“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
The past few years have been full of hard but necessary lessons that I needed to learn about my relationships with others—their limits, boundaries, what healthy relationships are and are not.
I realized that the foundation for some of my relationships (the unhealthy ones) was my need for attention and approval. This, of course, was futile, because we can only truly feel good about ourselves despite outside opinions.
Because I felt inadequate and overly self-critical due to a past full of put-downs and personal failures (real or perceived), I needed “proof” that I mattered and was worthy in the eyes of people who represented the very individuals from my past who had shamed me, abused me, ignored me, and devalued me.
Growing up, I was always the outlier, and in a lot of ways I still am—the girl with the wild imagination and unpopular hobbies (art over sports, unique tastes over trends, time alone in introspection over socializing).
I was also the middle child who didn’t quite measure up to the overachieving big sister and gifted little brother—often ignored, humored, my “little” achievements dismissed.
While I was not mistreated or neglected in any major, obvious way, the lack of attention and validation culminated over time to make me feel like a general disappointment as a human being.
Even after many major accomplishments, I felt inadequate. I earned a master’s degree, married a wonderful man, quickly built an impressive career, made amazing friends, moved to my dream town and into a gorgeous home, but I still sought validation from others that I was worthy and wanted (and still occasionally do).
I recently realized that I was holding onto some people not because they were friends I needed (they were actually quite toxic and manipulative), but because they seemed to want or need me. They occasionally fed me a crumb of self-esteem—complimenting me, asking to spend time with me, and telling me how much they liked me.
These friendships were superficial and damaging to me because of all the times they made me feel just the opposite, because they were too busy or self-absorbed and I interpreted that as a negative reflection on me.
They reminded me of the people I’d failed to win over in my past. People I was still intent to gain approval from but never will. And I needed to let that expectation go.
I have ended or distanced myself from these relationships and I often feel heavy with sadness about no longer being close to them. But I know that the grief I feel has more to do with the loss of attention (“approval”) I got from them, not necessarily them.
It was selfish that I had held onto them for an (artificial) ego boost and out of a sense of duty, because a relationship had been established; that was unfair to them and unhealthy for me. I needed to be selfish in another way: focus inward and provide myself with that ego-boosting energy.
In approval-addiction friendships, both people seek validation and attention from each other instead of truly being there for one another, unselfishly. That’s a no-win situation.
I am now on a journey toward self-love and acceptance from within. I have developed four “mantras” I repeat to myself when I find myself drifting back into old relationship patterns, clinging to other people and things to gain feelings of self-worth.
1. No one else can prove your self-worth.
True friends can help boost it, but only temporarily. Authentic, lasting personal validation exists when you value and approve of you.
2. You are who you are, and that’s good enough.
You will have moments, even phases when you’ll doubt this, and that’s okay. Just remember: bad things are going to happen. Some people aren’t going to like you. But these are not a negative reflection of the awesome person you are.
3. Your friendship, time, and thoughtfulness are precious.
Invest these wisely and with integrity. You deserve it, as do your loved ones.
4. Be proud of yourself and all you do.
Depending on others to confirm that you’re worthwhile is a recipe for disappointment. No one will approve of everything you do. You don’t either, right? You have more than enough to be proud of and that pride should come from within and be unshakeable at its core.
Photo by kris krüg
About Katherine Reseburg
Katherine is an editor and writer by pay, artist, daydreamer, traveler, and photographer by play. She also enjoys bird-watching, cooking, and volunteering. She has an MA in mass communication/media studies from the University of Wisconsin and lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two crazy cats. Visit her at http://starryjuneart.wordpress.com.