Fear of Losing Approval

The fear that we all have of being left out and excluded.

Losing Approval

Fear is about threat or of possibly losing something.

Afraid People won’t like You

The writer and psychologist James Hollis likes to repeat that the world is always sending us two messages; that it will overwhelm or abandon you.

Those are two of the biggest lessons that we unconsciously receive when we are younger. We exist but don’t have that much power and so we know that at any time, the world (a.k.a. our parents) can overwhelm us or abandon us.

They overwhelm us using pure physical force which can include corporal punishment, but is most often expressed when they do things like pick us up off the floor when we have a tantrum to put us in our rooms. They also overwhelm us through intimidation by raising their voices, making us afraid, and then using that leverage to get us to behave. And they also do it by simply having the power to steer the ship, which means making all the decisions and just going forth without a second thought to the objections of us less powerful.

But one of the most damaging ways to overwhelm us is by abandoning us.


Some of us have learned that we don’t have to be hit or yelled at in order to be intimidated. Those of us who’ve had parents who are passive aggressive know that that can be just as scary if not scarier when they play that hand.

Passive aggressiveness is a way of pulling away in anger, while not really showing the anger, but doing it in such a way that you know that the other person is going to feel the sting of it.

When a parent does this, the child gets the message that if mommy is not happy then she will pull away. And if she pulls away then I’m in big trouble because I need her for my survival, or at least for an existence that isn’t going to be chaotic.

If she’s not happy, maybe she’ll leave me at the store the next time we’re there and go home without me. Or if I believe that she would never do something like that, I might be afraid that she would send me to my room often enough or cut me off from certain privileges in the house and make my life miserable in some way.

A little girl asked herself why she is fearful and anxious around hostility.



But worst of all she might stop validating or approving of me, which means she won’t like me. If she doesn’t then 2 horrible things will happen to me:

1. My self-esteem will plummet and I’ll live most of my years feeling depressed and defective, suffering the consequences that go along with that, and …

2. Even worse I won’t be able to regulate my emotions properly, because I need her soothing face time and approval in order for my brain to develop properly, especially when I’m younger.

In other words I’m in big trouble.

So I better do what mom wants, and I’m taking that lesson out into the world with me. If I don’t please others, regardless of how I feel and what I want, regardless of how ridiculous those other people’s demands are, I’m going to be in a lot of pain.

There’s a big underlying threat to not please other people. If the world abandons me my anxiety level shoots through the roof and I feel like I’m cut off from the tribe, destined to be an outcast and live a harsh life where my chances of survival are slim.


All of this of course is a learned pattern that’s unconscious. Or at least it was for me. My mother was the one who was passive-aggressive and who scared me in this way, and my father was the one who was more outwardly hostile with his anger.

Because my mother’s passive aggressiveness was not outwardly palpable, it was harder to be aware of and so I grew up thinking my father was the devil and my mother was the angel, only to realize many years into therapy that I had resentment towards my mother as well.

Once I left the family home I continued that same pattern of dealing with people that I had had with my parents. I was afraid of conflict or any kind of disapproval because the world might overwhelm me – which means people would attack in some way either physically or verbally – or it might abandon me.

I wasn’t aware one bit that I had taken this relational pattern from childhood with me into adulthood. It was a seamless transition with me being none the wiser. The only reason I started to become aware of it is because of the panic attacks I experienced in my late 20s.

Woman trying to control her ever increasing anxiety in public.

Panic Attack

That led me to therapy and the discovery of all the stuff I’m talking about here. But until then I was operating on automatic pilot, pleasing people and avoiding conflict as much as possible with no clue whatsoever I was doing that.

I also wasn’t aware that I was dealing with a huge amount of internal resentment. Basically I was a nice guy who was full of rage and completely oblivious to the fact. The resentment was based upon the fact that I had to do all of this work, and expend all of this energy to make sure that I say and do certain things that please, or don’t upset other people. It was exhausting and I hated other people for it because I felt I was getting a raw deal.

Other people had no idea that I had this deal going on with them. I was reenacting the relationship that I had with my parents, with everybody else in the world. I assumed that they would do what my parents did which was to get angry with me ( father) if they weren’t happy, or pull away from me (mother) if I didn’t please them.

So I hated other people (once again it was all unconscious), put on a nice guy mask and wondered why I felt so much anxiety and tension in my body. I wondered why something wasn’t quite right in my life.

What wasn’t right was that I had a pattern in my psyche that warned of a nonspecific DANGER if I didn’t completely bend to the will of other people.

That meant I couldn’t be me. And if I can’t be myself then I’m pretty much a slave to whatever others want me to be.

Fear of other People's Anger

Fear of Anger

This pattern, the fear losing approval was very powerful in me and not so easy to overcome. A pattern that is so well entrenched like this, couldn’t simply be overcome by “being myself” or by “not worrying about what other people think,” etc.

It’s something that has to be understood, felt and dismantled over time in order to be overcome.

What I have to do now is create a new pattern that overrides the old which involves many years of consciously changing my behavior and facing the fear consistently (asserting myself). Doing this repeatedly will have the effect of repeatedly telling my unconscious that it’s okay to speak out and be myself.

Once this new pattern is embedded, then the fear of losing other people’s approval isn’t such a big deal anymore and I become more comfortable in my own skin.

That’s the goal.


*** If you’re going through something similar then I hope this helped. If you are, I invite you to share it with me and everybody else who visits here by typing it up and emailing it over. I’ll post it on the blog which would benefit everyone; you for writing it up – which gets you in touch with your unconscious more and with this issue of yours specifically – and us for relating with it and perhaps seeing our own issue from a different angle

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