There's a general belief on the planet by extremely well-meaning parents that we should 'socialize' our children, help them to fit in, so others will like them. Unfortunately this idea in our opinion, can often create problems later in adulthood.
The idea that 'it's my job to please others so I'll be liked and accepted,' is flawed and can lead to a great deal of inner conflict and loss of self. The more we do to please others, molding our actions, beliefs and personality, the further away we get from who we really are. The result is that we end up feeling inauthentic, like a fraud, anxious a great deal of the time and never quite getting the approval we're seeking. It's an old cliche, but the only place we can ever truly achieve great self-esteem is within ourselves.
If someone criticizes us, it's never really about us, but their perception of us. We can't control or change others or make people like us, but we can like ourselves. The irony is that when we learn how to do this, others tend to like us too! When we're constantly on the search for approval from others as I was, we come across as needy and insecure and usually don't get the reaction we are seeking, no matter how good we are at masking ourselves as confident and independent.
Needing the approval of others
How do we know if our self-confidence is dependent on other's approval?
- Spending hours thinking about a comment someone made, trying to figure out why they would have said that.
- Holding grudges.
- Feeling anxious in social situations.
- Worrying about what to wear.
- Believing we will be 'found out' in work, presentations or social situations.
- Isolating ourselves and staying at home more.
- Assuming random comments are 'all about me.'
- Getting angry with our boss, partner, husband, wife, friend when they didn't praise us for something we believe we did well.
- Rushing to see how many likes you got on Facebook!
- Believing something someone said about you is 'true.' Such as, 'you gained weight.'
Constantly seeking approval creates a hole inside that can never be filled. There can never be enough compliments. Even if we do get the approval we're seeking, the high will only last a few days, then we need more. This is because we're missing the point that:
- The only person you ever need to please is you.
- It's not the job of others to validate our self-worth. (That's way too big of a job for anyone).
- Others have enough of their own 'stuff' going on.
- The approval we're seeking is off track.
Many of us realize this on some level, but don't know how to go about filling the void by ourselves, so we try our best with:
- Close relationships, expecting husbands, wives, partners and children to behave the way we want them to and getting angry when they don't. On a subconscious level, we're expecting them to make us happy.
- Overusing alcohol and drugs to numb out from painful emotions and 'take the edge off.' Every human being has a desire to be connected to who they really are and feel happy and if this is not happening they feel bad, unhappy, down or depressed. Alcohol and drugs can provide temporary relief, but there will never be enough to fill the void, thus an addictions and patterns are created and eventually the effects stop working.
- Food. We all know that we eat less and often barely even think about food when we feel really good. Comfort eating is just eating to try to feel better, rather than the joy of being in the moment and enjoying something delicious.
These are just a few examples of how we attempt to fill the empty hole.
So, let's say you've recognised yourself here, it's certainly the way I operated for, oh, about 30 years and of course still do at times! Can you change? YES! What can you do about it? PLENTY.
Tips to get you started
Understand that it's not selfish to do what's best for you
You can actually become the happiest, generous, and most likeable person the more you practice this because YOU FEEL HAPPIER MORE OF THE TIME. Who doesn't like being around happy people?
Take 15 minutes daily to just breathe and slow down your thoughts. Over time you will have fewer thoughts. At some stage, you will have moments without any thought. It's in this gap that you feel the MAGIC, something other than your physical body. The more you connect to this, the better you feel. You will start to feel better after just 30 days.
Practice brushing off comments from others you don't like
This is hard at first and takes time. Instead of dwelling on the comment for hours, try to find a thought that feels better. This might even mean a complete re-focus, such as focusing on how much you love your child instead. If you can't find a better thought, try a distraction technique such as a walk or something you enjoy. The relief this will bring helps you to naturally find better feeling thoughts.
Try to look for one POSITIVE thing, about everyone you meet
No matter how hard it is to find at times! It's true to say that the less we judge ourselves, the less we judge others and vice-versa in our experience. Re-focusing your mind in this way means that over time you will look for the best in everyone and every situation, including yourself.
So back to the beginning of this article, what will actually happen if we give our children total freedom to be who they are? Will they turn out to be wild, unruly savages? Or will they end up as balanced, happy individuals, unafraid to make mistakes or try because they don't fear the judgment of others?
Have you ever seen a free, wild, in the moment, unhappy animal in nature?
I'll leave it for you to decide.