How do I overcome my fear of disapproval?
March 8, 2009 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I'd like advice on how to overcome my fear of disapproval from others. It manifests itself as lack of confidence/assertiveness, self-consciousness, anxiety and fear of not being good enough. Looking for all kinds of techniques, suggestions.

I'm 32, emotionally and reasonably socially aware, if not necessarily emotionally/socially intelligent. I have a small group of friends. I have a lot of fear and anxiety around the issue of being 'good enough'.

Some symptoms of this are: I feel self-conscious walking down the street, sometimes even when driving(I know!). It feels almost impossible to get a 2nd/3rd date - mainly due to the confidence aspects I suspect. Emotions are contagious and I really need to crack this, and become better balanced. I need to stop betting the world on and being so emotionally effected by small interactions whether its a date, interview, ordering food from a takeaway, whatever..

I'm looking at some form of talking-therapy although finances are a bit of an issue there as I'm hoping to implement a career change, pay course fees and so on. Any kind of suggestions no matter how small are welcomed. Thank you.
posted by richar4 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have similar feelings, and I think, at its core, it's a self-esteem issue. It's as though you base your self-worth on how others treat to you, rather than evaluating both criticism and compliments from a solid foundation of inherent self-worth that is neither narcissistically high nor masochistically low.

Anyway, I've found these two books helpful (recommended by therapist.) Maybe you will too.
posted by peggynature at 2:43 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are at least two types of disapproval: explicit and assumed. I'll focus on assumed disapproval, where you have no direct indication, but you assume that someone (perhaps even unseen!) is judging you poorly.

One thing that has worked well for me is to develop a realization that other people aren't as judgmental as I fear they are, and in fact they generally don't pay as much attention to me as I might think. How can you grow to really know this, though, given that these are other people's hidden thoughts we're talking about? Generalization and assumption based on yourself and your observations of others.

When you are walking down the street, are you critically analyzing and judging everyone else on the street? Do you even notice most other people on the street? If not, there's some evidence that they don't really judge you one way or the other, either. And even if you do analyze and judge them, consider how much it affects them: not at all.

Also, watch other people. When you're sitting in a group, look at how people are interacting and how they react to things. If someone does something embarrassing or says something dumb, how do other people react? In my experience, they might laugh, might give the person a hard time, but the topic will change soon enough, and the whole thing will be forgotten as the conversation flows on.

So I try to keep these things in mind in my own interactions with people. I can think of a recent example where I made a joke that came out very poorly, sounded idiotic at best and potentially idiotic and offensive. I beat myself up for a bit, "Oh wow, that was weak. WTF was that? Geeze!" Thinking about it, though, I realized that people either didn't even hear, ignored it as making no sense, or at worst thought I was a bit odd for ten seconds before something else turned their attention away from me. No big deal.
posted by whatnotever at 3:03 PM on March 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is obviously just a soundbite, but you might consider that--ironically--the manifestation of your fear of disapproval is more likely to make women "disapprove" of you than being the way you're afraid to be would. Does that make sense? I'd suggest exploring the asshole side of your personality, cuz you're probably way too far on the meek side.

But you need ongoing therapy to work through these issues.
posted by mpls2 at 3:23 PM on March 8, 2009

Suffering from these same issues, I'd corroborate the talk-therapy idea. I've found with myself, and I've learned from others that issues of self-worth are often cyclical and pretty hard to shrug off without some professional help.

They usually stem from something a little more under the surface - something that's too subtle and nuanced to reverse without some guided behavioral modification.

Where finances are concerned, I know a lot of therapists use a sliding scale. I'd look around, ask your friends etc. Only good can come of it.
posted by Griffinlb at 4:20 PM on March 8, 2009

Sounds like you are a classic "people pleaser," and you are obviously not getting what you want out of life. It's time to shift the focus from others to yourself. Here's how.
posted by netbros at 4:32 PM on March 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

When you sense disapproval from others, you are really just experiencing your own feelings about yourself and projecting them onto other people. After all, you have no idea what they are thinking, so the thoughts you attribute to them can only come from your own mind. (Megalomaniacal people have the other problem: they think highly of themselves and project those ideas onto the people around them, assuming those people think as highly of them as they think of themselves!)

