Your Approval Is Everything and Nothing
When I was young, like single digits young, I used to dance all of the time. I would go to birthday parties and throw my body around like a discombobulated puppet. And if there was a dance contest, I was first in line to participate. I’d never taken dance classes, never even wanted to, but I loved moving my body and the only guide I needed was the music. When you’re a young kid doing freestyle dance, it’s cute and funny. Then I crossed the line between “cute” and “know better” where I received different feedback.
Instead of the cheers and encouragement I’d previously received, I heard mockery and scorn. My peers ridiculed me and for the first time I felt ashamed of doing something I loved. And it hurt. Boy, did it hurt. I developed a bit of a complex and stopped dancing.
I had the same experience with costuming. All my life, we’d put on a costume and go out to beg for candy. Then, somewhere around age 11, I was suddenly too old to dress up, a new fact that EVERYONE felt the need to share with me. So, again, I was shamed out of doing something I loved.
This was a trend that would continue. Like to sing? Too bad, you suck. Stop doing it. Like to paint? Too bad, you suck. Give it up. Like to play games? Only kids play games. Stop being so immature. Like to write? Your writing sucks and it’s an unsustainable career. Over and over I was informed of what I should and shouldn’t do.
After a while that shit got tiring. And I was unhappy. I mean, come on – was my life really supposed to be work, exercise, eat, and sleep? Maybe some dates? Who made these rules cuz they suck!
Occasionally I’d test the water and try out the things I loved. It was usually with a change of environment like college or when I moved to Georgia. I’d dress up, share my writing, dance at a club or party and see what kind of reaction I’d get. Here’s the thing, though - as much as I thought I was testing the environment, I was actually testing myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I couldn’t handle the negative response. And it wasn’t always negative but that’s what I heard and what affected me the most.
It’s funny, we are born so malleable, absorbing everything around us before we can realize or understand it. We are imprinted by our families, neighborhoods, and experiences. Nature vs nurture – my nature is to do what I want. I was nurtured to observe and respond to other’s reactions. I have a high sensitivity to other people’s reactions and had to learn how to work through that.
I know I’m not unique in this experience. I think we all grow up learning how to navigate our environment with minimal damage and obstacles. But imagine growing up in an environment where your interests are accepted and nurtured instead of deterred and discouraged. Imagine being rewarded for speaking your mind instead of being told you’re disruptive. Imagine being encouraged to move your body according to your mood and feelings instead of these prescribed steps (I’m looking at YOU Cha-cha Slide).
Over time, I adapted -first by walling off aspects of myself until I could handle feedback, good or bad. I had to learn to trust myself and my judgement. I needed to learn that I’m acceptable as I am…actually more than acceptable. I am awesome and amazing.
I continue to learn how to balance my desire to create with the craving for public acknowledgement and approval. I am the tree in the forest; I make noise regardless of who’s there to hear it. I’ve reached a place in my life where I want people to hear it. I just don’t someone hearing it to affect the sound.
While it seems like I may not care what people think about me, it isn’t 100% true. What I’m really saying is that I like who I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t need to learn or keep striving for more. It doesn’t mean that I don’t hear you or that it doesn’t contribute to me feeling good or bad about myself. What it does mean is that I like and accept myself and it’s not my problem if you don’t.
It’s a work in process, just like me.
As children, we learn about the world. As teens, we learn about interacting with other people. As a young adult, we learn about ourselves. And now, I am learning acceptance.
I wonder what I’ll learn next.