Since I began therapy in 2011, I’ve been able to be an observer in my own life. I can separate myself enough from whatever emotion I am feeling, to analyze my behavior and interpret it truthfully. I’ve learned that many of my troublesome behaviors come from some part of me trying to deal with my past traumas.
I’ve learned that we all experience pain, fear, sadness, and even deeper traumas as children and many times when we do, the part of us that was traumatized gets stunted in its development and in a real way, left behind in our past. Imagine a little tree growing. A branch gets hit by lightning and its growth is stunted. The rest of the tree grows up big and strong, but that one branch is deformed; the leaves grow poorly.
Have you ever broken a bone? It is healed, but it still hurts whenever the weather is about to change and you have to favor it a bit for a few days.
These examples are a representation of what happens inside. The pain points of my past can cause me trouble later in life and if I am not aware of it, the trouble is worse. I used to feel like I was in chaos most of the time in my relationships and I didn’t know why. It was just my reality. Whenever I had a conflict with someone, whether that conflict was real or imagined, it threw me into a pit of self-loathing, worry, fear, and a sense of doom. Even if the perceived falling out was with a person who meant relatively little to me, suddenly this minor relationship would take on an inflated importance.
People who were “bit players” in my life held an incredible power over me, though they didn’t even know it.
My well-being was tied up in whether or not they liked me and approved of me. If I thought they did, then everything was fine. I rarely thought of these people. But if I had an encounter with someone and I thought they disapproved of anything I said or did, I couldn’t rest until it was fixed somehow. And if I couldn’t fix it, I would have to continue in misery until the feeling just kind of wore away, or I could stuff it down into the dungeon of my heart, pretending everything was ok.
I was not conscious of any of this, I just felt the pain of it all.
Some people have these feelings of despair over not being approved of, and in order to avoid them, they never express themselves. They live in a state of unspoken chameleon-ness in order to please everyone and never be disapproved of. They never speak up with what they really believe so that no one can disagree with them and possibly disapprove.
I am weirder than that. I feel the need to say what I believe the truth is, even when I know some people will not approve of me. Which is fine, it’s admirable even. But then the sinking despair and near panic kicks in because of that disapproval. And that’s not good.
This happened to me the other night. I was engaging in a face to face discussion about current events, a spattering of politics, and other miscellaneous thoughts. Something the other person said ignited a fire of passion in me and I expressed it. I could see the tension and disapproval on their face, and later on that evening when I was “running the tapes” (going back over each and every detail of what was said and analyzing not only my thoughts but guessing and assuming what the other person’s thoughts were), I noticed that this person and what they thought of me was looming larger and larger in my consciousness and I was distressed. They don’t like me! This is not good! I have to do something about it!
That night when I was supposed to be sleeping the crazy part of me spent quite a bit of time thinking about the event in a dysfunctional way, but the observing part of me was saying, “Hey, this is not normal behavior. What’s going on here? Why are you making this person, who is one of the bit players in your life, so important? Let’s think about this logically.”
So I believe in God (he is so real in my life and in the world around me, I could talk about that for days) and I believe he speaks to each one of us (kindly, gently, lovingly) through our thoughts and conscience when we are open to him and I heard his truth that night when I had a realization. The stunted child in me had been trying desperately to win the approval of others because I continuously failed to win the approval of my parents. I was reliving and retrying to be “good” by recreating conflict (like my relationship with my actual parents was full of) and seeing what happened with that. The child in me was trying to fix everything still, because she never was able to fix her relationship with her parents. When the “bit player” would be magnified, looming large in my life, it was because that inner child (me) was placing that person in the role of disapproving parent. When you’re a child, your parents are big, they loom large in your life.
Because I was able to observe this behavior in myself, I was also able to tell that inner child she didn’t have to do that anymore. I told her that we have let my parents go and a new, perfect Parent has come. I told that sweet little girl who was trying to fix everything that she could stop because everything had indeed already been fixed and Daddy is happy with her. Her real father, God, has always loved her and approved of her and she doesn’t have to do anything or fix anything or be anything except who she is because she was made on purpose and 100% delighted in. I told her that yes, it is nice if others also approve, but it is not necessary to try and make that happen. God is so big and all-encompassing in his love and acceptance that when I realize it, it mutes the disapproval I might receive from others. I can put every relationship in its proper place. I love others and extend love to others but I do not need them or their approval.
There is so much more to say about this. Like, what is the difference between gaining people’s approval and just trying to get along with them? If I stop seeking their approval doesn’t that mean I’m just going around being purposely offensive? Of course the answer to that is no. But I’m out of time and mental space, so I’ll pick this apart for myself in a future post, maybe.