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Dear Chump Lady, How do I get past approval seeking?

Dear Chump Lady,

Why do we care what cheaters say to justify their infidelity? Do all chumps fear validation issues as much as I do?

I am a person, who is strong and have a good set of supportive parents, family and son. They know me, trust me and see nothing wrong in me leaving my marriage. Over the last 2.5 years of my husband’s cheatings and blaming me for his neglect, I got support from some good friends and extended family and even some members of his family. However, my strategy was to stay put in my place and fight.

The fight was context dependent as I come from different set of values and beliefs (I belong to a middle-class north Indian family). This fight needed me to cut open his allegations about my being a bad wife, daughter-in-law etc., by reasoning and evidences. In the process, my husband lost a lot — his friends’ and employers’ respect, distrust of his son and a number of his family members. However, this “doing the right things and going on” strategy has led me to become very approval seeking. I was approval seeking earlier too and this was my weakness, which my husband exploited. But, I didn’t know this fault of mine then. People say I am too emotional and too value-laden. But, I don’t know why I care for the opinions of my near and dear ones and about society in general. Is this common to all chumps?

What can I do about it, when I feel bad about people’s opinion about my being a single mom? What can I do, when I feel let down with comments like I didn’t care for my husband enough and that he left me for my failings? I did go through therapy and approval seeking has been identified as one of my behaviour traits. However, whatever I do, I just don’t seem to get over it. The failure of my marriage has perhaps hit this part of me the most. If I can get over this wretched feeling of guilt and approval seeking, I think I am over most of my pains. What should I do?



Dear Anudi,

You sound like a lovely person. Most chumps are. Considerate of others, people pleasing, attuned to what other’s need. This probably makes you very pleasant to be around. Entrusted to the wrong person, however, these qualities can also make you a chump.

What should you do? Know where you start and other people end. It’s okay to consider others, to want to earn their good opinion of you, and it’s quite another to shrivel up and loathe yourself if they don’t approve. When you’re clear on your values and who you are, then the slings and arrows of others’ judgements cannot hurt you in the same way. If you need their good opinion to feel good about yourself? You’ll give their disapproval a lot of weight. If you don’t need their good opinion? You can listen to garbage opinions about “single mothers” and pity them for their ignorance.

Let me put it another way. If I told you, Anudi! I hate you for being a purple Martian! You’d be taken aback, but think me crazy. You know you’re not purple or from Mars. The error is mine. You see, people cannot land blows on you unless you at some level you believe these things to be true, or are unsure. Maybe you deep down believe there IS something wrong with being a single mother. There is some whiff of failure in being divorced. That these things make you Less Than.

I’m sure in a country like India it must be exceptionally difficult to stand out. To buck tradition and patriarchy and entrenched entitlement. It’s everywhere, but women like you Anudi are pioneers, like women were generations before us. My aunt divorced in the 1970s (her husband was an alcoholic, philandering lawyer). Back then, the U.S. laws stated women couldn’t get loans without their husband’s permission. She couldn’t hire a lawyer until her boss (years later) fronted her the money. She had to buck that culture — and Anudi, you have to buck yours and not lose your soul. Know that who you are and what you’re doing is ADMIRABLE. Don’t internalize the judgement! You gave your marriage your very best effort. No one is perfect, and your ex-husband certainly wasn’t. You could not control him, and you should never have had to tolerate his disrespect and abuse. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is an asshole.

Seriously, cut these people from your life or hold them at a distance. You don’t need their negative messages. Let’s start with your cheating ex-husband. Why would you look to that idiot for validation? Consider the source! To quote Frederick Douglass again: “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me.” He’s not a gentleman. He’s a liar and a cheat. His words are worthless.

Don’t stop being a lovely person. Don’t stop caring about others or what they think. But don’t lose sight of yourself. Your values (like self respect) are going to conflict with others sometimes. Let the haters hate. You can’t do anything about that. Just hold your head up high and keep being your awesome self.

