What’s an approval junkie? If you’re worried about coming up with the perfect answer to that question, you probably are one.
In her new book, “Approval Junkie” (Crown Archetype, $27), comedian (“Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!”), commentator and actress Faith Salie explains exactly what the condition is — and shows how it nearly ruined her life.
Salie, whose acting career includes a stint on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” calls herself a recovering approval junkie. A happily married mother of two with a busy career, she still loves applause but is no longer “groveling for validation” or trying to “dominate in yoga class after eating fat-free ice cream in my car.”
In her new book she explains — through a series of humorous essays — how she faced down her need for a standing O (or at least a high-five) and how you can, too. But she’d still like it if you liked her book. In an e-mail interview, Salie explains why.
How do you know if you are an approval junkie?
Do you live for the sound of applause and perhaps relish the sound of laughter even more? Do you relentlessly try to create something new or compelling or hilarious? Do you love a wink from a non-creepy person or when a nurse tells you you have “juicy veins” or when your therapist says, “I’m proud of you”? Did you do all the reading in college? Do you write thank-you notes immediately, in calligraphy? Do you wish your kids’ teachers would grade you on a report card? Congratulations, you’re an approval junkie!
What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done to get approval?
I underwent an exorcism of sorts to please my ex-husband (now wasband). I suppose that’s slightly more extreme than losing 45 pounds and then ordering a sequined miniskirt from the Avon catalogue to wear while singing a Barbra Streisand song to win my high school pageant.
Why do you think women are more susceptible to this kind of behavior?
Culturally, socially, historically, women are blessed with lots more ways than men to win and lose approval. How much hair should we have, how many children? When should we have children, and, if we really love them and ourselves, should we eat our placenta? Do we breast-feed them until they are 1 or until their bat mitzvah?
Do I need to wear flats to work so I don’t fall over when I lean in? Men don’t think about flats vs. heels or bangs vs. Botox or working vs. not working or whether they’re smiling enough or too much.
I’m no evolutionary anthropologist, but I wager that the first cavewoman who cut her fur on the bias and smoothed her facial hair to keep a mate probably led us to put ourselves on pedestals to receive proposals and tiaras.
How does being an approval junkie get in the way of friendships, work, marriage, being a parent?
This age of social media — the instant public judgment, the likes and dislikes and retweets and subtweets, the hits of dopamine delivered by new follower alerts — can lead an approval junkie down an e-rabbit hole. From my own experience as someone whose job entails expressing her opinion, I’ve had to learn that nothing productive comes from absorbing unsolicited constructive criticism full of intensely questionable grammar. Did you know that some people spell the c-word with a “k”?
How can a person break out of this behavior?
• Do not stay married to someone who asks you to consider having an exorcism.
• Divorce your scale.
• Say “no” sometimes.
• Recognize that seeking approbation discriminately — from people you respect and admire — will propel you.
• Recognize that your own approval matters most — and it may be the hardest to win.
As a recovering approval junkie, how are you able to evaluate others — Uber drivers, your husband, your children?
I end my book with a letter to my daughter, expressing my hopes that she always errs on the side of trying too hard. That she seeks just enough approval from others to flummox her detractors and win laughter from her fans. That she works hardest to give herself a gold star. And also that she tries to love herself as much as I love her.
A slight change of subject: What was the best thing about being on “Star Trek”? (And how did it compare to being on the Bill O’Reilly show and “Oprah”?)
The best thing about being on “Star Trek” was being able to sing an aria with the camera spinning around me a la “The Sound of Music.” Being on the Bill O’Reilly show was an exercise in wanting to be beamed up after receiving hate mail from people who think there should be a draft for the War on the War on Christmas. Being on “Oprah” was amazing because, well, Oprah — but it didn’t land me on a trading card like “Star Trek” did. I do have an Oprah mug, though. It’s oversized and magical, with beautiful, authentic curves.
Do you still worry about what Uber drivers think of you? Trekkies?
Ever since we learned that the occasional Uber driver is a serial killer, I’ve cared less about getting a five-star passenger rating from them. But I always thank them by name. The difference between the odor of a New York taxi and an Uber is meaningful enough to deserve an explicit expression of gratitude. Trekkies, I love and adore. If they can embrace me as a genetically enhanced mutant, I can embrace them literally. But some of them feel awkward being hugged by a real live girl.
Is it ever okay to seek applause?
Always okay. (But it’s better to seek laughter.) Seeking applause from children is a most humbling and gratifying endeavor. The best applause to seek, however, is from yourself. At the root of approval is prove, and you will have a remarkable life if you never stop trying to prove new things to yourself.
By Faith Salie
Crown Archetype. 256 pp. $27