Every person needs acceptance and approval. Why not be the one to give it?
We have an extraordinarily powerful need to be “received.” It starts young. As babies, we bask in the stare of our mother’s eyes as she buries her cooing face right into our own. “I’m here!” we discover. “She sees me!’
As toddlers, our instincts prompt us to repeat whatever little dance, gesture, action, or sound earned a gleeful response from those around us. “They like it!” we intuit — even before we can consciously articulate such a concept.
And on it goes. In grade school we put words to our desire: “Look Ma, look at me!” we demand as we do our cartwheels across the dining room floor or zip down the block on our new bike.
As we get older, we still want our parents to notice our cleverness, our goodness, our special qualities. But now, we want our peers to receive us as well. Failure to be well-received — noticed, appreciated, and celebrated — by those around us, causes deep psychological pain. Even adults depend on positive feedback from others in order to feel comfortable, healthy, and happy.
When I arrived at the hall I saw a couple of ladies from my block, picking at appetizers and schmoozing. So I went over and joined their little group. I was there for just a few minutes when the conversation suddenly ended and the group disbanded, each lady moving off to socialize within the larger crowd.
I didn’t really know the other people there so I was left standing alone in the packed hall. I felt so awkward and out of place. I was sure everyone could see me standing all by myself, clearly some sort of pathetic social reject. After a few minutes I escaped to the ladies’ room just to hide out. But of course I had to return to the hall eventually.
I decided to check out the table I’d be sitting at for the meal, hoping I’d recognize someone. Unfortunately, the few women I recognized weren’t people I had anything in common with. I decided to leave then and there. Why suffer through hours of discomfort?
Perele’s experience might sound strange to the ears of an extrovert. Why doesn’t she just introduce herself to someone else who’s standing alone? Why doesn’t she just make an effort at her table — it’s fun to meet new people and build up one’s social network!
Perele is an introvert, someone who loves her own already-established circle of friends and family but doesn’t enjoy “working a room” or otherwise reaching out to strangers. However, it’s not her introversion that sends her running home from the simchah. Introverts will put up with their social obligations when they need to and can often mingle just fine when the situation calls for it. It’s Perele’s mild social anxiety that ruins her evening out (a more severe case would have kept her home altogether).
Social anxiety is a fear of scrutiny, of being judged and found lacking. “I’m afraid I’ll say something stupid and they’ll think I’m weird...” It may be genetic and can also be the result of painful social experiences.
“Ever since I was bullied in fifth grade, I’ve been insecure around people.”
“I’m very different than most women in my community and I can see they don’t get me at all.”
At the core is the fear of not being positively received, a dread of being rejected.
All adults — anxious or not — crave acceptance and approval. Most still have an intense need to receive it from their mothers and fathers. While many have been fortunate enough to receive generous doses of it from their parents all of their lives, some have been deprived since childhood.
My mother only approved of certain parts of me: the “good girl” part who helped her out and the “good student” part who gave her so much nachas at PTA. But I was different from her in a lot of ways and this was impossible for her to accept. I couldn’t help who I was but she made me feel so bad for the way I thought and felt about things.
I grew up with a lot of guilt and low self-esteem and I still suffer from that today. And even now, though I’m all grown up with my own family, my mother still gets to me because she still shows her disapproval in overt and covert ways.
Because parental disapproval hurts so much, parents (and parents-in-law!) need to weigh the damage it can cause against the benefit it might achieve, every time they want to show it. And all of us — parents, children, friends, and acquaintances — need to remember that showing acceptance, approval, and warmth to others is a life-giving act of kindness!
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 762)
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