Approval and a Sense of Self-Worth

Approval and a Sense of Self-Worth
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The other day a patient was crying to me, devastated over the the fact that her sister didn't approve over her choices in career or husband. She felt isolated and alone by her sister's disapproval. Tormented by this, she would spend hours in the middle of the night cogitating over how to win her approval. Then she said the infamous line I've heard echoed by many over the years, "I know she loves me, but she makes me feel..."

When I was 16 years old, I came home from school one afternoon, wrote my mom a letter and then swallowed a handful of pills. The thought repeating on a non-stop loop was I can't go to gym class tomorrow, I just can't go to gym class tomorrow. Growing up in McKeesport, PA in the early 1980s, throwing a football or hitting a baseball appeared to be requisites for manhood, and I was failing miserably. I preferred theater, film, and music. I longed to do the aerobics classes with the girls, but that was unfathomable to any of my teachers, let alone my peers. I believed, no, I was convinced, I would never gain the approval of my friends, fellow high schoolers or adults. After all, how could I when I was told by the media, certain organizations, and the not so kind boys in my gym class that people like me were somehow damaged goods. No, I would never win their approval; my life had no value; I had no worth. My only conceivable option was to end it. However, the main side effect from my choice of medication was intense vomiting, so I lived to see another day.

Flash forward decades and I recognize that several people still hold to the opinion that I am worthless, vile, or as one person said to me once, an abomination. On this topic, I have no attachment to their opinion, nor do I have any desire to change their mindset. I do not wish ill of them, nor do I harbor any malice. I do pray for safety, and that they do not inflict harm on myself or others whom they deem unworthy.

The years were far from easy. A ton of rocks, potholes, and outright craters caught me off guard and I fell hard. What I do know is this - others will disapprove. Of gender, of love interests, of professions, of political views, of spiritual pursuits. Furthermore we may feel that disapproving eye about our clothing, homes, modes of transportation, hobbies, favorite TV shows, and even our favorite ice cream flavor. All of these have more to do with the one assigning value than about our own worth.

We are all beautiful beings whose intrinsic value and worth is unquestionable. If I had one wish for all of us, it would be self-compassion. People will judge, and if we look in the mirror we may find that the pain we believe is inflicted at the hands of others is really our own doing. By blindly accepting, adopting, then feeding those beliefs of others, we only harm ourselves. Rather than spend the time and energy trying to convince others we are worthy, how much life force would we conserve if we practice loving kindness to both ourselves and others, and embrace our intrinsic self-worth.

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