And so the coach stormed off in frustration.

I sat there in front of 50 people bewildered and dazed. Surely she would come back. Surely she wouldn’t leave me sitting there embarrassed and uncomfortable on the stage by myself?

I sat there for a moment. Then another long slow moment. Time slowed down as 50 pairs of eyes stared at me. I wanted to shrink. I wanted the floor to swallow me up. More than anything I wanted the coach to be right about me as I wanted to move forward with my life.

Instead I found myself feeling intensely small, embarrassed and ashamed in front of a crowd. Talk about feeling vulnerable. So how did I get here?

In a word, approval.

Or rather the need for it. Oh, and not feeling good enough.

It started as I sat at the front of the room with the most powerful coach that I have ever been with. I was doing my coach training and it was the final module and final demo of a long and in-depth training. The coach was there to demonstrate full out coaching with a tough client. As someone with a lifelong need for approval, I fitted the bill.

She started off gently. “What is the cost of you seeking approval?” “What are some ways that you could give yourself approval?” I am a smart ass with a quick mind with an answer for everything. I gave her the answers I thought she wanted to hear…walking the fine line between wanting her approval and not wanting to feel too vulnerable.

Clearly not sensing a breakthrough, she started resorting to stronger tactics. She knew that having a big impact on the world is important to me. “In what ways are you unable to show up for other people when you are caught in the approval trap? What would you be able to contribute if you gave yourself the approval?” That caused a bit of a chink in my armour. She sensed an opening and went for it, carrying on down this vein.

I actually started to break down a bit. “I want to feel good enough. I want to give myself what I need but I don’t know HOW to. How do I get past this?” “It starts with a decision to know that you are not even good enough…just that you are enough. The good can come later”.

A breakthrough?

This felt like a move forward.

Unfortunately, we then went around in circles for another 10 minutes. “What benefit do you get from not feeling good enough?” she tried. I just couldn’t seem to get it.

Don’t get me wrong, the coach was committed to my big picture agenda, rather than the smaller me that was showing up…but I was caught in a loop. However, what came next was a demonstration in coaching full out…which necessitates not needing your client’s approval or even for them to like you.

“If you are not going to get that you are enough, and you are going to block every attempt to give yourself approval” she said in an exasperated tone, “I am not going to waste my time and effort”. With that, she got up and stormed off stage, through the door and out of the room…or so it seemed. I was dumbfounded and didn’t know what to do.

Desperate times = desperate measures

What I didn’t quite get at that moment in time was that it was a tactic.

She was interrupting my pattern, not playing into my drama and trying to elicit anger…which is a far more powerful emotion than the hopelessness that I was feeling.

It worked.

After a moment, I got up off stage and went through the door, suddenly feeling indignant. I walked through the door ready to have a row. When I got through the door, the coach stood there smiling at me.

“So you do get that you are good enough then? You are worthy of not being ignored and actually being heard. That you have the self-respect to demand to be heard?” Not the answer I was expecting but it snapped me out of my anger as I realised what she had done. It was a risky tactic but it worked.

At a time when I thought I wasn’t good enough and didn’t know how to feel good enough – much less give myself approval – she showed me that I have the roots of approval and was feeling good enough within me. It might have taken anger to bring them out, but I had the seeds of self-approval there to cultivate.

Does the need for approval hamper you?

Like attracts like so many of my clients are super-high achievers and leaders who seek approval and so hold themselves back from all that they could be. So much of what they have achieved was rooted, one way or another, in seeking someone else’s approval.

Why? Because deep down, they don’t feel good enough. Why? Most of the time the roots go right back to childhood of course and our parents not approving 100% of the time. This isn’t about parent bashing though…most parents are doing the best job they know how to do. It is simply that children are so open and EVERYTHING goes straight in.

Of course, this doesn’t just affect this group of people…it is something that many of us can relate to. It is simply one of the biggest barriers that most of society face. Can you relate?

So many people on the personal growth journey are fuelled and driven by this need. They go on courses, read books and get coaching, ever searching for more tools and more information that will “fix them”. It is as if they have to improve themselves to get approval.

Stop trying to improve yourself

It is not about self-improvement. It is about self-acceptance. You have nothing to add. Nothing to improve. Nowhere to arrive. It is about accepting yourself in the entirety of who you are, approving of all the parts of you (including the “embarrassing” bits and the parts that you don’t like).

So how on earth do you go about giving yourself approval and start to understand that you are good enough? For that, stay tuned for part two of this series where I will give you some practical tips and tools for overcoming the need for approval!

[reminder]In what ways are you seeking someone else’s approval?[/reminder]

Image credit: Jaina/Flickr