Pretzel Syndrome or the Fear of Disapproval

There are people capable of bending like a Pretzel in order to please others and please them in every moment and circumstance. The fear of disapproval or disappointing the one we love can break us in half at the least expected moment.

Pretzel syndrome refers to that behavior in which a person bends, deforms and alters its original shape to adapt to the environment and those around him. Conformity as a lifestyle takes its toll on us sooner or later, because there will always come a moment when we will end up with broken self-esteem, split in half like those delicious savory bow-shaped rolls.

The complacency trap is a highly slippery slope that we can fall into from time to time . We often do it out of a basic sense of survival: without adjusting to what others expect of us we will have their acceptance and therefore we will feel integrated. And integration, being part of a social group, has been essential for human beings over time.

All of this is true, but there are limits, there are fences that must not be exceeded. Being social chameleons and mastering the art of saying what others want to hear bends identity . Appearing what others want to see, twists our dignity and leads us to a silent suffering in which we neglect ourselves to pathological and highly dangerous limits.

Pretzel syndrome: do you suffer from it?

"Live the life you want," they tell us. " Be yourself , " they repeat. " Build the reality that you really dream of" , they insist. However ... how to do it if we live in a society that urges us to be homogeneous, to be equal individuals consuming the same things? It is difficult to show ourselves in an authentic way when the different  continues to attract too much attention.

All of this reality is discovered early in our childhood. School is that first stage in which the roots of the Pretzel syndrome are based : we become beings capable of bowing to please, we generate forms with our personality and attitude to please others. We are like those rolls so attractive that when we taste them, we are surprised by how salty they are.

We appear that attractive heart shape that goes so well with everything, but has little sweetness. The contradiction is also integrated in those who are obsessed with pleasing and liking, because on the outside they give an image and inside it hides the germ of anxiety and the ingredients of depression. Because when you dilute yourself to like you stop being yourself.

The need to please thrives on fear

Pretzel syndrome does not have a diagnostic category nor does it appear in any manual. It is just about putting a striking label for a specific behavior that we see frequently in our day. The need to please and complacency are two resources that human beings use as social glue. That is, we want to like to be part of a group and also to receive reinforcements with which to strengthen our self-esteem.

If we ask ourselves why we do it, the answer is simple: out of fear. Fear is the instinct that most subordinates us and that most governs human behavior. We are afraid of not being accepted by our peers at school and being alone. We are anxious not to integrate into the work environment and suffer mobbing . And we are also concerned about disappointing the family and causing them suffering.

On the other hand, there is another striking phenomenon that we see more and more. In a study carried out at Duquesne University in Pittsburg (United States) we are reminded that social networks are also almost desperately seeking to like and capture that external reinforcement through like.

In these scenarios we also “deform” and adapt suggestive shapes to appear more attractive, bright and original in order to capture reinforcement.

Pretzel syndrome and the winding path of approval seeking

Pretzel syndrome tells us that, at times, we are almost forced to bend "some small parts" of ourselves to adapt. There are times when it is necessary to give in in certain aspects to improve coexistence. We can, for example, give up something for our children, partner or family . But these are very specific and occasional situations in our life.

The problem comes when it is a constant, when we become authentic social chameleons oriented only to make others happy, to please while we bend. This way of life does not depend on always looking for external reinforcements to feel good. Little by little, we end up valuing what others say about us more than what we think about ourselves.

The sense of our self is diluted to a minimum.

Stop bending to live better, how to do it?

Pretzel syndrome tends to be integrated in us from childhood, since we are subject to seeking the approval of our parents. Feeding exclusively on what others expect of us drains our psychological well-being. To stop bending and always show that irresistible image with which to fit in almost any scenario, we must bear in mind the following aspects:

  • Opinion differently is not disrespectful, it is an exercise in authenticity.
  • Our emotional state cannot and should not be based exclusively on what others say or think about us. The main reference of well-being is oneself.
  • Learning to say "no" can save us from the useless suffering that is written in the constant need to please.
  • Like everyone is a chimera and trying it a useless exercise.
  • The true way to be happy begins with being able to make decisions for ourselves, without waiting to know what others think about it.

To conclude, Pretzel syndrome breaks down when we start to seek our own approval. Nothing is more attractive than who is your own reference , your own compass in a world where almost everyone follows the same direction without knowing if they really want to go there.