It appears to me that in 2023, there’s someone attempting to become famous everywhere you look. People are looking for recognition all over social media, reality television shows, and so on – some for working hard, and others, in my opinion, for doing very little.

We all use recognition as a strategy to feel competent – to feel good enough and I certainly believe that there’s nothing wrong with a pat on the back, but as a culture, are we coming to over rely on it to boost our self-esteem? We’re all guilty of posting updates about our lives on social media.

Have you ever wondered why we engage in such behavior? The answer is actually quite simple: we enjoy receiving praise from others. It not only boosts our self-esteem but also feeds our ego. We become frustrated when we believe we require recognition from others to feel good and then unfortunately this frustration can then manifest itself as negative emotion, rebellion, and, in some cases, ego-driven childishness.

Although not everyone wishes to be famous or even popular, some form of recognition-seeking reflects deeper psychological needs. According to the American Psychological Association, a psychological need is “any need that is essential to mental health or that is otherwise not a biological necessity. It can be generated entirely internally, as in the desire for pleasure, or it can be generated externally, as in the desire for social approval, justice, or job satisfaction…”

I recall a wonderful journal back when I studied social science, which suggested that because positive self-esteem is intertwined with and influenced by the attitudes of others, the terms recognition and self-esteem are frequently used interchangeably. So, is our self-esteem rock bottom when we don’t have that positive appraisal at work? Or those 200-plus likes on our latest Insta story?


According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, approval and a sense of belonging are essential components of human motivation and necessary for proper mental development. We all need to be acknowledged and it has little to do with arrogance, selfishness, or immaturity.

Human beings require respect and affection from everyone around them from the beginning of their lives (think of a baby seeking attention), which is where we implicitly find that genuine recognition towards us as people. Our worth as a loved and cared-for human being is acknowledged and our abilities to move forward and achieve goals are recognised.

The strength of our close relationships gives us confidence and allows us to grow, with our parents and family being the first social circle to show us appreciation, respect, and affection. As we get older, we still look for approval and recognition, it’s only natural. But firstly, it must come from within. With Miley Cyrus singing about buying herself flowers and holding her own hand, we’re all focused on self-love these past few weeks.

When it goes wrong

However, when approval and recognition become the centre of someone’s existence, a downward spiral of low self-esteem begins, eventually leading to self-destruction. We’ve crossed the line into an unhealthy yearning for recognition when our need for validation of our own actions, words, behaviour, attitudes, and even physical appearance becomes borderline obsessive.

Anxiety also plays a significant role, and we must recognise that anxiety stems from fear. This can happen if you work in a high-pressure environment where you are so afraid of doing something wrong that you need someone to look over your work before you can muster the courage to submit it. As a result, you lose faith in yourself.

It can also happen if you have a disapproving partner who criticises everything you do, gaslighting you and making you doubt yourself, you look for his/her approval. But looking outside of ourselves for what we can’t find within ourselves is clearly not good. It is true that we all require recognition from our friends, family, and partners, but not in an obsessive and continuous manner, as this demonstrates a clear insecurity inside of me.

How do we stop seeking approval?

Yes, we require recognition to function as it allows us to grow with confidence. However, it is critical to also exercise it within ourselves and constantly work on gaining our own self-approval if it’s lacking.

Have faith in yourself

When in doubt, remember the golden rule: always think of your problem as something your friend has come up with. Consider the advice you would have given to him or her and then do the same for yourself. It will boost your self-esteem and help you develop confidence in yourself.

Quit comparing yourself to others

We must stop comparing ourselves to others because not everyone makes good decisions and there is nobody who is flawless. People learn from their mistakes, so you should feel free to make some and try not to think that you’re flawed if Josie down the road looks like a model on Facebook and you don’t! Perfectionism is a stressful, tiresome job and is realistically unachievable.

Be mindful of your actions

Every action has a corresponding reaction. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the decision you intend to make. This will also improve your decision-making abilities, and you may not need to seek validation from others.

Don’t judge yourself based on social media likes

Social media is like a bubble where people only reveal the positive aspects of their lives and never reveal what is bringing them down. Behind those smiles and snow-white teeth there may be a person going through emotional, mental, or physical hell – don’t be fooled. So have fun with it, but don’t let it get to your head and destroy your self-esteem. There’s no harm in seeking advice, but you should never be forced to rely on others to make your own decisions.

Practice self-acceptance

The best way to improve yourself is to believe in yourself and accept your flaws. This involves acceptance, which is something that needs to be practiced. You should work on your skills to improve, but there’s no need to be too hard on yourself if you’re taking longer than expected as we all develop at our own pace. There will come a time when you will be able to say that the only approval you require is your own. Go ahead your best.

Katriona Fitzpatrick
Psychological Wellbeing