Do you approve?
I used to write frantically in my journal trying to figure other people out. Why was my mom ignoring me? Why were my sisters not on my side? Why was my boss picking on me? Why was my husband not paying as much attention to me? Sometimes, I wanted to crawl inside my journal and live among the questions that I couldn’t answer. Because the questions gave me hope. If I could figure out why the people in my life were acting a certain way, then I could fix them and make things better. And when I say make things better, I mean better for me.
It never even occurred to me that situations couldn’t be ‘fixed’. I thought that with enough energy and determination I could figure things out and I could get what I wanted, or really get what I needed. And what I needed was positive confirmation of who I was. I was an approval addict. I couldn’t let it go if someone in my life didn’t approve of my actions, thoughts, or dreams. I felt a need to justify and explain until I saw the understanding in their eyes. Then and only then could I relax and feel ok with myself.
That was why so much of what I really thought, I would keep to myself. I couldn’t stand the rejection. I would write down all my thoughts and future plans for no one to see but me. It was my little secret that no one could criticize or stop me from doing. I created a distance from people to protect myself, but that distance ended up making me feel more lonely and depressed. The actions I was taking weren’t teaching me how to talk about my emotions, my thoughts, and my future dreams and be ok if someone disapproved.
My journal writing started in childhood as a way to express myself in an environment that didn’t allow self expression. When I graduated college and got my first job, my agreeable nature earned me praise and promotions. I was flexible and accommodating and then I would go home and write down my true feelings. I didn’t see at the time that this behavior was slowly chipping away at my self esteem because I wasn’t protecting my boundaries. I knew that there was a sadness inside of me, a dissatisfaction. I thought the feeling was a burden that I would have to carry around and manage because I came from a dysfunctional family. I thought that it was a part of who I was, and I just had to live with it. I did my best to distract myself from my sadness when it would come up. When I did try and talk about it, I had no emotions. I was completely disconnected. The disconnection was one thing, but not knowing why I felt that way, or how to feel more connected with myself and others was what made me depressed.
But, I was in survival mode. I couldn’t let down my guard. I couldn’t express my true feelings for fear of opening up a a flood of emotions that I wasn’t sure that I could handle. What if I lost my mind from all the emotions that were locked inside of me? What if I became so overwhelmed that I couldn’t show up for work? What if I lost my job and couldn’t pay rent? I was on my own at 23 years old, I didn’t have the luxury to express myself and deal with the consequences. I had to keep moving forward and find ways to ignore my depression and sadness.
So, I became addicted to approval. I realized that I would come out of my depression if someone gave their energy to me. If someone paid attention to me, praised me, or asked me out on a date I would feel better about myself. This worked. I didn’t have to look at myself, I could just rely on others feeding me their energy. I didn’t know how to access my own energy, so I relied on others. As long as their light was shining on me, I was good. But when they disapproved of me, or took their light away from me, I couldn’t handle it. So, I would try and convince them to give it back to me. I would try and explain to them why they should give me their light and energy, not because I wanted a relationship with them, but because I needed their energy to not fall into a depression.
Why was my mom ignoring me? Why were my sisters not on my side? Why was my boss picking on me? Why was my husband not paying as much attention to me? I realize now what I should have been asking is, Why am I ignoring myself? Why am I not on my side? Why am I picking on myself? Why am I not paying attention to me?
These were hard questions to ask myself. Why was I fighting so hard to get my mom to answer the question of why she was ignoring me, when I couldn’t even answer it myself? Why was I ignoring me, but spending all my energy worrying why others were ignoring me? Maybe if they didn’t ignore me then I would feel worthwhile enough not to ignore myself? What about how I felt about myself? Did my opinion not matter?
I couldn’t say that I was ignoring my own opinion at that time, because in order to ignore something you have to be aware of it. I knew how I felt about the people around me but I had no idea how I felt about myself. How could I value something that I wasn’t acknowledging? In order to value myself I had to look at myself and get to know me. So began my journey to self discovery. Instead of using my time to figure out others, I started to use this same time to try and figure out myself.
Once again I turned to my writing. A year and a half ago when I started this blog, I didn’t fully understand why I felt a deep need and desire to do it as part of my journey. But I see now that this blog is my way of expressing myself and being ok with being ignored, or someone disapproving. Now I spend my time writing about me instead of writing about others. I am starting to get to know myself better and not only see myself, but value myself. I am also learning that connecting with others is so much more rewarding than seeking their approval.