Got Approval?

Really, he's looking for approval.
Really, he’s looking for approval.

I’m thinking about approval-seeking this morning, mainly because it’s one of those things I can’t relate to and I wonder if I’m missing out on something.

I don’t expect approval. I don’t look for it. I don’t always notice it when it is offered.

And I’m beginning to think that that’s one way of getting it.

We internalize the expectations of our parents and important others as children, generalize them, and turn them into expected standards of behavior. I was raised in a cult that made it quite clear that worrying what anyone thought about me or my choices was an indication of a character flaw. They told me to be a Daniel and dare to stand alone. They told me to have a purpose true.

I took it too far and stopped caring what they thought either, but I’m sure that wasn’t part of the plan.

My dad helped too. I’m sure I’ve let him down in the worst possible way because I didn’t grow up to be a felon. But I’ve done my best to be tough, to try not to let too many feelings show, and to not care what anyone thinks. I’m sure I’ve done that to please him. Even though I never intend to see him again. He lives on in my head.

People do that–keep living on in your head.

Women complain most often that they find themselves sacrificing too much–not voicing opinions, not asserting preferences, catering too much to someone else’s desires–in order to gain approval.

Of course, what they really want is dinner, but you’ll notice how they’re doing it.

But I suspect that it’s just a matter of what they were raised to believe would gain them approval. When men stand up for themselves, assert their rights, try to be forceful, fail to show emotions and are generally irritating and insensitive to women, they are looking for approval as well–not from the person they are interacting with, but the invisible father or coach or alpha boy in their second-grade class that they now carry around in their heads as a model of how to be. Because those behaviors are every bit as much what was expected of them by someone important when they were little boys as submission and deference to others is expected of little girls.

It isn’t just women who want approval. We all want it. Even I do. But I was taught to get it by not giving a damn. I know that sounds strange, but if you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know that the way I was raised was strange.

So how do you stop seeking approval? I don’t think you can. I think that’s a little like trying to stop breathing air or drinking water. It’s just what we do.

Look at your dog. Your dog wants approval. Looking for approval is what intelligent social animals do. (Locusts are gregarious, but I’m not sure they take it quite that far.) It helps us get along and it helps us learn culturally acquired skills and knowledge that allow us to be successful in the world and among other people

What you need, and I need, is not to stop seeking approval, but to find people–real and imagined–who can give it to us, and who can give it to us for being our best selves rather than our worst ones.



A Dish Best Served Cold

Stick with gazpacho. It tastes better.
Stick with gazpacho. It tastes better.

Gender roles give us different kinds of problems.

Dana Jack did some research on this. She says women are often depressed because they try too hard to be compliant, to be self-sacrificing, and to avoid conflict with important others by suppressing their needs and feelings.

Women interviewed for her study reveal compliant exteriors and internal selves boiling with rage and frustration.

I didn’t grow up with those gender roles.

I grew up with a mother visibly, loudly, dangerously enraged–not in a quiet, passive, suppressed way, but in a way that was physically assaultive.

And a father who never, ever lost his cool.

My father understood that old adage about revenge. He served everything cold. He planned. He waited. And in the end he always gave you exactly what he thought you deserved in a way that he knew would hurt you most.

I am still more comfortable with someone who will tell me exactly what has pissed them off about me and why. That I feel I can deal with. What I can’t stand is the person who keeps it in, uses the silent treatment, or just doesn’t speak up.

That person feels dangerous to me.

What you learn in a house with a psychopath is not just to suppress unfeminine expressions of anger and resentment, but to suppress everything. Rage, in fact, may be the only acceptable emotion to express.

But anything that suggests a way to get at you–that needs to be hidden. So you keep quiet about what you love, what has meaning for you, what brings you pleasure and joy. These things need to be kept secret, because later they will be used against you.