Identity and Social Approval

September 16, 2020

A large part of our identity comes from approval from others. Maybe our parents, our supervisors at work, our teachers or professors, our friends and family.

It’s very common and natural to see ourselves that way. There's nothing wrong with it. We are social creatures. We want to feel like we belong. Approval from others gets us there.

But as you can imagine, this can easily go awry. Social media has demonstrated that with so many unhappy people vying for likes and attention. Should we start making a list of examples of good forms of approval versus bad forms of approval?

I'm not a big fan of lists. They tend to give the illusion of certainty and structure. But in reality, they can be quite arbitrary. I try not to be arbitrary.

I prefer mindset shifts instead. When is approval good for our identity? When is approval bad for our identity? That's probably the wrong question. We don't control other people's approval of us. Other people will either approve or disapprove of what we do. If we try to manipulate others for their approval, we run into problems.

Instead, what do you think would happen if your identity is founded in nature and quality of the people you love? What if your identity is founded in the community you devoted your life to nurture and improve? What role does approval take in that perspective?

We are social creatures so we want to belong. We belong to a part of a larger whole. That is ultimately our identity. When we root our identity in the group, it may come at the cost of ourselves. If we root our identity in ourselves, it may come at the cost of belonging in a group.

But if we root our identity to the love we have for others, it might allow us to stand firm on what is right without sacrificing our connection with the world. Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes.

More Information on Groups:
CAUTION: Don’t Let Group Think Blind You!

Dr. Eric

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