Orthodoxy Today
Chaplain’s Corner: Overcoming the Need for Approval

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

In clinical psychology there is a well-known irrational cognition that prompts dysfunctional emotions such as anxiety and depression and ensuing maladaptive behaviors. The impaired belief or cognition is that: "I must [emphasis mine] be loved or approved by practically every significant person in my life—-and if I am not, it's awful [emphasis mine].i It can be noted that must, implies a personal rule or demand. Awful implies that the result is the 'end of the world' 'more than 100% bad. The dire need for approval, as in the case of other irrational beliefs, dis-affirmative emotions and faulty behaviors, lead to a cascading domino of untoward problems. Such need for approval undermines being able to overcome obstacles to attain desirable goals and very often leads individuals to set high standards that are so perfectionistic as to be practically unattainable all with accompanying increasing dysfunctional emotions mentioned above.

The demand characteristic of the dire need for approval can at times be called by different names. In the Hebrew Sacred Scriptures the wise Solomon notes: "It is better to be rebuked by a wise man, than to be deceived by the flattery of fools." (Ecclesiastes 7:6). Flattery is an attempt to pander for the approval of others. The Buddhist tradition would have us consider that if we "care about other people's approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back." The only path to serenity."ii A 19th Century youth instructor informed her students: "Do not receive flattery, ... Flattery is an art by which Satan lieth in wait to deceive and to puff up the human agent with high thoughts of himself."iii It could be considered that the dire need for approval, makes one susceptible to succumb to the temptation to flattery. Looking at this from the point of view of the flatterer, it could be considered enabling the person who needs approval to continue to be dependent on such approval from others. On the other hand the advice of the Sufi-Islam writings on this matter can be heeded: "It is not permissible for anyone to flatter ... rather it is obligatory to clarify the truth whatever it may be."iv

The Holy Fathers of the Eastern Church would consider the dire need for approval to fall under the guise of vainglory. St. John of the Ladderv informs us: "It is the height of vainglory when a person, seeing no one near him to praise him, puts on affected behavior." (pp. 222-223). The connection to the dire need for approval can be seen, as 'affected behavior' is speaking or behaving in an contrived way as to make an impression [on others], (aka gain their approval). The untoward psychological and spiritual consequences of the dire need for approval are succinctly described by the contemporary holy Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountainvi, when he tells: "Many people torment themselves because they do not succeed in being glorified with vain honors..." (p. 188).

Overcoming the dire need for approval can begin on two fronts. Psychologically one can re-structure their personal rule system from must or should to would like. Thus a more effective way of interacting with others would be to think: 'that it's definitely nice to have people[s love and approval—-but even without it I can accept myself.' Spiritually, we can turn from worldly approval by affirming and living out the words of St. Isaac the Syrianvii: "There is hope [trust-confidence] in God that comes through the [commitment] of the heart which is good, and which one possesses with discernment and knowledge."(p.181) The saint indicates that God is ever merciful, even in the face of our failings. Poetically he puts it this way: "As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so in comparison God's use of justice cannot counterbalance His mercy." (p.379).


i Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.

ii www.viewonbuddhism.org/resources/quotes.html

iii http://text.egwwritings.org/publication.php?pubtype

iv http://mtws.posthaven.com/it-is-not-permissible-to-flatter-the-sufis-and-call-it-dawah-explained-by-shaykh-uthaymeen

v St. John of the Ladder. (1991). The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

vi  Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. (2012). Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life. Thessalonica, Greece : Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian.

vii St. Isaac the Syrian, (2011). Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian. Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: January 1, 2105

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