What if we accepted ourselves and others exactly the way we and they are right now?
Acceptance isn’t about fatalism; it’s about genuine empathy and appreciation. When we practice unconditional love and acceptance, it doesn’t mean that we are resigned to our share in life or that things can’t or won’t change in a positive way. Instead it is about appreciating the way things are, and trusting that we and other people are ok just the way they are, without pre conditions.
Seeking the approval of others is something most of us learn to do early on in life, and is actually a natural, normal and healthy aspect of our growth process. However, as we evolve, seeking approval not only becomes problematic, but can be quite damaging if we don’t consciously pay attention to it. The pressure to perform and to “live up to other people’s expectations” creates an enormous amount of stress in our lives. Clearly, there are healthy expectations and positive forms of accountability that benefit us (i.e. when people around us expect excellence, integrity, kindness, success and more, which can in fact influence us in a positive way). However, more often than not, we place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to act, look and “perform” in specific ways; we believe we have to in order to receive the love, acceptance and approval we want (or sometimes feel we need) from others.
This is particularly true for young girls who are put in a pre conceived feminine mould of sorts from a young age. It starts off from bedtime stories of all-sacrificing Cinderella or ever-caring-Snow White. She carries these morals and images in her mind and grows up into a teenager pressurized to look and behave in a certain way. Size zero, Barbie doll figure, Fair Skin will attract men, she is told. The proverbial Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus syndrome comes into play.
If you wish to be liked, be a good wife, adapt to your husband’s wishes, she is told. But her knight in shining amour is actually ‘The Dark Knight’ who probably arrives without flowers and emotions. He is brave at expecting not expressing. Sad. The struggle begins – for her.
An innocuous question as to whether an outfit looks good on you or not becomes a giant leap into approval seeking behavior. It starts harmlessly but can go beyond limits and turn into an unbearable pressure of doing unwanted things. Addiction to approval leads to depression, anorexia, cosmetic surgery, body imaging, body shaping and even suicide.
Consciously or unconsciously we tend to ask ourselves questions like, “Will you still love me if …”
—I tell you how I really feel?
—I gain weight or my physical appearance changes?
—I change jobs or careers?
—I don’t succeed?
—I disagree with you about important issues?
—I don’t live up to your expectations?
—I want to change the nature of our relationship?
These questions, create an intense dynamic of pressure in our lives and relationships.
Stop. This is not the life you deserve. Stop seeking approval.
Instead do this:
Diagnose Yourself: You have to first diagnose whether the life you are living is making you happy or not. Are you frustrated? If yes, then find out why. Change starts with awareness.
Girl Power Uplift: Network with your friends. Be it your mother or your best friend , just someone who can understand you and make you feel good about yourself, just the way you are.
Self Love: Accept yourself the way you are. You don’t need to change for anyone. A relationship that tries to change the real you won’t last anyway. How long will you bend backwards to appease another person? It doesn’t work that way.
Communicate with your Partner: Reach out to your partner and discuss how you feel. Talk about your situation and tell him how pressurized you feel because of his expectations sometimes. Communication leads to solutions.
Give To Yourself: Give yourself that which you are seeking, which in most cases is love and acceptance. The source of much of our pain and suffering, as well as our joy and happiness, is us. So often we’re looking for others to give to us that which we need to give to ourselves. When we love and approve of ourselves, two important things happen. First of all, we become less needy of the approval of others. Second, because we are giving it to ourselves and aren’t as needy of it from others, we often get even more love and acceptance from those around us.
While this may seem simple and straightforward, it can be tricky. For many of us, our patterns of approval seeking began before we had language, in our pre cognitive years. As we do this important internal work, it’s essential that we’re gentle, kind and compassionate with ourselves. And, when we remember that the love, acceptance and approval we’re truly seeking is our own, we’re reminded that the answer is right inside of us, like it almost always is.
This essay is drawn from a piece in the huffington post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-robbins/learn-to-love-yourself_b_976960.html
Sumayyah Malik worked closely with the Womaninc team on the article.
Sumayyah is doing graduation in English Literature in Islamabad, Pakistan. She writes feminist literature.
Cover photo by Vinita Agrawal