8 Signs You Rely Too Much On Others To Boost Your Self-Esteem

by Eva Taylor Grant
Ashley Batz/Bustle

When it comes to how to have healthy self-esteem, it is a lifelong pursuit that involves collecting emotional data from the world around you to create a balanced view of yourself. Unfortunately, sometimes it's possible to get a little bit bogged down in one aspect of developing self-esteem: other people's opinions.

"Approval from others should be supplementary and complimentary to a general feeling and sense of approval of ourselves from ourself," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Web Radio show, tells Bustle. "This is critical, for in the end, friends, family, [and] coworkers can never offer us the protection and support that we can offer ourselves." But it's still natural to absorb other's opinions into your sense of self a little bit. You just have to be aware of to what extent you're letting things affect you.

Jasmin Terrany, licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) tells Bustle that healthy self-esteem has three main components: self-respect, self-care, and self-acceptance. "Self-respect [means a] clear understanding of how you deserve to be treated. Self-care [includes] consistent efforts to take care of your own needs. [And] self-acceptance [is a] willingness to be open, vulnerable, and interested in personal growth," Terrany says.

If you're still figuring out how to feel better about yourself without needing the approval of others, a good first step is to identify what's troubling you in the first place. Here are nine signs your self-esteem is too reliant on others' approval, according to experts.


You Only Feel Accomplished When Someone Praises You

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It's a pretty good feeling to get congratulated for something. But if you can't feel good about yourself until you get approval, take note.

"If someone completes an assignment, reaches a goal, or works hard to make a deadline, but they can't allow themselves to feel proud of their accomplishment until they know that someone else knows about and approves of it first, then they are certainly too reliant on others' approval," Dr. Tiffany Towers, clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. Self-esteem can and should come from within. Of course, there can be the occasional hiccup if someone rejects you, but getting approval should be an added boost, not the whole story.

To deal with this, Dr. Klapow suggests, take a look at your accomplishment itself, not the praise (or lack thereof) it received. "[Ask yourself]: what was good about it? What did it accomplish? How was it helpful? By looking at the act itself you shift the need for self-validation to satisfaction with the job itself," Dr. Klapow says. "Don’t worry how accomplished you feel. Focus on the qualities of the action and what you will see is that if the action was something that you believe was good, right, complete, well-done — you will start feeling accomplished automatically." This way, you can start to regain control of your own pride in yourself.


You Think Rejection Means You Need To Change Yourself

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Rejection may, in fact, be a sign that you have to change tactics in some situations. Maybe you need to redo your cover letter or resume, or be a more open to talking about yourself on your next first date. But, Dr. Klapow says, rejection certainly does not mean that you need to change anything about yourself. "Rejection is one of the most hardwired, deep, distressing emotions we have. It automatically creates a ‘sting’ when we feel it because it is tied to our evolutionary need to belong to a group. So when you are rejected, you need to remind yourself that the emotion that you are feeling is probably stronger in many cases than the situation itself and it will automatically have a tendency to trigger you to assume you have to change to belong," says Dr. Klapow.

But instead of sitting in that feeling of rejection, try asking yourself, if you can, what brought you here and what can you do differently? "Look at the act that led to the rejection. Look at what else is contributing besides you and then ask yourself that important question — will me changing guarantee that I wont be rejected? This will help balance the perspective," Dr. Klapow says. Most of the time, it really isn't about you. And acknowledging that can be quite healing.


You're Always Waiting On A Reaction

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It's a common feeling to do something embarrassing in public and then hope someone else will laugh with you, as if to say "hey, we're all human." But if your whole life feels like that moment when you're scanning the room to see if anyone will acknowledge that you just tripped, that may be a different story.

"If you do something and wait for others to react to it, that is an indication that you are needing other people’s approval," Nicole Richardson, licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. This feeling may look like feeling uncomfortable in a new outfit until someone compliments it, not feeling like a party was successful unless everyone praised the drink selection, or even feeling anxious about a new job until everyone else tells you how great it is. That could feel incredibly draining.

To make this pressure to be praised less prevalent, try focusing, instead, on finding ways to praise yourself. "Work on looking at the joy that your actions bring you independently of feedback from others. ... it is critical for you to learn to extract your own joy," Dr. Klapow says. Once you can say "I love the way my highlights look in sunlight," or "I am so excited to be managing a team of people," other anxieties might begin to feel like they are falling away.


You Spend Money You Don't Have To "Keep Up"

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Budgeting is tricky stuff. But if you sense yourself letting your direct deposit fly away way too quickly because you're trying to impress someone else, that may not be a great sign. "[A sign of seeking outside approval is] spending money you don’t have," Richardson says. "Outside of addiction, the most common reason people overspend is to keep up with the ‘Jones.' Stuff will not make you happy, connections with people and yourself, experiences, achievements are how you will start to feel happy." There's likely a ton of free (or low-cost) stuff to do in your city, and it'll probably be more fun than overpriced drinks anyway.


You Care More About What Your Partner Thinks Of You Than About What You Think Of Them

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If you're always looking for approval, you may forget that half the battle in dating is looking for someone who you like too. "Dating is challenging when someone puts the 'potential person' on a pedestal and is more focused on what the other thinks of them, rather than what they think of the other," Terrany says. "I call this giving away the 'A' before they earn it. If you care more about what others think of you than what you think of you, it's a problem."

This imbalance could come from the idea that a relationship is more important than anything else. Once you've got that idea in your head, it can be difficult to keep your standards high.

"[It's not healthy self-esteem] when you feel like you are worthless if you are not in a relationship," Dr. Towers says. It's totally valid to check in with yourself, or a professional, if you're feeling stuck in this rut.


You're A People-Pleaser At The Expense Of Your Own Wellbeing

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Saying "yes" to everything is more than just tiring, it could be a sign that you're too wrapped up in what other people think. "[A people-pleaser is] willing to do things for others at the expense of their wellbeing," Terrany says. Being a people-pleaser in this way could mean saying yes to helping someone move when you really don't have the time because you think they'll dislike you if you don't, or accepting a volunteer gig that drains you emotionally because you don't want people to judge you for being a bad person. You deserve the right to make your own decisions based on your own judgements, not the perceived opinions of others. It's healthier and safer in the long-run.


You Feel Like You Can't Stand Up For Your Opinions

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Arguing is difficult. But if you've begun to avoid conflict altogether for fear of what people think, or feeling unable to stick up for your beliefs, that might be a sign that you're too caught-up in others' thoughts.

"When you cannot tolerate having an argument or difference of opinion with one of your friends, and so you quickly change your position to 'resolve' the conflict, [that's a sign of unhealthy self-esteem,]" Dr. Towers says. You deserve to be able to stand up for yourself when necessary. Your opinion matters, and a loving friend or partner will respect that.


You Feel Like You're On An Emotional Rollercoaster

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In all, relying on others for your self-esteem can be quite tiring. The fluctuation between feeding off of approval and taking rejection to heart is not a healthy equilibrium. "When someone feels like they are on an emotional rollercoaster, where they fluctuate between feeling that they are great or a terrible person, and this shift happens once they hear that someone said something positive or negative about them, they are probably too reliant on other people's approval," Dr. Towers says.

Building healthy self-esteem isn't about thinking you're great all the time. Instead, it's about presenting as honest a view of yourself, to yourself, that you can work with. "Good self-esteem ... is the understanding that you are perfectly imperfect, all of your 'imperfections' are part of your wholeness, your humanness, all worthy of love," Terrany says. And that's a worthwhile pursuit.