Approval vs. Disapproval

As an adult I am exhorted to live without consideration of the opinion of others.  I’m to feel sure of my decisions, confident in my path and able to pat myself on the back in lieu of all of those egomaniacal desires for personal and public approval.  All well and good, I suppose.

Yet I observe (in myself and others)  a visible, visceral reaction to disapproval.  As a child, perhaps living in the pall of constant disapproval is more crippling that physical abuse (although this is arguably the extreme  manifestion of disapproval).

I don’t think this damage ends in childhood, however.  I’m thinking that subtle and continual disapproval is a habit to dish out and creates a toxic environment in which to live.  I’m not talking about big sweeping statements like, “You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.”  I’m thinking of the subtle little ways in which I convey that something is just not quite right according to the wisdom of Yours Truly.

It’s easy for me to assume the privilege of deciding the rights and wrongs of what someone else is doing.  And my  judgments can be subtle but are always discernible: the slightly pursed lips; the tightened jaw; the hesitation before response; the cutting question; or even the faint praise.  It’s interesting, too, how many times I catch my mental judgment of an action that has nothing to do with me.  “You’re not going to have lunch?”  “Hmm…is that what you said?”  “You didn’t shower before you came?”

Well, I know that last one is ridiculous, but you get the point, don’t you?

I wish I could take back every one of those questions when my opinion had not been asked. Especially those times when  the decision was already made and irretrievable.  I want to relieve every moment of pain I caused and redirect every path of negative thought that I opened for my friends and family.  Let alone the wasted energy in my own life.

I don’t think of myself as a negative influence.  But I am a know-it-all and feel that everyone’s entitled to my opinion.  That attitude has caused me to re-live some conversations in my head…taking many valuable hours of my life.  Those hours are getting more precious as my remaining time seems a bit more finite.

So I’m not going to waste any more time or thought on the past.  But I am now aware and working toward change.

Hard, yes?

Achievable, probably.

Habit (I think so), but breakable.

My solution is not in hiding my disapproval, but  in listening, watching, living with the people I love with an open heart and mind.  It’s being understanding rather than superior.  (Yes, I think disapproval involves feeling superior!)

Since everything reminds me of a song, I’m thinking “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel…”  *  What a concept.  Shower the people I love with approval.

I’ll take some of that, too.   (Sorry, Deepak and Dyer!)

 * “Shower the People”  James Taylor


  1. You sure left me thinking, and I’m sure I will be on my guard against “the slightly pursed lips; the tightened jaw; the hesitation before response; the cutting question; or even the faint praise.” I hope your “habit” will not be too hard to break,

    By the way, “Shower the People” is one of my favorite songs. When I was in college, our sign language class put on musicals and one of my songs was “Shower the People.” Thanks for sparking a good memory. 🙂


  2. This hits familiar ground so much. As long as I can remember, my dad has always criticized me. That I was stupid, selfish, blind, unattentive, stubborn, and ungrateful. The worst thing was that he accused me I teased him with my bad ways voluntarily because I didn’t love him. This was not true at all, but for my dad, it was. I suffered incredibly from that, and most of my psychological distress I still have today can be traced back to those early experiences of disapproval. I’ve always lived with the feeling of being essentially wrong, and sometimes it reached a point when I was not sure whether what I thought and felt was legitimate and real at all. So, I grew up without any sense of self, and this is why it was so easy for some people to exploit me later on, and why I got my eating disorder and so on.

    However, this isn’t my dad’s fault. It’s the result of an unfortunate interaction between a person who perceives the world through its imperfections (my dad) and a person who is hyper-hyper-hypersensitive and takes everything directly to her heart (me). I needed to get 20 to understand this, and also to understand that everything my dad did was intended to make me become the best person I could become. We are the strictest with the ones we love the most, right? Because we couldn’t bear that they would become less. But it didn’t work out well. Still, there’s no anger with my dad anymore, because I know this. And I really love him. He also really loves me. But we had to learn to understand that, mutually, and it wasn’t easy and came with a lot of pain, on both sides.

    So, I really believe in approval. There’s no use in holding back love. It just causes suffering. I also know from my psychology studies that approval works much better than punishment. The latter only summons what is wanted to be avoided, but it’s still the default method many people use as regulating means in their relationships with partners, children, and friends, consciously or not. And punishment doesn’t need to mean hitting, it can as well mean criticism, neglect, and non-acceptance, which are much more common. But they are toxic and destroy the soul, in the long run.


  3. Okay, so that was my personal bla bla, and now I want to write an appropriate comment to your post. 😉

    I believe many people are so sensitive to disapproval because they had too much of it in the past already. This creates “buttons”, sensitive spots that are so easily pressed and then make the whole program developed in reaction to too many hurtful situations run again. I also believe that living whithout consideration of what others think and say isn’t diagnostic of being an adult but being a monster. There is, *however*, a thin and very important line between being open to alternative opinions and being insecure and overly influenceable and vulnerable. This is a walk on the edge everybody has to face, and many tilt into the one or the other direction completely – and either become overly sensitive and unstable or overly blind and ignorant. Mastering this walk on the edge is what actually makes grown-up behavior, possibly.

    I think I can see what you mean with superiority going hand-in-hand in disapproval. I’ve always thought that many people try to make themselves look bigger by making others look smaller, and disapproval is an effective means for the latter. But disapproval isn’t always bad, it can very well be appropriate. However, it depends on how it is expressed, and which purpose is behind it. For “regulating” a temporally bad condition, disapproval can be appropriate to signal that a certain behavior (for example) isn’t good. But it should be told with a constructive recommendation how to do things better, and the other person should still have the freedom what to think about that. Disapproval is toxic and detrimental when it is expressed in a generalizing and abstract way that condemns the other one as a person in total and doesn’t open any possbilities of being or doing differently.

    Now, enough drivel for today. I can’t believe I’m already spamming your blog again. 😉


    • Kath…I am LOL re you comment of spamming. I love reading your thoughts. They give me even more insight into my own writing. I think I have a hard time writing about disapproval. In this case I was originally thinking of the insidious negative response to the behavior of people we love that has nothing to do with anything. The behavior in question doesn’t affect us, isn’t life-altering, or even inconvenient. I think it is easy for some of us (with particular people) to be on the critical side instead of the loving side. We don’t mean to be…becaue we love the person…we have just somehow gotten into a role. That’s what I want to watch for in myself. I want to shower those I love with approval in the silly little moments of their day.

      Love discussing with you. Someday we’ll sit with a cup of tea!


      • Better a whole pot of tea! 😀

        I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what you say regarding being particularly strict with the people we love. I think the reasons are twofold (at least). One has to do with the fact that we want better for the people we love, so we want them to be better (that’s what I already said above). The other reasons is that loving another person always comes with a feeling of intimacy and opening up towards that person. Therefore, we’re much more vulnerable to people we love. This often also means that our expectations skyrocket (probably quadratic while intimacy is growing linearly, at least it often seems like that to me, from what I observe). Higher expectation also mean that they can be failed more easily and more heavily, leading to harsher criticism and more disapproval, especially because personal hurt (due to the other person staying behind one’s own expectations) also is involved. But that’s just a hypothesis and needs further elaboration …


    • I went to the post and you’re right, Rummy. Oh, great! Now you are right again (haha). This should make your day.


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