments make us feel good, but that feeling is short-lived. That’s why trying to get filled up by the praise of others is like pouring water into a colander. (You know? That thing your mom strains spaghetti in). Praise goes in but pours right back out. God acknowledges this cycle in Jeremiah 2:13.

“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

When we live for the approval of others, it’s like pouring water into a leaky bucket. (Maybe that’s what they used for colanders back in the day). In contrast, when we live our lives for God’s approval, we tap into the fountain of Living Waters. Only there can we find true satisfaction.

2. Learn God’s Love Languages

What does it take to gain God’s approval? That’s a question I needed to answer in order to shift my obsession from pleasing others to pleasing Him. For a long time I simply had no idea how to make the God of the universe happy with me. It felt a little like throwing a dart at a dartboard. I am grateful that He does not leave me guessing. By studying God’s Word, I can know in concrete terms and action steps how to please God. Here are a few examples:

“So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).

Action steps:

  • Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. A.K.A. Live as Christ’s ambassador.
  • Bear good fruit.
  • Increase your knowledge of God.
“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Col. 3:20).

Action step:

  • Obey your parents in everything.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions . . . This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim. 2:1–3).

Action steps:

  • Pray
  • Intercede
  • Give thanks
  • (Especially for those in high positions)

The more you study His Word, the more you will learn what pleases Him. Now, because we are approval addicts, I know what we are all secretly thinking, But I can’t do everything the Bible tells me to do. I will fall short. I will mess up. Then God will be displeased with me. Chill out sweet girl. God loves you because He created you. He approves of you because Jesus’ sacrifice bridged the gap your shortcomings carve between you and the Father. Doing what the Bible says can’t make God love you more. Missing the mark can’t make Him love you less. But there is freedom in learning what pleases Him and doing it. His Word doesn’t leave us guessing. We can stop throwing the dart aimlessly and aim to do what the Bible teaches is pleasing to God.

3. Champion Others as Often as Possible

To some degree we all have an approval addiction. Everyone wants to be applauded by others. With that in mind, instead of grabbing all the gold stars for yourself, why not dish them out freely to others? Become someone’s biggest fan. Whip out your pom poms and cheer for others at every opportunity. Champion others often and loudly.

There is freedom in learning what pleases Him and doing it.

Doing this has a corrosive effect on our approval addiction. We forget how much we crave the spotlight when we are busy pointing it at others. We get our kicks by cheering others on instead of only feeling good when people cheer for us. The next time one of these tickers starts to scroll through your head:

  • “Nobody likes me.”
  • “Why did she get the praise and I didn’t?”
  • “If I do ______ maybe ______ will think I’m great.”

Make the choice to cheer someone else on. Drown out that voice in your head that says you need others to like you or you might curl up and die by championing the people in your world.

  • Any fellow approval addicts out there?
  • Do you live for compliments? (A.K.A pour water into a colander?)
  • Who can you champion today?

About the Author

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is married to her high school sweetheart, Jason, and together they parent four energetic boys on their small farm in the midwest. She is the author of more than a dozen books and Bible studies, the content manager for Revive Our Hearts, and a host of the Grounded videocast. You can hear her teach on The Deep Well with Erin Davis podcast.