Approval Seeking or Authentic Living?

(I started the first draft of this post on 4/18/18…since then I think Kanye may have taken a dark turn on his twitter…I will, however, stop time on April 18th for the purpose of this post, so if you will, bear with me and/or ignore any of his other cray shizz.)

N’er (I learned from my youngest this is acceptable in iambic pentameter) did I think I would reference Yeezy in my personal blog. I do, however, enjoy insightful reflection from unexpected sources. Hence, my Kanye tweet is the basis of today’s writing.

KWauthenticity

I spent many years of my life, most years in fact, seeking approval instead of authenticity.  I believed I had to act, speak, think and look certain ways in order to be worthy of love and acceptance. This is exhaustion defined. No peace. No present moment awareness. No true connection to self or others.

Authentic. Authenticity. These are words that apply to original works of art, famous family recipes. What does it mean in terms of a regular Joe trying to live a best life?

Well, Kanye purports authenticity over approval. And frankly, so do I. So let’s dissect:

In 2006, psychologists Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis defined authenticity as “the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise.” The four components of authenticity contain the following:

  1. Self-awareness: Knowledge and trust in your own motives, emotions, traits, strengths, weaknesses, desires, etc.
  2. Unbiased processing: Objectively evaluating any self-relevant information (such as your strengths and weakness) regardless of the source (internal or external).
  3. Behavior: Acting in a way congruent with your own values and needs regardless of the circumstances and not as a consequence of external goals.
  4. Revealing one’s self in close relationships: Being open and actively disclosing both the good and bad parts of one’s self to close others.

Trading authenticity for approval then, keeps one disconnected from their truest core self.  So how do we move from approval seeking to authentic living?

Authenticity requires self-knowledge and self-awareness. People who are truly authentic accept their strengths and weaknesses and are accountable for their actions. Their actions and values are consistent with one another.

I used to think that my imperfections and fears were to be hidden from all. If I removed the mask and let people see the real me, rejection and judgement would accompany the revelation of my truest self. While hiding my truth, I also minimized my strengths by devaluing myself and my attributes. I erroneously believed that my contributions and presence were not noted, needed nor valued.

Understanding exactly what it is that YOU value is a major step toward living authentically.  If you are unclear about what you value and desire, it’s almost impossible to live authentically. This was an ah-ha moment for me.  At one of my lowest points over the last year, I literally sat with a clean slate – a blank piece of paper and drew/wrote what was important to me in order to become clear on my values so I could begin living authentically.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Value #1: Prioritizing my family- I could go into a shame spiral here but I will stop myself…I spent some years pushing my extended family (anyone outside my nucleus of 5) away from me in lieu of approval seeking behavior for those living in closest proximity to me (neighbors, kid’s school friends, endless activities that I thought I “should” do for acceptance, etc). I also wanted to keep my private pain away from my family.  I fancied myself as the familial caretaker, not the one who needed care. I was more comfortable in focusing on other’s problems than taking a hard look at myself. That felt too scary and vulnerable.

In clarifying my value system, I found that my “love tank” was filled up by my children, husband, sister, mother, step father, mother in law, sister/brothers in law, nieces and nephews. I had devalued my importance in these familial roles as well as their importance in my life. These family members love(d) me unconditionally, as I did them, and it was time for me to start acting in accordance with their high value in my life. And as I should have known all along, once I let them in on the challenges of my inner world, they were supporting, loving, and giving me lifelines.

  • Value #2: Connection & Compassion– I started believing and acting as if interactions I had with people were divinely inspired. That sounds crazy but it’s true. I would take a beat, a breath, each time I was one on one with someone. I wanted other people to feel that I truly cared about them in a shared heart/felt sense. I wanted them to feel safe to share their stories and for them to know they are truly cared for.  Taking a breath is also a grounding technique, which allows one to become fully present in the moment. Full presence creates a deepening connection between two people. Sharing my stories through this blog has brought me some of the most special interactions I have ever had in my life. These connections are absolutely sacred to me. They have have given me a clearer purpose, which is yet another step toward living authentically.

In therapy, I had a big fear that we returned to periodically – I was afraid that I didn’t have any real friendships and often asked how a women pushing 50 was going to find real friends. My perspective was that relationships are pretty cemented by age 50. My therapist told me repeatedly, and without wavering, that I will find my people and that my people will find me. And she was right. The more I started living in accordance with my value system, true relationships began forming and authentic friendships started to regrow. It truly was a “If you build it, they will come” time period.