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  • I think culture has a big role to play here too. Being someone from an “eastern” culture, living in the US, I myself feel the tug of individualistic values versus communal values all the time. Even in dealing with infidelity in marriage. It is a difficult set of confusing ideas to try to wade through, and no one can really tell you how to do it, but the work of muddling through it, trying to make sense of the different message we receive, and deciding where the best path lies IS your work! And it is honorable work! You will figure it out, over time. Just know that you are not alone, and you are asking the right questions!

  • Does your culture believe that a man who spends time away from his child, to spend it with ow, is a good father? I will guess not. And that is why you had

    I come from the same type of culture where things are “public” and everyone is involved (also true in this culture once you have put your business out there, do people know they are now supposed to stop telling you their opinions?)
    We are also not used to single parenting, but gently remind any family member that stbx did fool a lot of you and that your single parenting was a result of his actions ( I don’t think they want it as a ” choice” for your culture quite yet, and frankly neither did you). And that there is nothing wrong with your child being exposed to your values rather than his deceit. Nothing to pity about that. Some people think your child is missing out on the good of having a father when 1. He wasn’t around to begin with so being married was a cover for him as you were already on your way to being a single parent 2. Him being around means he gets to corrupt the child by trashing you as he does a lot….no one will think this s good.again, some of us are part of a larger group and I am not sure it is only approval seeking rather than a different way of life in which Anudi participates and feeds into that ” approval seeking” that others in her culture feel as well.
    Parenting on your own is a consequence of his actions.

    • Very well said, Boo.

      One of the shittiest things about infidelity and divorce is cheaters force our hands, and then we’re blamed for a terrible set of choices.

      • Exactly. My stbx still likes to blame me for “kicking him out of the house”. He wishes we could have “compromised”. Um, my compromise was that I gave you an opportunity to show me you deserved a second chance and you failed. Apparently I needed to compromise on my compromise.

        I think we are especially vulnerable to feeling blame and guilt because in all likelihood we have already spent years living w a selfish person who blamed us if they didn’t get exactly what they wanted at the moment they wanted it. They were never really happy and a lot of the time it seemed like it was our fault. Whether they openly blamed us or “just” passive aggressively, they made sure we felt like we never measured up. So failure is a familiar feeling for us and the fact that they cheated means that, in their skewed perception, we really didn’t measure up for them. And even though we now know they are the screwed up selfish ones w unrealistic expectations and we are the ones that had the strength and courage to leave, it is still hard to fully believe all the positive stuff about ourselves because they fucked w our minds for so long.

        • Its so disgusting, Another Erika. He is “poor man”. I have forced him into cheating one after another. But I allow him this mindfucking, so he does!

      • Latest news on my shit fight is ex says to youngest son he can stay one of the weekend nights but chainsaw man. WTF. How can you ask a kid to make that choice. 13 years old. What is with these cheaters. Sounds like desperation to hold onto CSM but of course ill get the blame.
        This is all just hard work ,for the boys as well

        • STBX pulled that crap, saying ‘you can come over but OW will be here’ knowing they didn’t want to see or spend time with her. I finally sat them down and talked to them, telling them that this was the reality of the situation and it was time to deal with it, mainly because the drama was constant and every time they were supposed to go over to his there was hysteria. Now they spend time with her and it’s boring and she’s dull and they just ignore her and the drama is gone.

          I don’t like that the dumb cow who hurt my kids now gets time with them but I prefer this to the constant drama that was happening every single week.

          • Nord you seem so strong and rising above everything to act in the best interests of the children.
            In my case the boys get on well with mum. It’s just that they don’t know or trust CSM. They know everything and maybe because they’re older than your kids they are able to form their own opinion although I get blamed for it by the ex.
            They just don’t want to meet him. They also don’t spend any time with ex by their own choice even though she is close by. Whether its guilt or she wants more time with CSM she doesn’t push spending more time with boys.
            She is just angry that everyone just can’t get on with each other and move on. It’s all about entitlement. Forget about the drama she and CSM caused th family. Lets just move on.

    • “He wasn’t around to begin with so being married was a cover for him as you were already on your way to being a single parent…”

      Well said, Boo! That’s a great way to look at the situation for those of us with kids.

