Monday, December 5, 2016

Approval Sucker

Tons of people say they are people-pleasers.  They do all sorts of things to make other people happy and feel validated themselves because of it.  At least that’s how I think it works for them.  That  isn’t an accurate description of me.  I am an approval-sucker.  A lot of the time, I don’t care if my actions PLEASE the other person, I only need to gain their approval to feel a sense of validation and relief that makes  everything feel “ok” again.  Unfortunately, this feeling only lasts temporarily and as it fades, the dis-ease starts to build and before long, I will have to concoct a plan to perform the next task/fete/trick to impress them and gain their approval all over again.  It’s chasing a high, just like any other, and was learned at a very young age and ties directly into your question about why I’m insecure.  To get to the answer, I think I better back up and work my way forward.

My childhood, for simplicity’s sake, can be summed up by saying a lot of people either flat out told me I was “wrong” or “bad” or implied it quite strongly.  I learned to be ashamed of who I was.  I talked too much, I was too chubby, I always seemed to get disapproving looks for one reason or another, and I was often made to feel like I was unimportant.   The best way to work around this was to perform.  Literally.  Piano recitals, singing in front of the entire church on Sundays, great grades etc., if I could perform and do really well, the grownups would cover me with praise and approval and I could breathe and all the bad things about me were ok and for awhile I could believe that I had made up for all of it and they must have changed their mind about me.  Except then something would happen, or the glory of it all would simply fade and before long, things were back to normal and I’d have to go back to figuring out what the magic combination of acts I’d have to perform would be to make everyone happy with me again.  I remember feeling like I knew the RULES of the game, but someone had taken the board and the pieces, yet still expected me to play.

 My teenage years weren’t any better.  I figured out that gaining my mother’s approval was a lost cause and I gave up.  Drugs and alcohol entered the picture and I spent my nights engaging in behaviors that no teenage girl should be engaging in.  I was looking for an escape from reality, but that escape came at the price of addiction and abuse and being conditioned to believe that I was a worthless and was lucky that the abusers I was spending time with were kind enough to take pity on me and let me continue to stay in their presence.  And every time they reminded me of what a bad person I was, I performed some trick or task or favor to try to convince them that I was worthy enough to keep around.  I needed their approval like I needed air.   It was a very messed up situation, but I stayed.  Addiction makes you do all sorts of things that seemingly make no sense, unless you have been there.

Eventually I got out of that situation and moved on to whoring my way through the bar scene.  Alcoholic women wrapped in guilt and shame hike up their skirts and pull down their shirts just a little bit lower to get the free drinks and validation they need to fool themselves into being someone worthy of being wanted.  I had been told for YEARS how awful and disgusting of a person I was and I knew it, but I figured if I played the part right, I could fool the dimwitted men in the bar into thinking I was someone else.  At least someone worth getting drunk and fucking.  That’s what I was after - the alcohol and the physical connection.  If I “let” them talk me into taking me home (because of course I had to let them think it was all their idea most of the time), I could pretend they thought I was sexy and that would quiet the insecurities about my size.  I could also tell myself that I was special because they could have picked someone smaller/cuter/funnier/nicer/etc, but they picked me.  I knew it would only last until morning (which was usually a joke because I’d end up freaking out and sneak out in the middle of the night), but a short-lived delusion was better than the truth.  The approval-laced compliments blurted out by these men in the heat of the moment would usually be enough to carry me through the night and if I could ignore the guilt and shame of once again going home with a relative stranger, I could ride the "approval high" for a few hours.

Eventually I broke the cycle.  I got away from that behavior.  I got sober, got married, got sober again, had kids, got sober again, got divorced, got sober again.  Addiction is a real bitch and I will be in the ring with my addictions for the rest of my life.  I'll keep fighting though and that's a good thing.

So...this begs the question...I’m 41 now and no one else in my life is actively telling me bad things about myself (unless you want to count the passive aggressive condescension from a certain matriarch).  So why am I still prone to bouts of insecurity that lead to the same approval sucking behavior?
FEAR, mostly, I think.  I am terrified of the past repeating itself.  I have a very shaky construct of who I am as a person.  I’ve never been able to give a detailed description of “WHO AM I?” because everything gets jumbled up and there are too many “me’s” to choose from from too many eras and none of them have a very positive spin on them.  When you ask me who I am, I immediately think of the person I was in my mid-teens to early-twenties and that person was awful.  That person did awful things.  I worry about what people will think about me if/when they find about about that part of me.  What if they condemn me without giving me a chance to explain WHY I was like that?  I didn’t just decide one day to become that creature.  There were mitigating factors.  I can handle thinking negative things about myself.  That’s old news for me.  But if other people think bad things about me too and I know about it, I have the overwhelming need to fix it.  Even if I don’t necessarily care about the person, I feel I need to educate them about the situation so they can see the facts and see that they’re misjudging what happened (i.e. their opinion of me is wrong) and if they’d only listen to my side of the story, they’d clearly see how I wasn’t nearly as bad as they were making me out to be (phew, I fooled them into changing their minds about me and gained their approval, now I can breathe again).  And that’s just what I go through with people I don’t even really care much about. Lol.  When it’s someone that I actually care about and respect, I’m always scared that someday something will happen - I’ll say the wrong thing, or screw up some way one too many times - and they will finally see me as I see myself and that will throw me into a tailspin because I won’t know how to fix it.
Maybe it just boils down to me feeling inferior?  I have always thought I should be better/smarter/quicker/nicer/funnier than I am.  I have intangible, yet high expectations for myself that I cannot possibly meet.  In the Big Book there’s a line about alcoholics being egomaniacs with inferiority complexes.  It’s not wrong.

As I’m writing all of this, I’m beginning to wonder if some amount (I’m not sure how to quantify it right now) of my insecurities are actually based on an older version of me.  I talk a lot about how the person I think of when I think of myself is actually the “me” of 20-25 years ago.  Just yesterday I had to send a picture I had taken of myself to my sister to ask her if that was what I actually physically looked like or if the camera made it look weird because I didn’t think it looked like me (she said that’s what I actually look like now).  What if I’m basing my physical insecurities on a body I don’t have anymore?  And the fear of “If people REALLY knew who I was, they wouldn’t like me any more”...perhaps that’s an outdated insecurity too based on the picture in my head.  If you take who I ACTUALLY am, you’d see a single mom, trying her best to raise her two daughters, working for her family’s company, while trying to unravel a lifetime worth of “stuff”.  That description doesn’t seem TOO entirely awful, does it?  It’s a very surface level description, but that person wouldn’t seem like they should have a lot of insecurities, right?

I don’t know if I have more answers or more questions now. Lol.   It’s clear I have to keep working resolving the past, but I still need to find a way to figure out to update the version of “me” in my head so I see a more accurate picture of myself.  Perhaps then I will be more content and accepting of myself and less concerned about everyone else.