This did not mean that I needed to shun existing relationships, only that I needed to release those that felt toxic. Living with connection and compassion as a driving value meant that it was time to heed my own advice: “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

Until this revelation, I had been willing to disregard otherwise unacceptable behavior because I thought that was the only way for the friendship to exist. It’s important to understand that each time we do this, it chips away at our sense of wholeness, our sense of self.  No, no, no, sister-self. You are worthy of so much more. 

  • Value #3: Willingness to learn and grow– Throughout this period of intensive therapy, I became a sponge. I explored, read, wrote, critiqued myself, journaled and went on retreats. I asked myself about my greatest shortcomings and my biggest attributes. What scary parts of my life am I willing to look at and decipher? When did I feel the most content in my life? How did the accumulation of traumatic events shape my thought processes and behaviors? Am I willing to “GO THERE?” Luckily,  99% of the time I said yes, even if it was only for a few minutes or even seconds.

This value, the willingness to learn and grow, was one of the greatest revelations in understanding my depression, anxiety and PTSD. Instead of feeling like a freak show of excessive, uncomfortable feelings and reactions, the pieces of the puzzle started to make sense. With time and care, it became clear that it would have been WEIRDER if I didn’t have these feelings and reactions after what I had been through. Through the core value of willingness to learn and grow, I was able to slowly give myself love, compassion and understanding.  I can assure you, this took the edge off my daily living, both for myself and my house hold.

  • Value #4: Invoke the Spirit of My Matriarchs–  In contrast to the traditional definition of matriarchy,  which is “a social system in which females hold the primary power positions in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property at the specific exclusion of male,” I created my own meaning.  My personal definition of Matriarchal Spirit is derived from the combination of attributes from my grandmother Althea, my grandmother Meta, my mother in law, Carol, and my mother, Annette.

While they passed away early in my adulthood, I have begun to revere the traits of my grandmothers and better understand their important influence in my life. My grandmother, Althea, my mom’s mom, was tall in stature, strong in physical presence and sometimes intimidating. She taught me to paint, took care of my itchy eczema when my parents were away, gave me a white bunny fur coat and muff (my most prized childhood possessions), was strong willed and a hard worker. She argued her points with my Pop-pop, which my husband can surely relate to. In contrast to my parents who, shockingly, never argued, I saw a woman who stood up for herself and her beliefs.

My grandmother, Meta, was a soft, smiling, laughing, bear-huggable soul. I would do anything to have had more time with her, yet I see/feel a lot of her in me.  When I force my hug-resistance nieces and sister to bear hug me, I feel as if I am invoking her matriarchal spirit. I think my silliness and quirkiness come from Grandmom Meta. When I picture her, I see her at her kitchen sink, laughing and smiling while she made snacks for my sister and I to eat under her massive Willow Tree. Her spirit was contagious and my soul smiles when I think of her. I hope to be that for someone one day.

My mother in law, Carol.  If you have seen her you know – beautiful inside and out. I think of her as an energizer bunny. She literally can run circles around me. But deeper than just being a “do-er” is the love for her family, her children, grandchildren and luckily for me, her daughter-in-law. She’s the person who provides help before the question is finished being asked, often without being asked.  There is never an expectation of something in return. She just gives. Let me be that willing.

Last but not least, my mother. Oh boy, my mother. Has she ever had her burdens to bear. And not just her own. She’s had to shoulder the burdens of others as well. She is unequivocally self-less, the most self-less person I’ve ever met.  She has shown my sister and I the meaning of faith and love, even when we have been prickly and not so easy to hold onto. In the face of adversity, she has been steadfastly strong, always knowing she is a child of one loving God. Always knowing she would be okay whatever comes her way, because of her faith. She is an incredible friend and deeply compassionate to everyone. She’s never met a stranger. I wish to live with a few ounces of my mother’s selfless steadfastness.

For me, Invoking the Spirit of my Matriarchs, is a melding the strengths of these women into my core values. I seek to be a woman that my children, husband, family and friends love in the same way that I love my female role models. .

So those are my Core Four Values: Prioritizing family; Connection & Compassion; Willingness to Learn & Grow; and Invoking the Spirit of My Matriarchs.  These four guide me down the path of authenticity and away from approval seeking behaviors.

Your Core Four will most likely be different than mine. Excavating your personal values will lead you towards the path of authenticity, and will hopefully guide you to the lifelong freedom of authentic living.

Thanks for the thoughts, Crazy Kanye.

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