  • Dear Anuddi,
    You are a lovely, beautiful, caring person. I went through the same thing 30 years ago when I left my X (I call him my XX now, we are friends) and I’m so glad I did for our daughters sakes. They are amazing, strong, smart and loyal and altho’ they love him, they know he’ “just not right”. It is the best thing I could have done for them, and me. Hang in there – Chump Lady-and the “Chumpettes” were sent straight to me when I’ve needed them the most, I rely on thier words every day, and if you just keep reading you’ll find the answers. XO

    • Thank you, Toni. And Boo is right. I have always been a single mother (only formally now) and now I understand why his father never had time for his son. He was just so busy. It is work to keep so many undercover operations running for all these years! It is also work to generate stories of “poor man whose needs are not met”, which keeps the spouse and OWs on their toes to try to please the poor man. Where has the “poor man” got any energies left to be equals and partner responsibilities of the kids and the household?

  • “…it’s quite another to shrivel up and loathe yourself if they don’t approve. When you’re clear on your values and who you are, then the slings and arrows of others’ judgements cannot hurt you in the same way. If you need their good opinion to feel good about yourself? You’ll give their disapproval a lot of weight.”

    Ugh. The above statements fit me to a tee. I’m trying to work on this behavior. I have always been a people pleaser who wants everyone to like her. Logically, I know that’s impossible, and I’m constantly working on letting go of the notion that my self-worth is based on what other people think of me.

    Thanks for this, CL. You hit upon so many things that go beyond infidelity but are still very important for fellow chumps to consider.

  • You wrote, “I was approval seeking earlier too and this was my weakness, which my husband exploited.”

    There are ***many*** of us in the same boat here, Anudi.

    I agree that having boundaries and nurturing a sense of your true self is important. I would add only that seeking the approval of others is not always a bad thing. As you said, this habit resulted in harm to you because your husband *exploited* it. But not everyone will use your care and concern against you. There are good people in the world who will return your desire to please them with–guess what?–a desire to please you! Which is wonderful thing, as I ultimately found out when I divorced my serial cheating wife and found my second wife. So I wouldn’t abandon the people-pleasing part of your personality altogether; just learn to be more discerning in who you bless with that generosity.

    • WEll said, Nomar, because the stuff we gave to our cheaters wasn’t appreciated…yet there are people out there who will adore it, adore us and recognise what a gift it is to have a loving and loyal partner in their lives. And those who don’t appreciate it? Sad for them, I think. They’ll never know real true deep love.

  • Your self worth is based on what you think of you, and that’s why it’s so important to hold to strong values, so you can evaluate what others think of you against your own values–and keep or discard their opinions.

    Well, part of the problem, of course, is that each of us Chumps really valued family and marriage. We may have even held certain prejudices against divorced women/men, divorce itself, a person’s inability to keep a marriage intact, single parenthood. And I while I think my value of marriage and fidelity is right-on, I sure have had to re-think how I feel about some divorce.

    I don’t like having to reveal that I’m divorced or “single” because I feel like an outsider, like a bit of a loser–do I seem “harsh” and “bitter”? I ask myself.

    I used to look at a lot of single moms–down my nose, mind you–and think, “Well, obviously she’s a bit immature, didn’t pick well, did she? How could she be so blind?”

    Ah, I’ve had to turn that on myself, too. Truth is, I was young and immature at love, and didn’t pick well. I’ve had to examine where I went wrong, what red flags I missed or refused to see, and I’m still working on figuring out why I thought he was the best I could do. Will I pick another one just like him, is there something wrong with me, or have I grown up and matured? Time and experience will tell.

    I have come to know that I still value marriage and fidelity and I’m really happy for happily married couples who VALIDATE my values! See??! Two imperfect people CAN make it work. See? Marriage and fidelity ARE worthy enterprises! Good–I’m NOT crazy.

    And, too, I realize that not everyone who appears to be happily married is happily married. Would I trade places with a lot of my happily married girl friends–would I be happy with their husbands? No. So, while I value marriage, I also must realize that I for myself value certain qualities in a marriage, qualities that are rare.

