Hi friends! Today I want to share with you what I've learned about the quest for acceptance and the effect that it has on our lives.
Our western world allows us to hide behind all kinds of material things – doors, walls, houses, cars, computer screens, private jets, sunglasses, shower curtains, fake tans, and internet profiles. In fact if we wanted we could live our entire adult lives without being in the physical presence of another human being. We could surround ourselves with all the material comforts we desire, interacting with the world only through a screen. We do this in the name of independence, but instead we become isolated and impressionable.
Our western world loves this. It feeds off it. It tells us that we need to buy things to make us feel safe, beautiful, and loved. But what it also does, which is even worse, is it teaches us to build mental walls. It teaches us to fear and distrust others, to make assumptions and judge the motives of others without asking. We learn to put shields around our heart and cages around our passions. We fear what others would think and we fear how they could take advantage of us if we didn’t. From a young age we begin to create an “acceptable me” to show to the world. The acceptable me wants the things society tells us it should want such as independence, financial success, power, and recognition. The acceptable me has a vocabulary overrun with “have tos”, “musts”, and “shoulds”. The acceptable me wants to be perfect, as “perfect” is defined and redefined by society. The acceptable me tells everyone "this is the real me" so many times that everybody, including the "real me" starts to believe it.
And so we live the acceptable life. We go to school. We study hard. We make friends. We say the right things. We buy the right clothes. We wear the right amount of makeup. We try every new diet or body building program so we can fit into an acceptable size of clothes. We get an acceptable job. We work hard. We work harder. We schedule more. We play less. We dance less. We laugh less. We sleep less. We complain about all the things we “have to” do and then continue doing them in our acceptable lives.
But we can’t really fool ourselves. We can feel it inside. There’s a hole that needs to be filled. Something is missing. The connections are superficial; work isn’t meaningful; relationships without “power games” are unheard of. And no matter how many achievements, houses, and titles we accumulate the hole doesn’t go away. And so we try to self-medicate: we drink, smoke, eat, take drugs, self-mutilate, shop etc. But the hole still doesn’t go away; it just gets filled for a while.
I see it kind of like a balloon effect. Whatever unhealthy coping mechanism we develop at first give us some comfort, some escape, a form of quiet rebellion against our acceptable lives. Immediately the hole feels like its been filled. We feel in control and actually kind of proud that we didn’t have to ask for help. We are strong enough to fix our own problems. We don’t need anyone. “Yeah! Independence!” But then we start to feel it: there’s a leak. We are slowly deflating. Soon we face the reality that we filled the hole with air rather than substance. We panic. We urgently reach for our medication of choice to refill it, but the leak gets bigger and we start losing more than we can put it. We inevitably shrivel up completely or pop. And when this happens, depending on the size of the tear, we either patch the hole, reach for our favorite medication, and start all over, or grab whatever is left of the shrivelled rubber, cling to it for dear life, and curl up in bed vowing never to face the world again.
Now there are some people have broken free of the “acceptable”. You may be one of these people, you may be one of these people on occasion, or you may never have experienced it yet. But we all know someone who is constantly free. They are the people that wake up excited every day. They bounce out of bed. They hug everyone they see. They are passionate and engaging. They are silly. They can have a conversation with anyone, and not just about the weather. They smile. All. The. Time. They reach out. They try everything to help others become as happy as they are.
And we think they must be on something. It can’t be real. We tell ourselves they are annoying, we may even try to sabotage their happiness. But we can’t; because it is real. When we realise this we get angry and beat ourselves up for not being that happy. And then to protect ourselves from spiraling into an even worse state we go back to pretending. Pretending these happy, stress free people don’t exist; pretending that our acceptable lives are the only option. We might even say that we are stuck but that its ok. That’s just the way it is... and anyway, its not that bad, right? I mean it could always be worse...
Does any of this sound familiar? I know it all sounds pretty serious. But if you look deep within yourself you will likely feel you can relate in some ways. If you are completely honest with yourself, you may see aspects of your life that stress you out, that you are not happy with, and that you try to fix with “things”.
I fell prey to this trap for many years. I created an “acceptable me”. I took society’s definition of success and tried to follow its recipe perfectly. And it worked. My friends and family will tell you that I am successful. Society would have checked the box marked “acceptable” if asked whether I had met its definitions of success. But it didn’t matter how many friends I had, how much my family supported me, how much success I achieved in school and in my career, there was still something missing. I felt constantly dissatisfied. I got something, then I didn’t want it. I played power games in relationships. I put up more walls than a city preparing for war. And I tried to fix it by self-medication, working harder at doing “acceptable” things, and more self-medication. I pretended. I refused to let anyone (especially myself) see the real me.
Some of you may still not believe any of this. You might be rejecting my words. You might be thinking, “Woah! This girl is not like me. Her problems were obviously pretty serious! I mean, I may not be Mary Poppins but I do just fine. Sure, sometimes I have a few drinks after a stressful day, or eat a chocolate bar when I hit a wall at work but I’ve got it under control. Its not a problem. I’m fine.”
And that’s just it. You’re fine. You’ve got it under control. Life should not be fine; it should be fantastic. Self-medication is not something that we should have to keep "under control". Being fine is not something we have to accept. In fact, we don’t have to accept anything about our acceptable lives.
This realisation was recently forced on me, much to the resistence of the "acceptable me". I could tell something was happening inside me. More and more the hole refused to be filled, even temporarily, no matter what I tried. At first I couldn’t figure out why and it was terrifying. Then one day I realised what it was. The “acceptable me” was getting to live my life and the real me, the authentic me, couldn’t take it anymore. She was getting really pissed off.
The authentic me had been suppressed and her anger had been building for a long time. And it was strong. So strong that she’s been able to look acceptable me in the eye and say “Get out of here. Its my turn now.” She started taking each the “have tos”, “shoulds”, and “musts” that acceptable me lived by, and gently setting them to the side. She started showing herself to the world. She started living. She’s found her passion and she’s alive. (Sounds corny I know, but its awesome.)
So here's to finding and living each day by the rules of the real you!
Stay tuned for more on how to start doing this and how it can allow you to live a stress-free life!
Take care for now,