At one of my three-day advanced mini-intensive in Santa Barbara we had a wonderful discussion about the difference between approval and appreciation. I had never thought about the difference until someone asked about it. As so often happens when someone asks a question, the answer came through me and others and delighted all of us.
We realized that approval is something we give from our ego wounded self. Approval is conditional upon the other person performing in the way we want or expect. Approval is often manipulative — that is, we generally give it with an outcome in mind. We hope that the other person will continue to do what we want as a result of the approval.
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Appreciation, on the other hand, is something we offer from our loving adult self. It comes from the heart and is offered spontaneously as the heart wells up with feelings of delight, awe, joy or love regarding another's way of being. Appreciation has much more to do with essence that with performance. We are appreciating a person's core Self, who they are and the results of who they are, rather than merely their performance. There is no attachment to the outcome, no expectation that the other should or will continue to perform. Appreciation is a true gift.
Often when someone says they want appreciation or do not feel appreciated, what they are really seeking is approval. It is their wounded self who is not feeling seen and appreciated within. The wounded self then projects outward the need to be seen, understood and appreciated and pulls from others to get this need met. Whenever I hear someone say that they do not feel appreciated, I know that they are not seeing and valuing themselves.
When we are giving ourselves the attention and appreciation that we need and we then receive appreciation from others, it feels wonderful, but it is the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. When it becomes the cake itself, then we need to look within and recognize that we have handed over to others the job of defining and validating us.
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When you share something about yourself with the intent of getting approval, attention or appreciation, it doesn't feel like sharing to other people. Instead they feel pulled at to validate you. When you share something about yourself with the intent of offering something to others, it feels like a gift. This is clearly illustrated in the wonderful movie, Good Will Hunting. In this movie the therapist, played by Robin Williams, shares much personal information about himself with his client Will, an angry and resistant young man. He shared it, not because he wanted or needed anything back, but purely to help Will feel safe in opening to his own pain.
We can all challenge ourselves to be aware of our intent when we offer positive feedback to others — is it a true gift or does it have strings attached? And we can challenge ourselves to be aware of our intent when we share things about ourselves — are we giving or trying to get?