From Approval-Seeking to Approval-Generating (And Everything In-Between)

Being able to generate approval of yourself that you value just as much (or even more) than the approval you get from others at first seemed like a superpower. The moment I realized I didn’t need anything from anyone else, any event to happen, or any specific change in the world to come about in order to be deserving of love – this moment – it changed everything for me.

Since joining the Arka Brotherhood, I have become more and more intimate with an idea that was truly foreign to me. Prior to joining the group I had never heard of this idea. The newness of this idea has not gone away, and I don’t suspect it will for years. It continues to bewilder, confuse, and challenge me, but boy, does the journey ever feel good.

This is the idea of toxic shame.

Toxic shame is the sincere belief that you are, at your core, bad. It is the belief that there is something wrong with you, now and forever. Toxic shame motivates you to hide from the world, showing as little of yourself as possible, causing you to cringe as even a sliver more of yourself gets exposed to the world.

Toxic shame keeps you on-edge of always being ‘found out’. I mean, since you’re such a terrible thing, eventually the world will see enough of you to realize how awful you are, and banish you from all of its tribes forever.

This is a core part of the exploration that goes on in the Arka Brotherhood: we want to get to the roots of why we are how we are, so we can become better at accepting ourselves.

As basic as it is, you probably have forgot that the environments our physiology has been designed to operate in is near opposite of the environments in which we find ourselves today. As the most pertinent example to this article, we have been wired to do whatever it takes to fit in with the tribe, because back when we couldn’t survive all on our own, fitting it with the tribe (or not) actually meant life or death.

Nowadays, we celebrate those who are strong enough to be themselves – those who are ‘different’ – and we shame average. In 2018, the only things wrong with you are what you hide from the world.

As soon as we passed the six-week mark in Horse Squad, I started to make some serious progress in my exploration into my own toxic shame. For the first time in my life, I had a place that I felt truly safe to expose the deepest pits of myself.

Slowly, I started to reveal what I thought were the worst parts of who I was. We did the secrets exercise, where everyone in the group starts their sentences with “Something I don’t want you to know about me is…” This is where everything changed for me.

Not only did I realize that I wasn’t alone in being a man who had made mistakes, but I realized that none of them mattered anywhere near as much as I thought they did. Bringing them out of my head, into a safe space in the real world, made it very easy to see these mistakes for what they were: parts of the past.

All of the shame and other negative energy I had tied to these parts of myself started to vanish. I finally started to see that there might not actually be anything wrong with me.

All of the shame and other negative energy I had tied to these parts of myself started to vanish. I finally started to see that there might not actually be anything wrong with me.

For most of my childhood, I comforted myself in the romantic, feel-good idea that my dad didn’t approve of me, and that he never would. With deeply rooted toxic shame, I convinced myself he would only love the perfect parts of me, so that’s exactly what I showed him.

I grew up trying to be perfect, and for the most part, I succeeded. I was always very close to the top of my class, I played all the sports, instruments, joined all the clubs, and did anything else I thought I needed to do to be ‘good enough’ for my dad.

As I really reflect on it, I realize it was about much more than just my dad. It was about my teachers, girls, my friends, my coaches, family friends. Since I was inherently a terrible human being, I had to hide my real self from all of these people. I had to impress everyone. I felt I could only expose the perfect side of myself to anyone in my life that I actually cared about.

I was really led by example out of my toxic shame by the strong men in the Arka Brotherhood. These men were unapologetically themselves. They weren’t afraid to speak their mind, even if it meant causing a stir, or hurting someone’s feelings. And they were acting in this way with nothing bad happening. In fact, this type of behaviour seemed to be the exact behaviour that would bring the group together the most.

A habit I have had for most of my life is to look at people in the eyes as I walk by them. Being on this toxic shame journey brought me to realize this habit was a little more complex than that. I realized I wasn’t just looking at them in the eyes, but I was praying, hoping, needing them to look back at me. I was seeking their approval.

The only person you need to be seen by is yourself. The approval you have the power to give yourself is more valuable than everyone else’s combined. Once I learned to generate my own approval, I became free.

Our outer worlds are built using concrete, and our inner worlds are built using beliefs. The beliefs you choose to hold are some of the most important choices you make. Below are three new beliefs that I have adopted as part of my toxic shame journey, shared with you to bring you further along your own.

1. There is nothing wrong with you, just as you are, now and forever.

Everything you’ve thought bad about yourself, there’s worse. You are not only without flaws, but full of value. You are human, and that is enough. It is more than enough.

2. Everyone loves seeing your humanity.

Instead of showing less of yourself, show more. Share it all. Since you’re actually full of gifts, not malice, the world loves more of you. It actually needs more of you. That is, if you think the world deserves more gifts.

3. People relate most to those who confidently share their imperfections.

We love those who are flawed, just like us. And we love those who accept their flaws even more. Forcing perfection pushes people away more than it attracts. To connect deeply with awesome people, unapologetically share yourself, blemishes and all.


If you’re interested in learning more about toxic shame, pick up No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover. It is where this topic was first introduced to me, and where you might find some deeper understanding.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • I appreciate your post, Sam. I can relate with all of what you’re saying and parts of your personal experience. Thanks.


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