A story about how I am overcoming my own self-esteem issues:

I tend to avoid doing certain things because I "know" people will stare, point or talk about me. My feelings started back in the in middle school, where I was the only black student in my classes - indeed, one of the very few black children in my entire school district. Kids and adults alike made me miserable- threw stuff at me, yelled horrible things to me in the halls. People honked at me in the street and called me the N word, and old ladies crossed the street to get away from me. ME! A 13 year old girl! Well, it wasn't hard for me to develop the warped sense that everyone was aware of me and that most disapproved of me.

Then I attended my 10 year high school reunion. I was shocked at how few people remembered me! This made a huge impression; I realized I had given these people - and by extension, everyone - an amazing amount of power over me, to the point of not pursuing some of my dreams for fear of disapproval.

When I struggle with my self-esteem I try to remember this experience, as it reminds me that I'm not some extraordinary person that people are riveted to. All eyes are not on me. Because I'm just an ordinary individual no better or worse than anyone else, most complete strangers don't notice, remember, or give a crap about me.

I hope this helps you to stop giving strangers so much power over you so that you can assume your rightful place amongst us.
posted by Piscean at 5:46 PM on March 8, 2009 [14 favorites]

A great form of self-therapy is writing. Take a real-life social scenario in which you felt not good enough. Take 20 minutes or so a day and write these sorts of scenarios out. Write them how you would have liked them to go, or maybe write them in such a way to realize your worst fears (i.e. somebody or maybe a whole group of people disapproving of you). Focus on the other person as much as you focus on yourself. For example if you're meeting two people at a restaurant, you're aware of what you were doing before you came to the scene, but what were they doing? Are they feeling anxious or inadequate also? As you recreate the interaction, go with your first impulse. Have your characters say and do the first thing that comes to mind. If your character is on a date but can't think of anything good enough to say, have him tell his date "I can't think of anything good enough to say." How does the date respond? Etc.

The point of this is not to write good literature nor to accurately recreate social interactions (and you will be tempted to stop writing when you feel your dialogue is embarrassingly stupid etc.) but to get your brain focusing on things outside of itself. No matter how self-conscious and inadequate you feel in an interaction, there are other beings in that interaction that have just as real feelings and awarenesses (whether they be similar or different). And whether you choose to hide your own feelings of uncomfortableness or to be open about them, they still exist as well, and are a part of the overall interaction.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 6:55 PM on March 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

When I was younger (especially in high school) I felt invisible and thought that my self worth was only determined by what others thought of me. You definitely already have one of the most important things that aid in improving your sense of self: a group of friends. The number of friends is irrelevant; it's the quality of the relationships that's paramount. I would make sure that you maintain these friendships.

Also, when you focus on the things that make you most excited or happy you start to forget what others might think of you. Remember this: most of what you think people are thinking about you is pure speculation. We're not mind readers so ruminating over it is a waste of time. When you start doing the things that you feel you do well (this can be anything--artwork, managing others, playing music, whatever!) your self-esteem goes up and your whole outlook starts to change.

It doesn't happen automatically--it's a process so give it time.

Best wishes!
posted by arizona80 at 7:16 PM on March 8, 2009

Experiement with different ways of behaving in different social situations:
- improv
- a customer service weekend job
- even something like this

You might find out that people respect you more and feel more comfortable with you when you're not trying to please them as an end in itself. (That last link doesn't give you that much feedback but does let you try out what it'd be like to have a goal for your social interaction besides not being rejected by the other person.)
posted by salvia at 7:40 PM on March 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

By all means, discover the origins of your fear of disapproval. Did this arise from hypercritical parents, a demeaning sibling, a sadistic teacher, cruel school peers? You need to make sure that no one from your past is still renting space in your head.

Nthing others' suggestions to engage in therapy to help examine this problem in a supportive environment, identify its origins and triggers, and then develop a new confident schema about yourself.
posted by terranova at 8:04 PM on March 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Imagine a big, juicy lemon. Cut a slice into that lemon & feel the juices dripping down your hand. Now squeeze it on to your tongue.

Are you salivating?

