What’s your relationship with approval?
I ask because I had an epiphany this week.
To summarize its cause, I finished Will Smith’s autobiography, WILL, wherein he wrote about his decades-long struggle to gain the approval of others: in his most personal relationships, among friends, throughout Hollywood and all his professional endeavors.
His revelations stunned me.
How had I never before found conscientiousness about my own need for approval?
Oh, I’ve learned that my love language is words of affirmation, though it took quite some time. Given that any relationship formed alongside domestic abuse or intimate partner violence creates a deficit in all love languages, you start out with almost every bucket bone dry. Each needs equally filled — which also takes time — before you can understand which bucket you want to carry, and that was true for me.
But affirmation, encouragement, is a little different from validation.
And I’ve put a lot of work into understanding my relationship with validation, too. It’s a basic human need — recognition of your qualities, and all you offer — another thing we exist without during abuse.
The journey for abuse survivors is in finding authentic validation from quality people who will not manipulate or harm us, who care about our well being—and, more importantly, it’s about learning how to validate ourselves.
But validation is a little different from approval, too.
Approval is an acceptance for just being.
I had no clue until I read Will’s raw, honest account that a need for approval still follows me ten years post-abuse — despite all my personal progress and insight for other survivors — but what’s more: it has haunted me my whole life.
I’ve seen its shadow since childhood. Felt its omnipresence almost constantly. I just didn’t know how to define it, or that it’s surely the root of allowing myself into so many abusive and hurtful patterns through the course of my 43 years.
But now, somehow so clearly, I get it. It’s like the same switch that flipped the millisecond I knew I had to leave my abusive marriage flipped again.
I don’t need permission to exist. To feel. To create, excel, thrive, rest, let go.
I don’t need permission to make my own choices, to do what’s right for me, and carve my own path.
I don’t need anyone’s permission to feel comfortable in my skin, or love who I am just as I am, and live my best life.
I don’t need permission disguised as approval, not from anyone other than me.
This means it’s true for you, too, dear survivor.
Your existence needs approval from only one person.
And it’s you.