I have spent so much of my life worrying about clinging onto the comfort blanket of other people’s approval. It’s so much easier to look for external validation as it puts all of the onus on the other person and I didn’t have to dig deep for it myself.
Not always the case though
When I was young I had an amazing sense of self. Before things got really bad with my mum (and her drinking) I was that annoying kid at school – the one that was in all the bands, orchestras, choirs, hockey team, netball team, got roles in all the school plays, etc. and although my peers at school thought I was a kiss-up and teacher’s pet, I knew who I was for the most part. It might not always have made me the most likeable character, but I was generally approved of and had great relationships with my teachers.
The problem was
The problem was that although I was this shining star – both academically and for all the extra-curricular activities too, I didn’t really know my value. My value was all tied up in the external validation, the prizes, the praise. When I did something well – like winning a singing competition – my value was high. When I hadn’t done anything I felt quite low. So I kept on achieving to maintain my value, my worth.
The first shock came when I got to uni in London. I was so not a big deal any more. I had grown up in the Sheffield – where everyone seems to know everyone else, despite the size of the city, and I was “The Singer”, “The Hockey Defender” and owned other titles too. Fast forward to London and overnight it became…and so what? And because I never had my own sense of value, not being able to shine or stand out meant suddenly I felt worthless. And being “gobby”, as they say up North, was suddenly akin to being an upstart or a wannabe and I slid back into the shadows like the unknown creature that I was.
And the girls at uni? Quite frankly were not that nice to me. I didn’t “fit in” because I didn’t go out partying on certain substances for a whole weekend, and neither was I the type to sit in and play chess and talk politics. I truly had no place.
Let the people pleasing begin
And it didn’t take me long to realise that fitting in was a whole heap safer. So adopting a nonchalant London-esque attitude, talking about the right movies, the right clubs and pubs, looking right, sounding right, was my key to feeling accepted. Being a pleasing version who was so chilled and charming, to light and witty, so funny and care free would be so much more liked and ‘cool’. If I wasn’t threatening or too opinionated I was more welcome, right?
Being ‘nice’ works
For everyone else at least. Being in our box, clipping our own damn wings, means that people know who we are we are predictable and safe. We’re non-threatening and can be relied upon to do the right thing. But who are we really? Unpopular opinion is that being nice is a form of manipulation, you are trying to change or fix people’s perception of you. And why is that? Are you not likeable the way you are? Maybe, maybe not? (to them). But to your own tribe, your gang, your crew, you are utterly likeable.
The reality is
That not everyone has to like us. Hell, we don’t like everyone anyway. Imagine if all the people that really got on your nerves loved and adored you? They’d want to hang around with you all the time – nightmare! And we also don’t have to be liked be everyone, or even lots of people. Just the people who matter. Who lived us up. Who accept our whole self – not just the ‘best’ bits.
And social media is the amplifier
It makes it oh so much worse! Suddenly, ‘likes’ become an actually thing! And other people can see how ‘liked’ we are…they can even compare how ‘liked’ we are to how ‘liked’ other people are and So. Can .We. So now hunger for approval publicly and when we put ourselves in those spaces it matters to us what people think.
So what do we do?
Listen, a spade’s a spade, right? There is a place for external validation and thriving on the feedback and attention of others. It feeds our self esteem. But… it cannot be the only source of validation. We need to cheer our own selves, be proud of ourselves, and provide our own feedback too. And while we’re on the topic, accept all of flawed, imperfect, glorious selves too. (See my blog post here on Embracing Being Flawsome.) The reality is that our self worth is the long term vehicle for self love, not self esteem. Self esteem makes us feel good right now, but just as quickly we can be on the floor again.
Working on your self worth and self love is the most beautiful journey you will go on. It will serve you in the long term and make everything else in your life better, more joyous, and make you more resilient to life’s little knocks too. Want my help? Reach out on email on [email protected]
Buckets full of love,
Photo by Amin Hasani on Unsplash