    I made a mistake, and it’s up to me to forgive myself for picking wrong and enduring unkind, unloving treatment. I’ll get there–particularly when I’ve settled upon knowing where and how I went wrong.

    I realize not everyone is going to approve of me–sometimes they don’t know the whole truth, sometimes they are resentful of their own situations and wish they could have their independence. Enough people who I respect and admire, also respect and admire me, and that’s really going to have to be enough for me–even though I am an eternal people pleaser. I’ve learned enough in my years that I don’t even WANT certain people’s approval–I don’t VALUE their approval, often because I don’t approve of them.

    Seek joy in your own life, make and execute your own plans. Be good at something YOU love to do. Be too busy to worry about what ugly people think of you. Bring joy and smiles to others with your thoughtfulness and hard work, not by being someone you are not. Be beautiful, but know that sometimes your warmth will never be enough to melt certain people’s ice-cold hearts.

    You will be ok.

    • Stephanie….what a beautiful post. So many things in there to think about. Thanks for sharing it–it’s given me lots to think about, despite the fact that I am not thinking about STBX so much,…but I guess that’s the point of your post…to figure out US and why we dealt with so much bullshit

      Never again, I say. And go listen to some Jill Scott. Tracy was spot on posting her song. she is a powerful and strong woman and her words are amazing…for both men and women.

  • Thank you Chump Lady! Someone said you are exactly the tonic needed. So true!
    I understand that my own prejudices about being a divorcee, single mom etc. are creating a big dissonance, somewhere deep within. However, I am thankful to a handful of friends and family, who supported me and continue to support me, even in my context. I think I will wade through. Just some more courage to stand up for myself, when my boundaries are violated. I think I shall be able to do that 10% when I have already done the other 90% of severing ties with a cheater husband, standing on my own and taking care of my household and son.
    I understand that I shall have to apply discretion in choosing people too. I have to internalize that I needn’t explain myself to those who won’t understand me anyways. I may start to pity them for their small thought.

  • Yes Anudi, this approval seeking behavior is very common in chumps. What you are looking for is validation. I completely understand. You have suffered terribly and you want other people to acknowledge that and approve of your decision to leave. But please remember that you already have that approval – not from everyone – but from the people who really count. I believe that because you said, “In the process, my husband lost a lot — his friends’ and employers’ respect, distrust of his son and a number of his family members.” You also mentioned “a good set of supportive parents and family.” So Anudi, the really important people in your life, the ones who love you, already do see your pain. They understand why you left. These are the people that will give you the support you need to get through this.

    The rest of society is fickle. These folks come and go and their opinions are less important. I know it hurts when you are judged by others. Most of us have had our name dragged through the mud, and our reputation as a wife/husband smeared. It sucks. We want to fight back. But in the end, it won’t make a difference. People make up their minds and that’s that!

    About being a single mother – I hope this story helps. I had a very brief, and abusive, marriage when I was young. I had two sons with that monster. I left when they were 2 and 1 years old. Yes…it was that bad. One day, my son (who was 6 years old at the time) came home from school in tears. Another boy had taunted him with the fact that he was from a “broken family.” I assured him that this was very true. At one time, he had a broken family. But by leaving, we had fixed our family. From that day on, he was proud that he came from a “fixed” family. We still laugh about that to this day and he is 22 years old now.

    Take care of yourself. You sound like a very nice person.

    • Thank you Sher and especially for giving me hope about “broken and fixed back family” concept. Yes, I have fixed it. My son doesn’t have to take the shit sandwich. He is a happy go lucky kid. Let him grow in a serene environment.
      Thank you Chimera, Anne, Nord, Nomar, Movingon, Stephanie and all of you who made my day by your valuable insights.

  • Hi Anudi,

    I feel like my life experiences and yours are so similar…sometimes very painful. I had an “aha moment” reading your inquiry and Chump Lady’s response. The purple Martian analogy really made me get it!!! 🙂 I wish you the best!


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