Look at Me, Look at ME! – Approval-Seeking/Recognition Seeking

Today I’m doing another Schema. I really just want to get these done. This one isn’t something I relate to so much. I think it’s more a characteristic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder than Borderline Personality Disorder. But it’s on the list so I feel obligated to include it. Feel free to skip to the end and just read my musings. The next few I’ll talk about are the good ones.
Approval-Seeking/Recognition Seeking
Typical Presentations of the Schema
These people place excessive importance on gaining approval or recognition from other people at the expense of fulfilling their core emotional needs and expressing their natural inclinations. Because they habitually focus on the reactions of others rather than on their own reactions, they fail to develop a stable, inner-directed sense of self.
There are two subtypes. The first type seeks approval, wanting everyone to like them; they want to fit in and be accepted. The second type seeks recognition, wanting applause and admiration. The latter are frequently narcissistic patients: They overemphasize status, appearance, money, or achievement as a means gaining the admiration of others. Both subtypes are outwardly focused on getting approval or recognition in order to feel good about themselves. Their sense of self-esteem is dependent on the reactions of other people, rather than on their own values and natural inclinations.
Alice Miller (1975) writes about the issue of recognition-seeking in Prisoners of Childhood. Many of the cases she present are individuals at the narcissistic end of this schema. As children, they learned to strive for recognition, because that was what their parents encouraged or pushed them to do. The parents obtained vicarious gratification, but the children grew more and more estranged from their genuine selves – from their core emotional needs and natural inclinations.
The subjects in Miller’s book have both the Emotional Deprivation and the Recognition-Seeking schemas. Recognition-seeking is often, but not always, linked with the Emotional Deprivation schema. However, some parents are both nurturing and recognition-seeking. In many families, the parents are very child-oriented and loving, but also very concerned with outward appearances. Children from these families feel loved, but they do not develop a stable, inner-directed sense of self: Their sense of self is predicated on the responses of other people. They have an undeveloped, or false, self, but it is not a true self. Narcissistic patients are at the extreme end of this schema, but there are many milder forms in which patients are more psychologically healthy yet still devoted to seeking approval or recognition to the detriment of self-expression.
            Typical behaviors include being compliant or people-pleasing in order to get approval. Some Approval-Seekers place themselves in a subservient role to get approval. Other individuals may feel uncomfortable around them because they seem so eager to please. Typical behaviors also include placing a great deal of emphasis on appearance, money, status, achievement, and success in order to obtain recognition from others. Recognition-seekers might fish for compliments  or appear conceited and brag about their accomplishments. Alternatively, they might be subtler, and surreptitiously manipulate the conversation, so that they can cite their sources of pride.
            Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking is different from other schemas that might result in approval-seeking behavior. When patients display approval-seeking behavior, it is their motivation that determines whether the behavior is part of this or another schema. Approval-Seeking/Recognition- Seeking is different from Unrelenting Standards schema (even if the childhood origins may appear similar) in that patients with the Unrelenting Standards schema are striving to meet a set of internalized values, whereas approval-seeking patients are striving to obtain external validation. Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking is different from the Subjugation schema in that the latter is fear-based, whereas the former is not. With the Subjugation schema, patients act in an approval-seeking way because they are afraid of punishment or abandonment, not primarily because they crave approval. The Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking schema is different from the Self-Sacrifice schema in that it is not based on a desire to help others one perceives as fragile or needy. If patients act in an approval-seeking way because they do not want to hurt other people, then they have the Self-Sacrifice schema. The Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking schema is different form the Entitlement/Grandiosity schema in that it is not an attempt to aggrandize oneself in order to feel superior to others. If patients act in an approval-seeking way as a means of gaining power, special treatment, or control, then they have the Entitlement schema.
Most Approval-Seekers probably would endorse conditional beliefs such as “People will accept me, if they approve of me or admire me,”  “I’m worthwhile if other people give m approval,” or “If I can get people to admire me, they will pay attention to me.” They live under this contingency: In order to feel good about themselves, they have to gain approval or recognition from others. Thus, these patients are frequently dependent on other people’s approval for their self-esteem.
The approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking schema is often, but no always, a form of overcompensation for another schema, such as Defectiveness, Emotional Deprivation, or Social Isolation. Although many patients use this schema to overcompensate for other issues, many other patients with this schema seek approval or recognition simply because they were raised this way; their parents placed a strong emphasis on approval or recognition. The parents set goals and expectations that were not based on the child’s inherent needs and natural inclinations, but rather on the values of the surrounding culture.
There are both healthy and maladaptive forms of approval-seeking. This schema is common in highly successful people in many fields, such as politics and entertainment. Many of the patients are skillful in intuiting what will gain them approval or recognition and can adapt their behavior in a chameleon-like way, in order to endear themselves to or impress people.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
Demonstrating the importance of expressing one’s true self rather than continuing to seek the approval of others is the first step. It is natural to want approval and recognition, but when this desire becomes extreme, it is dysfunctional. Patients can examine the pros and cons of the schema: They weight the advantages and disadvantages of discovering who they truly are and acting on that versus continuing to focus on gaining other people’s approval. In this way, patients can make the decision to fight the schema. If they continue to put all their emphasis on money, status, or popularity, then they are not going to enjoy life fully, they will continue to feel empty and dissatisfied. It is not worth it to “sell one’s soul” for approval or recognition. Approval and recognition are only temporarily satisfying. They are addictive and not fulfilling in a deep and lasting sense.
I don’t know. I don’t really have anything to say about this. In terms of this schema I think I would be someone that overcompensates. I prefer to avoid attention and therefore approval. I stay in the background so people won’t notice me. I am purposefully contradictory. I enjoy playing the devil’s advocate, even if the devil is a decision I don’t actually believe in. If I can push someone away, there’s no chance that they’ll be able to get close enough to hurt me. It’s not until someone becomes an obsession for me that I need their approval and recognition, but this comes from all those other places I think.
Oddly I think my brother falls into this category. My father pushed us so hard in athletics and activities. All these sports had judges and prizes. My brother was the golden child. He was the star athlete. He won every trophy, every blue ribbon, and every gold medal. His face was constantly in the newspaper. He was the leader, the head of the team, the president of his fraternity. He emphasizes wealth and status to a degree I can’t even fathom. I don’t care about these things at all.
In high school when I was a senior, he was a freshman. At that point I had fully rebelled against my parents, wore nothing but black and shock rock makeup/piercings, was completely Goth, the only Goth in my entire district in fact so I was terribly, ostentatiously different. Misunderstood by everyone. My brother was the golden child, star athlete, in his pressed and sporty clothes, whom everyone adored. Everyone knew us both, for very different reasons. We avoided each other. Me because I simply didn’t care and was consumed by my own preoccupations. Him, because as he once told me, he was embarrassed by how I dressed, “Why can’t you just be normal”. Why would I want to be?  To anyone that took the time to talk to me I was actually a very nice person with a lot of interesting things to talk about. I was sick of guys only interested in using me for my body or my looks. If you wanted to get close to me, you had to display a willingness to overlook the superficial and get to know me. Was that so bad? I don’t think so.
My brother and I get along fantastically now. I calmed down my outside image, and he has a more accepting mind towards things that are outside of the norm. I definitely think he falls into this Schema, but I don’t think it’s entirely maladaptive. Or unwarranted. I mean, he definitely has a need for attention and approval, but this is how we were raised. And to his credit, he’s also exceptionally good at the things he does and leading a life that is quite successful. I know he struggles with depression though which is a big indicator that all isn’t well in Beaver Cleaver land.

3 comments on “Look at Me, Look at ME! – Approval-Seeking/Recognition Seeking

  1. Hehe, I think this applies to 90% of us who blog. Yes, we love attention. When I have a post and only get 2-3 comments, I feel rejected…Thanks for the educational and slightly entertaining post. I added one more notch into my belt of neuroses…

  2. I'm a weird fella, because I want to be a huge blogger/writer that reaches out to millions of people, but I also am not a huge fan of public attention. I guess that's why I'm a writer. Unless you're someone extremely recognizable like Stephen King, most authors can just walk the streets without so much as a second glance. I can work with that!

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