Escaping from prison

“Care about people’s approval, and you will be their prisoner.” ~Lao Tzu

Yesterday’s DailyOM posting was about other people’s agendas. It talked about the pressure we get from other people to live our lives in a way to line up with their agendas for our life. Sometimes their agendas are a reflection of their care for us, but sometimes they are a result of some need of their own. Often they are a mixture of both. The challenge is in finding a way to appreciate and consider their point of view while retaining the right to make our own choices for our own lives.

I tend to attract people into my life who have strong agendas for how I should live my life. I suspect that some of this is due to me repeating unresolved issues with my mother until I get this figured out; some of it is also likely a natural outcome of my co-dependent nature. Regardless of the cause, I find myself repeatedly in situations where I care deeply about having someone’s approval in some way which causes me to wind up a prisoner to their agenda for my life.

Fortunately, I don’t do this with everyone. There are plenty of ways in which I have been able to live in ways that are authentic for me even when they don’t fit with cultural expectations: not owning a TV, leaving full-time employment for a part-time job that is underemployment for my capabilities (and experience and education), among other things. I can shrug off the need for approval from the vast majority of people.

However, there are always those few people who are close to me who I really do want to approve of me—not necessarily always agree with me, but approve of me in the sense of fully seeing me as I am, valuing my authentic expression of myself, and loving me even when they don’t agree. Ironically, it seems that those people wind up being the very ones that are most likely to develop these strong agendas about how I need to live me life. This puts me in the no-win situation of being unable to get the very acceptance that I so crave. As soon as I find myself needing to live within someone else’s agenda in order to buy their approval, then I am living outside of my authentic self so that even if it wins me their approval, it is not the acceptance of the true me that I so crave. If I refuse to buy into their agenda, then they are not able to still appreciate me as I am because I have disappointed them. Either way, I lose.

I clearly need to let go of the need for approval or acceptance from others in order to free myself from this trap. I find that as I grow in self-acceptance, the need for approval from others is decreasing. (It’s still a very marginal decrease at this point, but every little bit is a cause for celebration!)

One of our discussions at my yoga teacher training weekend was about the ways that we give energy to other people, to old wounds, to limiting beliefs and thoughts. It made me realize how much I do this with these people who I want acceptance and approval from so badly. Even when I refuse to live within their agenda, I spend enormous energy defending my choices (mostly internally). I spend huge amounts of energy trying to convince them that my decisions, choices, ideas, opinions, or feelings have just as much value as theirs do, even if they can’t approve of them. Or I cave in and give up my truth trying to please them and then pour out my energy in forcing myself to live inauthentically, which leads to resentment and self-betrayal.

Even if I have not yet grown strong enough to release the need for acceptance and approval of those I love, I think I may be able to start by observing the ways that I drain my energy over the issue. In the observing, I will learn to limit the energy given away. In limiting the energy lost to these no-win situations, I will have more energy to spend on continuing to learn to accept myself and further release my need to get that from anyone else.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think that in learning to observe this energy flow, I have found a key to moving forward on this journey in a positive and intentional way. Now it’s just a matter of observing and taking one step after another. I can do this. Just like Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption, I can dig my way out of this prison one stroke of the pick at a time.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.