Why are Americans so hungry for the approval of others?
The adjusted American lacks self-approval; that is to say, he has not developed a self-image that he can believe is both accurate and acceptable. To do so he would require successful techniques for creating an adequate and acceptable self-image through honest introspection, candid association, and meaningful activity.
The patterns to which he has adjusted do not include such techniques. Instead, the culture abounds with misdirections, which the adjusted American acquires. There are the patterns of alienation and projection discussed above, through which he seeks to deny unpalatable aspects of himself. But perhaps above all he learns to seek self-acceptance indirectly, by seeking to substitute the good opinion of others for self-approval. It is thus that he becomes “other-directed.”
Half certain of his own inadequacy, he attempts to present himself to others in an appealing way. When (or if) he has won their approval he hopes that they will be able to convince him that he is a better man than he thinks he is.
But this quest for indirect self-acceptance is fundamentally misdirected…. The opinion of others can contribute to self-acceptance only when the individual believes that others see him as he really is. Otherwise he cannot give credence to the image he sees reflected in their eyes.
But the person who is caught up in the quest for indirect self-acceptance is more concerned with making a favorable impression on others than with seeing an honest reflection of himself. He attempts to manipulate the way he appears to others. Consequently he cannot credit any favorable image they may reflect….
By the time a youth has been transformed into an adult his thirst for approval seems insatiable. But to borrow a phrase from Hoffer, he can never have enough of that which he really does not need. He needs self-acceptance, and however much of his talent, energy, and possession are committed to the struggle to win approval from others, self-acceptance cannot be achieved thereby. There is a fundamental defect in the method.
~ From The adjusted American: Normal neuroses in the individual and society by Snell Putney & Gail J. Putney (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1964).