By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
As a therapist who enjoys writing, several years ago I decided to hop on the blogging bandwagon. Having received a moderate number of likes and positive feedback, it seemed for a while that nobody was worse for the wear and maybe a few people even benefited. Then came the day when one of my blogs seemed to strike a chord. A friend called me first thing in the morning and excitedly said, “You have thousands of likes on your new blog and they are increasing by the minute!” “That’s great,” I said. “But maybe the counter is broken!” So, with a little bounce in my step, I headed over to my computer and sure enough, the “likes” were on a roll. Cool, I thought. After all, who doesn’t like to be liked?
Although some may refer to us as the Like Generation, wanting approval is nothing new. It’s human nature to hunger for praise. As babies, we crave the “oohs” we receive when our parents are pleased. As young kids, we feel gratified when we hear “Great job!” As teens, we long for the constant approval of our peers. As adults, most of us seek the approval of partners, friends, family members, bosses, teachers and coaches. It seems our approval-seeking never ends.
So, what about my thousands of likes? Well, a few hours after that phone call from my friend, I received a text from another friend. She wrote, “Love your new blog but you might want to pass on reading the comments. There are some pretty negative ones out there.” I thought: Wait! What? N-n-negative c-c-comments on the H-h-huffington Post? I’m just a small town writer sharing a few personal stories and tips!
While I used to strive for a black belt in people-pleasing, I like to think I have come a long way in my quest to retire from that role. But for me, the HuffPost is where the people-pleasing rubber meets the public access road. Is it fine that I get tons of likes and fine if I don’t? Are negative comments perfectly okay? Can I feel good about myself on the inside, no matter what happens on the outside–in the blogosphere?
For many years I have admired the Buddhist principle about striving to have the essence of a tree; striving to be so sturdy on the inside that even if strong winds blow, you will not blow over. Even if birds poop on your branches, you will not uproot yourself. (The bird poop part is mine, not part of the Buddhist principle!) So, am I finally as sturdy as a tree?
When we seek approval from outside our selves, it is a never-ending search. Not only are we at the mercy of other people’s ever-changing opinions but circumstances are always changing as well. We might make one friend happy but another is disappointed in us. Or we might please our partner one day but not the next. Perhaps our boss is happy with a new project we just completed (Yeahhh!) but is disappointed in the next one (Uh-oh). Or, we feel good about accomplishing a bunch of chores (I rock!) but our spouse points out the projects we haven’t yet gotten to (Grrrrrrr).When we constantly seek and need outside approval, our self-worth seems to go up and down like the stock market.
The need for self-approval (or self-likes, if you will) can be similarly unrelenting. Do we give ourselves credit for taking steps toward accomplishing a particular goal–or are we so hard on ourselves that we must achieve the pinnacle of success in order to warrant a self-pat on the back? If we wait to give ourselves the approval we need until our to-do lists are completely accomplished, our goals are thoroughly achieved, and our positive comments are at 100%, we will be waiting a lifetime. If we live for those likes, we will constantly be striving, waiting, wanting and hoping.
But if we praise and appreciate ourselves regularly then we already have what we are wanting from others. There’s no waiting, no hoping, no needing and no monthly fees or dues! We give ourselves what we have been seeking from others and… voila! And when we truly know that we are okay and likeable and enough (even with our imperfections), we won’t need to go looking for that approval outside ourselves and we won’t crumble if we don’t get it because we’ll already be liked by the only individual who can truly make us feel that we’re okay.
If we regularly give ourselves the love and approval we seek and need, then we won’t have to go looking for it. We don’t usually look for something if we already have it. We don’t go looking for our keys if we already have them in our hand. (Well, at my age, I sometimes do so let me try that again!) If your gas tank is full, you’re not likely to pull into a gas station to fill it up. We only go looking for what we don’t have. So if we are regularly filled with self-love and self-approval, we won’t need to look for it from others.
Some people think that if they stop criticizing themselves and start praising themselves regularly, they will lack the motivation to succeed. I usually find that the opposite is true. In fact, I often challenge my clients by suggesting that when they find themselves wanting approval or recognition from someone else, that they give it to themselves. Then they can discover how that feels and how that might motivate them. This does not mean that we do not ask others for recognition now and then, it simply means it’s not a self-worth deal breaker if we don’t get it!
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly thrilled by negative comments. But I no longer crumble or turn the negativity on myself or others. And I hope, if you receive less than positive feedback, you will not turn on yourself or others either! So give it a try. See if you can begin to give yourself the likes you are wanting from others. See how it feels to give yourself what you have been trying to get. Oh, and if you want to like this blog, that’s fine; and if you don’t, that’s fine too!