Desperately Seeking Approval: why those we love don't always support our dreams
It can be a bitter pill to swallow.
You make plans, you feel focussed, you’re raring to go and then... BAM!
The people you expect to support you, do the exact bloody opposite.
And what happens? You feel instantly deflated.
You question yourself. You question your relationship with them. You wonder why they don’t approve or want you to be happy.
Your confidence crumbles and you feel like crap.
I hear you. It’s happened to me. (And I’m a confidence coach!)
My own experience is a perfect example..
When I started my business, I knew I was onto something. In fact, I was raring to go. I’d spent many years building the skills to make it work and although I’d never started a business, I knew I had the capacity to learn and the energy to keep going.
Unfortunately, when I revealed my grand plans to my nearest and dearest, not everyone shared my enthusiasm. I was warned that I was jeopardizing my family’s stability and that it would be safer to stay employed and put my dreams on the back-burner.
And you know what? I admit they had a point. It would have indeed been safer. But was it satisfying? Not in the slightest. Would I look back in ten years’ time, thankful I had never tried? I very much doubt it.
Did this revelation make me feel better? Did it hell!
I felt as if my happiness was of little importance to those I loved. I also felt keenly that their trust in me didn’t stack up when it came to the crunch.
I did, however, plough ahead and I was lucky enough that the people that mattered most eventually got behind my plans.
That wasn’t the only confidence knock..
Given I knew nothing about business, I used every penny I had to enlist the help of a business coach. It didn’t go according to plan..
She was great, and I learned loads, but she just couldn’t grasp my vision.
I’m a confidence coach but I’m also a public speaker and public speaking mentor. She insisted that one-to-one confidence coaching and public speaking were two different niches. I needed to pick one or another to grow my business and make it work.
It made me question my own experience and expertise. For several weeks, I was miserable as hell.
The reason I wanted to create my business was precisely because I knew the power of offering something different. I wanted to serve women as deeply as I could and that meant having the capacity to address whatever was holding them back, wherever it presented itself.
I knew that confidence and public speaking are totally interlinked – merely different parts of the same journey. (You don’t go to three different restaurants for a starter, main and dessert, after all!)
Thankfully, I’m a coach and have spent most of my working life in research. I used the techniques I use with my own clients to work through it and realised my vision was totally aligned with my clients’ needs, so I ploughed on regardless. But it felt like a massive gamble which didn’t engender a deep sense of self-confidence as I stepped into the unknown.
A different coach immediately saw the potential of my plans and this gave me the boost I needed to carry on regardless. But many women don’t have the confidence to jump the disapproval hurdle, which is a crying shame.
So why, when we’re energised and enthusiastic, are people less likely to show up for us?
The truth is, it’s not about you, it’s about them. And this manifests itself in several ways...
1) ‘Saviour behaviour’
People’s reactions to you are firmly rooted in their own perceptions, limitations and thought-patterns.
Those close to you may reactively adopt a ‘devil’s advocate’ stance – encouraging you to think of all the things that could go wrong, rather than focusing on the benefits of your plans.
They may therefore see themselves as your protector and automatically take a counter position to your enthusiasm – deep down they may believe they are saving you from yourself.
2) Your enthusiasm is unnerving
Some people may also find the positive change in you unnerving.
This is because it highlights their own shortcomings. Your new-found zest and motivation may spark feelings of inadequacy or guilt in them. It may serve to remind them of the ambitions they once had that fell to the wayside. They may have similar desires to you, but are scared to admit them out loud or take action.
Any change in you forces those around you to look inwards and they’ll often react accordingly.
3) People dislike change and uncertainty.
This is a natural human reaction. We’re programmed to fear change. Change signals uncertainty which rings alarm bells in our brains. In addition, we’re hard-wired to be negative and see the danger in everything. It’s our subconscious way of staying safe, but it can be totally unhelpful in modern life where the odd risk will do little to harm us.
It’s therefore unsurprising that our plans to shake things up may be initially met with resistance by those we feel should support us. It doesn’t make it right, but it does at least make it more understandable. The fact is, it’s rarely personal.
4) Your plans signal changes the balance of your relationship
Other times, your plans may have the potential to change the status quo of your relationships. Your loved ones may be scared that your new-found independence will pull you away from them or leave you little time to tend to their needs. This is especially common when one parent returns to work after having children and the other is forced to absorb a greater share of responsibility. Your plans signal a change to their lives and they don’t like it.
Either way, is the issue yours or is it theirs?
5) The green eyed-monster emerges
Sometimes your plans are met with a good old-fashioned dollop of jealousy. You’re going somewhere. You’re doing something amazing. Your creating a positive change and chasing your dreams.
We’ve all experienced envy when others have things we don’t have – and most of us want to feel enthusiastic and energised about something we believe in. Sadly, relatively few of us have that feeling nearly often enough.
In addition, human nature dictates that we can take pleasure form other people’s failures. It makes us feel better about our own inadequacies. So prevalent is this feeling that it has a name, ‘schadenfreude’. Your pain is effectively their gain. So, when life serves you lemonade instead of lemons, you can imagine the impact that has.
What can you do about it?
Firstly, stay strong. Remind yourself that this is not about you – it’s about them.
There are also a few techniques that can help your resolve.
1) Give people time to catch-up
Everyone needs time to process change, because time breeds familiarity.
In behavioural science, this is called the ‘familiarity bias’. People instinctively feel more positive about things that they already know. Uncertainty is scary. In addition, repetition can help. Gentle nudges again breed familiarity.
What this means in practise is that people tend to come round, given time. Once the initial shock of the change has diminished - and they learn more - your plans and ideas seem more normal. You’ll often find that opinions can switch entirely and those who initially poured scorn initially, may act as though they’ve always been on board.
2) Bring them in
It can be tough for your loved ones to understand your vision and to see where they fit within it. This is because they are entrenched in their own view of the world.
For example, the parent who discourages their child from embarking on a technology start-up may have no understanding of that industry, therefore sees it as an unfathomable risk. The friend who discourages you from relocating may not see what’s so attractive about your potential new lifestyle. They may also wonder where that leaves your relationship with them.
If you can bring people into your vision by painting it in a way they understand, it feels more inclusive for them and can start to remove those unknowns.
3) Accept that your power doesn’t come from them, your power is you.
You can’t change other people, but you can change how you react to them.
If you can bring others into your vision, great. If you can’t, listen to what they have to say but balance it carefully against your own objectives. To be blunt, sometimes these situations sort the wheat from the chaff. If those around you don’t play a positive role in your happiness, then perhaps they aren’t the people you need in the first place.
The support you need most, is your own.
The approval you require, is yours.
In short, dig deep, move forwards and protect your dreams.
The future you will thank you for it.
P.S. Are you part of my amazing free community, The Confidence Build for Women? It's safe supportive space, jam-packed full of expert insight, tips and techniques and I'd love to welcome you.