Hazy Origins of the Need for Approval
What is It?
Approval, I think is a distinct feature of humans. And it is a fundamental need for us. From the child looking for approval of parents, to an officer waiting for the approval of the boss, it can be seen everywhere. But, I have never come across an incident, where an animal waits for, or asks approval before proceeding with whatever is one's job.
It plays a significant part in our life. Many a great sage, as well as a lot of big criminals, owe their position to the encouragement they received, or the approval they missed, in their formative years. No other want of the humans, be it food, clothing, or shelter, can cause such a significant and long standing effect on one's fortune. What is causing this need? Where does it come from? Which metabolic function is the culprit here?
What do we gain?
Children are taught from a young age to seek approval from their parents or other elders for the things they say or do. Since the need for approval, love and acceptance from our parents is strong, we become conditioned over time. And we learn to seek the approval of someone, unless there are reasons to be otherwise. Whenever we don’t receive approval, whether of our parents, or from someone who is held in awe, we feel a substantial loss. We assume a loss of trust. And there is a strong desire to win it back, which triggers a host of behavioral quirks.
The need for validation fits into this category. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, the desire for validation is one of the strongest motivating forces known to man.
Whose validation do we want?
Well, it all depends on whose opinion we value most. A child wants to feel the approval of it's parents, while a teenager generally seeks the validation of their peers. Wives want the approval of their husbands, and vice versa. But it doesn’t stop there!
Employees want to hear the phrase “well done” from their employer, just as authors want to see their readers pleased. The fact is, we all have a longing for validation, and, the feeling of being approved, helps fill that desire.
Why does it matter so much?
Let us see why approval is so important? I think it is pretty basic. Approval feeds our strongest desire. If the strongest of all emotional needs is directly linked to our feelings of approval or disapproval, what is that need?
We can see that, in many such instances, it is easy to compare the need for approval and the need for love. For, in both the cases, the corrective mechanism acts in a similar manner. The need for love is well understood as one of the primary needs of all forms of life. Especially for humans, the first thing people usually think of, for effecting changes or work of any nature, is how it can be achieved through the path of love. But I think, as powerful as love is, in reality it can be seen to be the same as validation, a feeling that one can expect support and blessings for whatever one is planning to do. In which case, love is just the ultimate expression of approval. So love feeds the same core emotional need as approval does. And in a similar way one can say, any behavior which is contrary to one's identity and purpose, or what conflicts with the core beliefs, is generally done to gain the approval of someone else. In short we can say, approval gives us the sense of additional validation necessary for a thinking being.
Where from is this Desire?
Why do we have this strong desire for approval, in the first place?
I think the idea of approval originated like this. In the early days of mankind, a lingering state of dissatisfaction would have been very common in animal kingdom. (Theme of my book 'The Unsure Male') 'Post mating agony', the cause for this, would have been more complex, and rather more hitting, in humans' case, since, the intellectual superiority they assumed for themselves, would have made them effectively blind to the real reason. (Perhaps they didn't realize, animals deserve deep study!)
What has it led to?
Realizing that public display of violent reactions cannot lead to a solution, our early forefathers would have thought of a rather enigmatic (scientific, in those days!) approach. Unlike all other forms of life, the human female neither takes a violent avenue to release her dissatisfaction, nor indulges in public display of it. Also, if such situation occur, the male does not meekly accept it as part of life, as other beings do. Rather than accepting it as an innate inadequacy, the male would have been on the lookout for a good excuse. And humans being an altruistic animal, such instances of displeasure would have been appearing in a wide variety of expressions, like lack of courage, creativity, motivation, etc., the true cause being lost to the species in a few generations. As a result, over many years, humans would have become a race with a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction with all the activities related to, or that can lead to, mating. The actual reason for this too having lost in the time that passed, this dissatisfaction would have been reappearing in the form of a great number of obscure, anti-female traditions, most of which end up putting restrictions to the activities of mating.
Over many generations, humans, especially the male, would have stopped taking part in any activity whatsoever, unless prodded. That would have necessitated a constant need for others' reactions, perhaps at each and every step, to make one continue with whatever, one happens to be seized of. Or a large kitty of interests and occupations to keep them perpetually busy. To think of one example, a popular practice found only among the humans, troubling another one for no specific reason except for the sheer pleasure of troubling others, might be having its origin here. Which would have been a way for ensuring a reaction from another person, something essential for every one. In fact if we go back in history, the old times can be seen to be excessively harsh. Indicating that the need for approval was having a stronger grip on the populace, then. (The wealth of social attributes that we strive for could have been a lucky offshoot from here. Those perhaps were the techniques our forefathers devised, to gather approval from rather unwilling souls.)
..One Final Word
This also gives a good reason why our philosophy reads the way it does. For example, the philosophic discourses that make it great to be doing things with no worry about the result, as one can see, fits here quite appropriately, as an umbrella of approval. For, it enables one to continue with whatever one wishes to do even when there is no worthwhile reaction from others.