That instant of desperation gave me a glimpse of my inner approval junkie. The people pleasing middle child perfectionist who is afraid to speak up without preplanning what to say, wants everyone to be happy, wants to avoid conflict, and would rather have people assume she has nothing to say than to open her mouth and risk sounding stupid is still hiding inside. She shows up after almost every social event when I turn to Jess and ask, "Did I do okay?" She comes out when I'm trying to decide what the heck to wear. She doubts my ability to choose paint colors, raise children, write anything meaningful and coherent, and to handle new and unknown situations. She has been internalizing messages of approval and disapproval since I was born and she knows that I should not trust myself to know what to do, how to do it, or if what I'm doing measures up. She also knows that I shouldn't trust my own emotions, that at any given time I'm over reacting, afraid of something that is nothing to be afraid of, or being a worry wort.
As a parent I want my children to grow up knowing who they are, not internalizing who they should be.
When you internalize from birth who you should be in order to gain approval or love or affection from the adults in your life (or to avoid pain, punishment and criticism) it is amazingly difficult to know as an adult who you really are. It's disconcerting to realize that you aren't who you are, you are who other people wanted you to become.
I'm pretty sure I was 21 years old before I made a major decision that did not have my parents' approval. Here I am, 21 years after that, no longer seeking anyone's approval, but still struggling to figure out who I am beneath the ingrained messages and conditioned responses. It turns out I am many things I used to think that I was not, including: creative, smart, brave, and fun. My self-discovery continues and my inner approval junkie's need to surface is decreasing as I learn to separate my own voice from the messages from my childhood. My children and I are discovering who we are as we explore life and our interests together. What a blessing that they didn't have to live for two decades before they started this journey.
Alfie Kohn mentions "praise junkies" in the following essay: "Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job." http://www.alfiekohn.org/p
You might also want to read "Parental Love with Strings Attached"
and for the larger picture read his book "Unconditional Parenting."