And that’s ALL I need – Velvet Rage Skill #4

Like most good Americans
I don’t really know
what it is
to need.
Perhaps
that’s why
we get so much

wrong.


So, here is what most of May is going to look like on Defying Atrophy, in case any of you need a warning to avoid it…

A couple months ago I read a book called “The Velvet Rage – Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World”, by Alan Downs. It was one of those “life changers” for me.

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Downs has a chapter of various “Skills for Leading an Authentic Life”, which are not necessarily “gay life skills”, so anyone of any orientation could/should benefit from looking at these with me, unless you’ve already got it all figured out, in which case, “Well done, you!” For myself and the rest of us, I’m going to take one “skill” a day and blog about it. Some may be brief, some may be more protracted, who knows?

Here is today’s:

Contentment over approval.

Choose those investments in life that contribute to your sense of feeling contentment, rather than those investments of your time and energy that promise to earn you the acceptance or approval of others.

Oy.

This is probably the skill I needed the most for the longest time, and it is the one that still needs the most daily practice and attention.

I may not even know who you are, reading this entry this very minute, but I NEED your approval.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I’m growing, after all. If I had written this even 2 years ago, though, I can guarantee those words would have been 100% accurate. I would have been hourly monitoring my WordPress stats page to see if anyone had commented, liked, or even clicked. On an ad, even. On my page. Where I wrote. Something I ostensibly wrote for myself but ultimately was only “good” if someone else approved of it and, by extension, approved of me.

Sound exhausting?

It is.

And ultimately, it’s very unfulfilling. Ironically, it’s the opposite of fulfilling – it’s draining. And while we are on irony, when you are busy “being” and “doing” things for everyone else and denying any of your own needs and wants, you LOOK extremely generous and giving, but it is, in fact, an insidious and pernicious form of selfishness. I’m not truly doing things for you because I love YOU (although the most skillful of us convince ourselves we love), I’m doing things for you so that YOU will love ME, or at the very least, not abandon me. And THAT is not self-love; it’s a manipulative and addictive form of narcissism.

The thing about learning and practicing this skill is that many of us don’t know where to start.

We don’t know where to begin unwinding what it is that will make us truly “content”, because we BELIEVE what will make us content is found in gaining the approval of others.

See the vicious circle? And vicious it is. Tyrannical. It owns you.

I remember a therapist very early on asking, “What would make Ben happy?” And I said (somehow without irony) “Making others happy makes me happy.”

I sort of want to punch that Ben in the face now. That is an AWFUL happiness goal when coming from the “need for acceptance and approval” framework I mentioned above. And it’s awful for a couple reasons:

  • It’s not true.
  • It doesn’t work.
  • You might think for a while it does, but it’s an illusion.
  • When it does work (for a while, sort of), you live in constant fear that the approval/acceptance will be removed, and so you keep adding to the pile of things you “are” or “do” to make the retention of said approval/acceptance as certain as possible. But…
  • That fear never goes away. You’re always waiting to be left, rejected, unloved. Because of something you did or didn’t do. Or even worse, because of something you ARE or AREN’T that you believe other people want or need you to BE or NOT BE.

That’s not even a list of a “couple reasons”. That’s a run-on sentence/paragraph with randomly inserted bullet points. It’s crap. You’re going to read it and think “This is not a well constructed set of bullet points. Ben is clearly not worthy of my approval, let alone my love.”

Yes, really.

Exhausting, I tell you. And I’m still close enough from walking away from that orientation that I feel its tentacles constantly grabbing at my heels. The “tape recorder” in my head immediately begins to play the “this will never be good enough” track. Non-stop. Until I either fix the problem I think you will see or until I say “IDGAF” and turn the tape recorder off.

But here’s the magical part, and I sort of wrote about this recently, so if it seems familiar, that’s probably why.

When you finally STOP doing/being/not doing/not being for everyone else and actually attend to the things that bring true contentment (I have enough. I am enough. I am at rest), you find that the VAST majority of people you feared would abandon you are still right there. And what’s more, you find you draw OTHERS to you that you weren’t even TRYING to draw.

Know why? Because when you care for yourself and love yourself in healthy ways, you become more easily loveable.

Huh.

BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE!

This new, content, no longer seeking to apprehend approval from others person actually begins to do things for others out of genuine love, care and concern for others. AND you don’t even care if they appreciate it or reciprocate it. It’s crazy, but it’s true!

It’s practically Biblical.

Hmmmm.

I am finding that the more I love myself and believe that I am lovable as myself and myself alone, the greater my capacity to love others expands. And loving that way is no longer dependent on receiving anything in return to stay “filled”.

It’s sort of like this song I sang in Children’s Choir about a hundred years ago. It has always stuck in my head. I THOUGHT I understood it. Now I really think I do…


Magic Penny

Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.

For love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

Money’s dandy and we like to use it,
But love is better if you don’t refuse it.
It’s a treasure and you’ll never lose it
Unless you lock up your door.

For love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

lyrics © Universal Music Corp., Northern Music Co.

Indeed.

You end up having more.

2 Comments

  1. I chuckled at you wanting to punch that Ben in the face, a sympathetic chuckle.

    And for all that is right and correct in this post, sometimes one’s fear of people abandoning you if you don’t do things ‘just so’ isn’t paranoia but reality. I’m currently in the midst of losing someone I held dear because I “just wasn’t good enough” and that’s his poison, but it doesn’t make the poison sting less.

    Like

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