Marie Fraenkel is
Professor of
Code Psychology at
Rosenkreuz University,

C O N T R O L  S Y S T E M S

The Disapproval System

Written by Marie Fraenkel, Psy.D.,
exclusively for Anxiety Culture

Probably about 75% of the messages received by the typical infant (pre-speaking age) in our culture consist of words like “BAD!”, “NAUGHTY!”, “NO!”, etc, as parents try to prevent them making a mess or injuring themselves.

Since our parents said they loved us, and since they disapproved of 75% of our activities, it’s no surprise that we internalise the following:


Many people grow up believing that disapproving of things makes you a better person – ie the more things you disapprove of, the more virtuous you are. The problem with this is that you end up disapproving of everything. But it’s easy to rationalise this disapproving attitude as responsible and moral, since some sense of disapproval is obviously justified in everyday life.

“Parental disapproval syndrome” is a term invented by New Age psychologists, which means that if you were brought up to believe that you had to earn approval then you’re likely to see the whole of life as a struggle in which you have to perform endless unpleasant activities (“work”) just to survive. This seems to be the psychology underlying the Puritan work ethic.  

It helps to distinguish between rational and irrational disapproval. Disapproving of murder, torture, rape, etc, seems rational. Disapproving of, say, unemployed people doesn’t seem rational. In fact, the following type of “logic” probably underlies a lot of social disapproval:

“I disapprove of laziness
Unemployed people don’t have jobs
Therefore I disapprove of unemployed people”

Social disapproval of the “underclass” or Low Other (a sociological term referring to social groups who are looked down on) is sometimes rationalised in liberal societies as “concern” (ie disapproval = “love”) and “assistance” (“tough love”, usually mandatory). It seems that respectable society needs a Low Other to disapprove of. Disapproval of racial minorities has become socially unacceptable, so society looks elsewhere for candidates to look down on. A perennial favourite is, of course, the “socially excluded”, ie the poor (26% of the population according to the latest figures published at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

Don’t be fooled by governments which claim to want to “help” the Low Other – their language of disapproval is clear. We haven’t become a more tolerant society, we’ve simply shifted our intolerance onto different social groups. As long as we keep our disapproval projected on the Low Other, we think we can escape disapproval ourselves.

But what we seek to escape controls us. Advertisers seem to understand this – most advertisements target our disapproval feelings. As children, we received the message: “you have to be good to get approval”. As adult consumers, we receive the message: “you have to own these items to get approval”. As a result we have the highest consumer debt levels in recorded history.

Disapproval feelings are amplified in sexual relationships. Advertisers seem to understand this too, judging from the ubiquity within commercials of disapproval button-pressing in the context of romantic/sexual or nuclear family (with young kids) scenarios.

Advertisers seed disapproval-anxiety within “love” relationships. Disapproval-anxiety amounts to sexual anxiety in this context. If “real” love is unconditional approval, then what kind of “love” is founded on the endless comparison of economic and social status, body weight, hair shininess, etc, to “approved” levels as defined by marketers?

Advertisers create lots of new areas for disapproval, eg: the “boring dad” who doesn’t own an expensive new car. Piling up all this disapproval, even in seemingly trivial ways, probably has serious psychological consequences – such as increasing the amount of resentment and anger in society.

Advertising/propaganda works well because everyone thinks they’re too clever to be affected by it. Unfortunately, cleverness, by itself, doesn’t make us immune to fear of disapproval. The antidote seems to lie in specific psychological approaches:

1) Antidote to projection of disapproval:
Practice at approving of things you currently (irrationally) disapprove of. If you think all your disapproval is rational, then you’re probably deluded. Disapproval of certain people is definitely irrational (is it ever rational to disapprove of everything about a person?), but disapproval of certain behaviours or beliefs can obviously be rational.

2) Antidote to fear of disapproval:
A very expensive New Age psychology technique/seminar called the Sedona Method seems to have an effective approach, based on asking yourself this deceptively simple question (click link to see question). Either you “get” it now or you don’t. Don’t worry if you don’t – you soon will.