Do you constantly make choices to avoid disapproval or criticism from others? Has this reduced your existence to a life dictated by others, rather than living your own life?
Most of us have heard and believe that true happiness and freedom comes from within and that the need for approval holds us back from creating the life we want.
So, why don’t we change?
During one of my conferences, one woman, Roberta, shared her own struggle in seeking approval throughout the eight years of her marriage until she realized the truth behind her fear of letting it go. Today, in hopes that it will inspire us to do the same, she has agreed to share it here.
I remember the first time I met him. He projected a confidence in his interactions, a sense of dominance in gaining people’s admiration. “This is what I want in a man,” I thought. But, given my history of dating men who were needy and clingy, I didn’t think he would be attracted to me.
The day he walked up to me, looked deep in my eyes and asked me out to super, I turned to jello and couldn’t put two words together. All I kept saying was, “Ahhhh, hmmmm, ahhhhh.” He gave me a smile that melted my heart, leaned close to my ear and whispered, “I’ll pick you up at 7:00.”
That night at super, he swept me off my feet. Saying and doing all the right things. It’s like he knew me so well, even placed my order in choosing exactly what I wanted. A year and a half later, we were married.
Living Up to Others’ Expectations
He chose the neighborhood we would move to, the house we would live in and the friends we hanged out with. I felt I should be grateful that he chose me and shouldn’t say or do anything to jeopardize it. Then, he started criticizing my activities and friends outside our circle as a couple. “Why are you wasting your time in that writing group, nothing is ever going to come of it. That painting class is totally useless and your friends have no perception of reality.” So, I tried harder and harder to be smarter for him and gave it all up to live up to his standards. Slowly but surely, I forgot who I was and waited for him to tell me. Basically, he said I was useless and that without him, I wouldn’t be able to put one foot in front of the other. I believed him.
Then shortly after I gave birth to our son, we went to visit my family in Toronto whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. When I arrived, my dad was not at the house. My mom and sisters told me he had been fighting cancer for the last six months. He had entered his terminal phase with probably a couple of days left. They never told me because of my difficult pregnancy and complications. We went to visit him that same day and he passed away the following day.
I cried and cried for two days. At some point my husband turned to me and said, “The birth of our son should be the most magical, happy moment in a couple’s life and you’re completely ruining it with your sobbing.” As I breast fed my son, an overwhelming sense of guilt came over me. I carried that guilt for days. Actually the guilt carried me into grieving more than just the loss of my father. It got me to grieve over not being the perfect wife to my husband, the perfect mother to my son and the perfect daughter to my father.
Living Instead of Existing
As everyone offered me their condolences at the wake, I tried so hard to hold back my tears. I desperately wanted my husband to hold me in his arms and let me cry. All I got was loud sighs and rolling his eyes to express his annoyance. I could no longer hold back and was suddenly filled with the strength to speak out without worrying about his needs.
“This is my father! There are so many unspoken words that I need to express with my tears.” And, I allowed myself to express all I wanted to express. For the first time in my life, I felt a true sense of freedom.
I realized that as much as I thought I needed my husband’s or anyone else’s approval for my existence, what I truly needed and wanted was to express myself and start living.
The next time I breast fed my son or spoke playful coochy coochy coo sounds to him, I felt the joy of a mother for her new born child.
Freedom in Standing Alone
It hit me. My whole life had been a mere existence of others’ expectations which translated in my own false expectations and got in the way of living my life my own way. I was afraid of standing alone and falling without someone there to guide me and pick me up. I learned that even if my husband thought I was selfish or a bad mother or that any of the stuff I loved to do was useless, it was up to him to deal with his opinions and that he did not hold the truth to who I was. The freedom I felt that day at my father’s wake opened my eyes to the realization that my happiness did not depend on someone else’s approval or seeking their love, it was in filling up my own cup with love inside. I exhausted my energy to meet others’ needs and expectations with a constant worry about how they felt or thought about me. The seeking never seemed to end, it only got worse with added anguish, despair and hurt. I was so afraid of being isolated, never realizing that this fear was the very thing creating my isolation. There’s a huge difference between standing alone and isolation. I always believed they were one in the same thing. I was wrong.
In standing alone, you’re never isolated. You’re filled with abundance without seeking and depending on others.
It’s an abundance of a love that lets you be who you are and grow from life. You don’t need someone’s permission to grow and live through your trials and errors. It’s an abundance that lets you fully connect with others without putting on a facade to get their approval. It’s an abundance that draws people to you for who you are and receive their love.
It’s been two years since my husband and I got divorced. I don’t know that divorce or walking away from any relationship, career or situation is the answer for everyone. It was not an overnight decision especially because of my son. But, as soon as I let go of depending on him for my happiness, it became easier and clearer that this was the best thing for the three of us.
Creating the Life You Want
Being a single mom, I faced many struggles and discovered the strength I had to get through them. I discovered an energy and vitality to do things I never thought I could do unless someone approved. I took a sabbatical leave from the college where I taught English literature and started working from home as an editor. I got to spend more time with my son, go out for long walks in the park and continue with my writing group and painting. I enrolled in two big exhibition events (every six months) that run for three days selling my paintings. I began giving seminars with my writing group. My relationships have enriched. Without the worry of whether or not they approve of what I say or do, I am totally present and authentic when engaged in any interaction.
I used to think that taking care of my needs was the most selfish thing to do. But, I realized that it’s quite the opposite. It has made me a better, more giving and caring person. And most of all, a better mom to my son!
How about you, are you existing for other’s approval and trying to live up to their expectations? What’s one expectation you can let go of right now to free yourself and start living?