Desperate For Approval

Anyone who works in the mental health industry can tell you that almost everyone struggles with crippling self-esteem for some of their life.

It is an epidemic.

We are a generation that cannot love ourselves and are intimately aware of our shortcomings. You don’t really need to tell me my faults; I have spent much more time fixated on them than you have. I know my personality quirks, some of you have pointed them out time and again. I know that I have issues, I really do. Chances are that you are keenly aware of your foibles as well.

I’m losing my hair. Actually I have been losing my hair for most of my adult life but for some reason the process has been ridiculously slow, for which I am somewhat grateful. Every now and then someone will delight in pointing out this fact to me – like I haven’t spent hours squinting in the mirror bemoaning my fate. I like to turn to them and exclaim, “I am? I did not know that!”. I turn around, pretending to try to look at the back of my head and mumble, “Are you sure?” This usually shuts them up, at least until the next time. Some of you know what I am talking about – you have weight issues, or a mole, or some physical issue you aren’t proud of. SInce you were young people have commented on your mole. Kids made fun of you. Someone has called you ‘fatty’ or ‘four-eyes’, or ugly or short or whatever. Apparently you did not know you were fat – it was awful nice of them to let you know.

I used to have a female acquaintance who seemed to derive great joy from pointing out my physical shortcomings; she thought it was hilarious. I, however, found it less than amusing. At the time I was struggling with how I looked and her cruel attempts at humour only entrenched the insecurities I already had. To this day if someone compliments me on my looks I am prone to be dismissive and blow them off. My wife, who understands me better than most, is apt to say, “shut up and take the compliment”. She’s good for me… and a redhead. I have a few other friends who know me enough to see beneath my overt confidence and realize that, like most of us, I am prone to feel bad about myself.

Growing up I was taught by an unforgiving society that any attempt at self-promotion was called “arrogance”. Telling others you were awesome was an unforgivable sin and punishable by derision and scorn. Adults told me, told you, not to brag because bragging about yourself was very, very wrong. Be humble, I was taught. People who talk about themselves are egomaniacs.

I have learned a little about ego and narcissism since those days.

“Liking yourself” is usually not a sign of an insecure and arrogant person. People who are ok with who they are do not need the approval of others and are usually not fixated with gleaning the approval of others. Self-confidence is a very good thing, when authentic. Appreciating your skills and personality, even loving yourself, is a very good thing. It’s time for someone to say it – it’s important to like who you are.

It’s time to make peace with you.

I am keenly aware that I will probably never be perfect. I am fairly certain that I am not going to be an underwear model anytime soon (hold on to that visual image…). Chances are I am never going to be famous. I might even turn out to be a bald old man some day. I’m trying to be good with that.

As I have often said on this blog, the opposite of poor self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of poor self-esteem is self-acceptance. Learning to like and appreciate who you are is perhaps the meaning of life or at least the beginning of wisdom. There is nothing you can do about your shape, beyond cosmetic changes. Most of you are going to gradually lose the fight with gravity, the older you get. You may never be rich or famous or popular.

Are you ever going to be ok with that?

There is no magic formula for poor self-esteem. There is no way you can suddenly think you are awesome when you have spent a lifetime loathing who you are. Healing begins with putting away the microscope and the unrealistic expectations. You don’t need to pretend you are something you can never be. Making peace with your shortcomings has nothing to do with thinking you are beautiful or perfect or brilliant. It has everything to do with putting down your weapons of self-destruction and refusing to let yourself fixate on what is missing. Like most things in life it’s about changing how you think, not how you look.


11 thoughts on “Desperate For Approval

  1. Great lesson to learn, that i think we will always have to master each and every day. I think we all need to learn to have grace for ourselves and have a little more grace to others around and us.

  2. I agree with so much of what you’ve said here. It took me about twenty years to realize it, but my youngest son actually ended up teaching me the authentic difference between arrogance and self-acceptance, and I’ve never let go of what he taught me. During his formative years, he consistently presented a “I could care less what you think of me” attitude, when, in truth, he was starving for acceptance. Wonderfully, as he grew into his teen years and adulthood, he evolved very naturally into the self-acceptance version of what someone might have, before then, called arrogance or a bit too high opinion of himself. He learned how to trust his own instincts, and to make sure that his opinion of himself reflected his own choices, and not the choices others were making for him. As someone who survived an abusive past, I have lived with ongoing self-esteem issues all my life; watching him mature and step into his authentic self was like observing a master class in self-acceptance. To this day, he still kind of catches me by surprise (he’s 35 now). He makes me so incredibly proud. Very lucky, I am. Yes.

    By the way, just for the record, my son was a flaming red head, who was “too tall” and “too skinny” and “not like everyone else”, and he already had a very exaggerated receding hair line by the time he graduated high school (he has learned to embrace the bald look for the past 15 or so years, and looks very handsome doing it). So much of it is about attitude, and as you have so eloquently stated yourself, about self-acceptance. Keep rocking your own look, and carry on.

    I especially applaud this statement: ” There is no way you can suddenly think you are awesome when you have spent a lifetime loathing who you are.’ That sentence tells an entire life story, in only twenty words. Well done. Of course, the good news is that we’re still writing the next chapter. Great post. Excellent.

  3. Great blog; I am a little biased because I’m your dad however you hut the nail on the head. Being from the wrong side of the tracks and always having a weight problem I was always feeling inferior until I left home and province and determined to “start over”. For me it was the Air Force that gave me confidence, acceptance and a great career and self worth . I have had a fantastic life because i try not to sweat the small stuff. (people commenting on looks and weight). Ashana is right in her above comments that we need to insulate ourselves with a thick layer of other people who accept us for who we are, with our faults, while distancing ourselves from people who don’t………I like your hair, just the way it is…dad

  4. I also think that we need to get better at finding people–and forming close relationships with them–that also accept us, that don’t need to tell us we’re fat or ugly or losing our hair. The problem with the media is not that it makes us aware of flaws we already have, but that we keep looking at it. And after a while, it’s like brainwashing, that sense that we cannot have faults becomes larger and larger. Until we believe it also. Emphatically. The people around us can be the same way, but because we believe that our hurt about it is our own fault–that we are just being thin-skinned and words (and looks) should not hurt us–we keep listening to them. And the effect is the same. But what we need to be doing is insulating ourselves with a thick layer of other people who accept us for who we are, with our faults, while distancing ourselves from people who don’t.

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