Note: This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.
Like most people, I’ve spent much of my life seeking approval. I wanted to be seen as strong, smart, driven, and responsible. I made my choices based on this desire.
As a result, I had no opinions of my own. I liked the same music as whoever I was with. I went straight to college, after high school, and made that the primary focus of my life for 6 years. I waited to get married. I got a job in the area. I left the trailer park we had been living in, to buy a house.
None of these choices were “good” or “bad”—there just were the choices I made. There is no reason to regret any of them. What does matter is that I made these choices with the goal of pleasing those around me.
I once read, in Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, that the phrase “unconditional love” is redundant, because all love is unconditional. And that anything else is just approval, which is a judgment. I liked this, and I wrote a blog post about love and approval, Last Winter.
But I don’t entirely agree with what I’ve written. Because I now see that approval doesn’t even exist. People grant and deny approval based on their own fears and projections.
When people approve or disapprove of others’ actions, it might be because:
- They’ve chosen a course of action that has made them so happy, that they want everyone to experience the same happiness.
- They are feeling insecure in their choices and are seeking validation, by having someone make the same choice.
- They have regrets about past choices, and wish to make amends by advising you to choose differently.
We all do all of these things, so we need to be understanding when we’re on the receiving end. But we also need to realize that there is something going on, that has nothing to do with us. It is important not to take the other person’s words at face value, and to understand that our choices really do have no bearing on whether the other person loves or accepts us.
Realizing this is difficult, when the opposite seems to be true. It’s hard to remember that the person who seems to be disapproving of us and our choices, is really just acting out of fear. Making choices based on this fear will do nothing to alleviate it in the long term. So it is not worth it, to sell ourselves out, to make choices that are not true to our deepest dreams and desires, just to put a Band-Aid on someone’s deeper fear. In the end, we need to answer to ourselves, regarding our choices.
I remember something one of my blogging friends said in the comments, on one of his posts. He said, “We do what society wants us to do. But who is society? People! And people want other people to be happy.”