By Susan Winter

Want to break free from approval-seeking? Here’s my advice on how to build confidence in the early stages of dating.

Our survival as humans has long been dependent upon being an accepted member of the group. And though we’re no longer fighting off wild beasts to live another day, this instinct for approval remains encoded within. Our atavistic instinct protects us. Yet this same survival issue can work against us when it comes to dating and mating.

It’s natural for us to seek acceptance, rather than rejection. To want the approval of others is quite normal.  But sometimes our need for external validation kicks into super high gear. This is especially evident in the initial stages of dating when seeking to secure the interest of that ‘special someone’ who’s captured our heart.

The Origin: How Approval-Seeking Behavior Begins

If you find yourself rattled with anxiety and overcome by this pesky human trait, there is a workaround. Identify the difference between ‘pursuit,’ and ‘approval-seeking.’

‘Pursuit’ is an active choice. It’s proactive and positive. It’s where you fancy someone and you’re on course to clearly show them your interest. You may choose to court them, pay attention to them, compliment them, or invite them to an event. You’re upping your attention and involvement for the purpose of igniting their interest in you.

Counter that with chasing after someone in the hopes that they might like (and approve of) you. That action feels very different to the recipient. Approval-seeking in this case stems from low self-esteem, weakness, and insecurity. You’ll know when you’re doing it because you’ll immediately feel off your center. You won’t feel collected and grounded, but rather, riddled with anxiety and trepidation.

Approval-seeking begins by pedestalizing another human being. It’s the desperate attempt to try to prove your worth to someone you ’imagine’ has greater social value. This isn’t solely limited to the initial dating phases. It can also play out within an existing relationship where you feel you must continually prove your worth in order to earn the love of your partner.

Approval-seeking doesn’t come from a positive place. Don’t try to use it as negative reinforcement for motivation to become the greater version of yourself. Its effect is the opposite. Neediness and approval-seeking bestows all your power on the object of your desire, leaving you void of value and confidence.

Your Countermove: How To Break the Cycle and Discover New Options

For those of you who work on self-esteem and self-love, the trick to the countermove is to begin to catch yourself. When you find yourself fawning over someone you imagine is out of your league, don’t continue to clamor for their attention. Instead, relax. Lean back. Switch your attention to active listening, observing, and engaging with them. This is how you create a real connection while keeping self-esteem intact.

When one of my clients get the yips around someone they fancy, I instruct them to tell themselves that this person is “just a friend.” Talk to them as though you would any of your friends, or close acquaintances.

This takes them off the romantic pedestal and allows your mind to slow down. You’ll find yourself speaking to them just as you would any other human being. This attitudinal shift enables a connection that’s essential to initial attraction.

Additionally, switch the power dynamics. Yes, you’re actively listening to them and engaged in what they’re saying. But now you also place your focus on, “How do I feel in their presence?” That’s the solid position it allows you to shine while you are discovering who they are and if they’re right for you.

Transforming Your Default: Resetting Your Internal System for Success

Whenever you catch yourself slipping into the old dynamic of pedestalizing them and giving them all the power, take a moment to recognize it. That’s the beginning of true change.

Noticing the old behavior is half the battle won. Now, shift back to asking how you feel about your interaction with this human. Are they interesting? Do you find their conversation compelling? Are they easy to talk to? These are clues that will tell you whether this person could be worthy of you.

A little anxiety is normal in the early days of dating and getting to know someone. Everything’s in flux and you’re not sure where the relationship is going. That’s why holding onto your innate sense of self-worth is vital for this transit.

If you find yourself getting off center, the fix is to double down on getting back to how you feel about yourself when interacting with this other person. Do that, and you’ll regain your composure and the correct perspective. You won’t be incentivized to chase someone else’s approval. You’ll be busier looking at whether this person could be a candidate for your affection, rather than could you be a candidate for theirs.

Remember to flip the script. Because when you’re firmly rooted in your own approval, dating and romance transforms from apprehension and anxiety to sheer joy.

Want another great article with tips on self-empowerment in the early days of dating? Check out “Which “You” Shows Up on the First Date?