By Anna Chandy
Have you ever wondered why nothing grows under a Banyan tree? The Banyan tree is so large and spreads its tertiary roots a great distance away from the original tree. In addition, the branches and leaves form a large canopy. From the secondary branches, new nodal roots appear, which slowly get embedded and finally, there is no room for sunlight, loosened soil, or space for a small sapling to grow and become a tree.
The tree of psychological approval from significant others, is similar to the Banyan tree. From infancy, one of our primary existential needs, is recognition in the form of psychological approval. Gaining approval from our parents or significant adults is vital for our existence and continues even in adult life. If we have not received adequate amounts of approval, we almost feel lifeless, rejected, abandoned and isolated. Approval becomes a core need, embedded in our psyche and part of our unconscious and the adult’s internal self-esteem is dependent on our need for approval. This need for approval becomes a constant self-perpetuating system that if not fulfilled, disables us from feeling liberated and empowered, even though we may appear to be successful, socially and professionally.
Individuals may be successful and functional in various roles, yet they disregard any achievement or success, because their internal psyche has not yet been satisfied. They filter out any other forms of recognition and continue to seek approval from significant adults or individuals, who psychologically represent their parents.
Our intrinsic need for approval promotes us to engage in interlocking with individuals in an unhealthy psychological game. It is this theme that we relate to in various systems. Approval is a common theme in all systems.
The family system is the primary source, or space, where this intrinsic need of ours is rooted. For a child, parental approval is vital for existence. The child interprets any actions, behavior, transaction and strokes from the parents as a form of positive or negative approval. This interpretation becomes the core, and all beliefs and values of the child, are based on this core feeling of sense of worth. In a family system, approval is withheld as a form of retaining the locus of power and control. If this need is not satisfied, we will continuously try to seek it out from other systems that we belong to, like our workplace, our social setting and our friends.
As a child, if you have not received the adequate approval that is required for your growth, then even as an adult, the process of individuating and retaining one’s uniqueness is never maximized. In the workplace, this need for approval is projected on to receiving the leader’s approval. Without awareness, at work, this leader becomes your parent and any feedback, either positive or negative, is interpreted as positive or negative approval. If you have a leader whose approval you constantly need, it may be worthwhile for you to examine your internal need for approval.
As a teacher, I often feel confused and perplexed with this need of my students. Most of them ask for guidance in the guise of explicit direction. Along the way, guidance is interpreted as nurturance, protection and approval. Without awareness, they are seeking the same kind of relationship that they had with their parents. They are unwilling and unable to take risks, step out of their familiar territory and carve their own path. Making a mistake and learning from it is not the end of the world.
Recently, I was observing a situation between a father and his grown up son. The old man was listening to his son share about his career. The son was successful, yet it was so obvious that somehow he was still seeking approval from his father. His father, with or without awareness, withheld giving him that. Both the father and son seem to be relating from the old transacting pattern and not mindful that both of them have evolved, changed and moved ahead.
As you chronologically and psychologically age in your journey of life and you begin the journey of exploration, you realize that in order for you to blossom, evolve and be giving to yourself and to others, you need to examine your own need for approval.
The last six months have been months of contemplation and exploration, as I challenge and reweave my own canvas of values and beliefs. As I near the age of fifty, I am impacted by the information and realization, that for the past fifty years, over a two third of my decisions, actions and choices were made from the framework of family and social approval. For the next few years that I live, I would like to weave my own tapestry of colour, texture and elasticity, on seeking my own approval