Cutting edge (as of a few years ago) research indicates that the same thing that causes you to salivate at the mere thought of lemons is what causes you to feel self conscious walking down the street. The same part of the brain that over-reacts and creates to much saliva thinking about the lemon over-reacts to social situations and sends the brain into overdrive.

Take some comfort in knowing the thought-patterns may be the symptom & not the cause.

Re: Writing

Writing is good. It gets the thoughts out of your head & onto paper, and that helps eliminate the out-of-control spiral. I recommend The Feeling Good Handbook is THE go-to source for this kind of therapy for anxiety (including social anxiety).

In brief - write out the situation & how you imagine it will turn out. Rate your anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10. Then identify the cognitive distortion - the flawed thought pattern that leads you down that path & write a more realistic version of what may happen. Then rate your anxiety again.

Keep doing this. Do this every day. Writing about things removes their power over you (I forget the study, but it's very recent - within the past year or so that shows that emotions related to events are lessened when written about).

Re: Improv / exposing yourself to controlled public situations

+1 this too. This would be the behavioral half of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. The more you expose yourself to social situations, the more you'll come to realize that they're not so bad after all. If you have 1 encounter then that's 1/1 or 100%, if you have 1,000 social encounters then that's 1/1,000 or 0.1% - each individual encounter will have much less power over you the more you expose yourself to them. Though I wouldn't start with improv, I'd start with a dance class or some other group activity (little pressure on you at any given moment), especially one that gets the body moving, but that's just me.
posted by MesoFilter at 10:18 PM on March 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: High fives people : )

Thanks for all the very positive and useful suggestions..
posted by richar4 at 4:34 PM on March 9, 2009

Sorry to chime in later, but this one might help as well.

Positive Psychology is a relatively new movement - based in science - to make normal people happier, instead of the normal psychological focus on making ill people well.

The bit of advice that might be useful would be the first Q/A on this page. If you have thoughts where you put yourself down or criticize yourself, treat them as you would an external person saying the same thing. And assume that person's job is to just make you miserable.

The books by Seligman are pretty dense, but it's all good stuff. The dude's a natural pessimist who's trained himself to be optimistic, and by using techniques that work well, as opposed to repeatedly just telling yourself everything's sunny.
posted by talldean at 3:16 PM on March 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks talldean the interview with Seligman makes a lot of sense to me. I think considering things from the perspective of positive psychological development is an important point, everyone can work towards the best 'version' of themselves.. I will definitely investigate further. All links and recommendations very welcome!
posted by richar4 at 2:30 AM on March 11, 2009

Seligman isn't that dense. He had a recent TED talk that you may be interested in.

The basis of Seligman's original research is in pavlovian dog training. I you shock a dog often enough, it just "gives up" and will lay there and take the shocks, even if escape is easy. This is the basis of his book "Learned Helplessness."

He decided to turn that theory on its head and came out with a book "Learned Optimism" - which has a lot of good stuff in it, but to my eyes is a bit of a reworking of cognitive psychology.

Part of the theory (but not necessarily the research) is that there are 3 explanatory styles.

* Personal
* Permanent
* Pervasive

When something good or bad happens to you do you:

* Decide you were the cause
* Believe that there's nothing that can be done to change it
* That it extends to all areas of your life.

Pessimists tend to think the good things are out of their control & fleeting, and the bad things are out of their control & everlasting.

Optimists are just the opposite - tend to believe they are in control, and that the good things last while the bad things are fleeting.

A note about optimism vs. pessimism: Pessimists are actually very accurate at predicting outcomes, and optimists are very bad at it, and often misjudge things. When asked a number of trivia questions, the pessimists will gauge very accurately how many they got wrong, and the optimists will guess they got many more right than they actually did.

Anyway- there are some tests in the book (Learned Optimism) that are eye-opening. I'd recommend taking once to see how you gauge, and then actually taking them regularly after that so that you begin to catch the thought patterns & see how it applies to your every-day life.
posted by MesoFilter at 6:41 PM on March 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This may be of useful to men who have some of the issues mentioned above.
Its written by a psychotherapist, Dr Glover who explains some of the factors supporting this behaviour and exercises to break free from it.

I'm currently reading it and it rang very true. So worth a look!
posted by richar4 at 8:45 AM on May 12, 2009

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