Seeking approval in our grieving
Do you find yourself seeking approval in your grieving, and wanting your friends and family to validate the choices you’ve made about how to grieve? Do you keep quiet about some of your loss story or some of your reactions to loss and the strategies you’ve chosen for soothing your grief because you think that other people wouldn’t approve of them? Do you sometimes feel ashamed of your grief reactions and then try to adapt and put on a “social mask” to hide your real thoughts and feelings because you fear that your friends and family would be uncomfortable with you or even reject you if you revealed your true thoughts and feelings or asked them for what you really need?
Well, you’re not alone in that. We all do it. We shame ourselves about some aspects of our loss and grief experience in our attempts to seek approval and avoid judgement and rejection from our friends and family.
But here’s the thing… we’re ashamed of shame. So we don’t talk about our approval-seeking, fear of judgement and rejection or shame. It takes the kind of self-awareness, consciousness, courage and self-confidence that Dana and Rebekah have to talk about our shame.
The risks and pain of shame
When we feel our need for approval and our shame, it’s stressful and painful. So we do all we can to avoid feeling it and we work especially hard to avoid letting on to others that we’re feeling ashamed or wanting their approval.
We try to convince ourselves that we’re independent and we don’t need anyone else’s approval – what they think about us is “their business.” When that doesn’t work, then we try to numb our shame with everything from food to sex to medication and alcohol. And through it all, we’re on “high alert,” trying to anticipate what we can do to get approval and to persuade others that we’ve “got it all together.”
We’re constantly adapting ourselves and hiding parts of who we really are, and with each social mask that we add, our true self gets a little more disconnected from our friends and family, and – perhaps worst of all – we get a little more disconnected from our own selves. And really, not even being on your own side is the loneliest way to live.
Work at dissolving the shame, not the grief
In the modern Western world, we tend to approach grief as though it’s an ugly, unnatural and even toxic thing that has to be purged from our bodies. I once even heard a grief counselor say that, “Crying is like vomiting… nobody likes to do it, but you always feel better afterwards.” The metaphor conjures up the idea of grief being like bad food or unnatural toxins that the body needs to purge. And it points to our shame and social fears too – we’re about as willing to cry in public as we are to vomit in public!
We’re mistaken though. Grief is not the poisonous, unhealthy and painful toxin that needs to be purged. Shame is the poisonous, unhealthy and painful toxin that needs to be purged.
When we allow ourselves to notice our fears of judgement and rejection, and our shame about our grieving experience or the person we’re wanting to become after loss, then we can start to choose self-compassion and authenticity instead of letting shame rule our lives. Grief can feel very painful, but without shame, it’s a bittersweet, heart-expanding pain. Shame turns grief into a stressful, lonely, meaningless and sometimes even hopeless kind of pain.
What we’re really looking for when we’re seeking approval
When you read this article, many of you will feel ashamed about seeking approval. It sounds like such a lame thing to do (at least that’s what I find myself saying to myself when I notice that I’m wanting someone else’s approval.) But here’s the thing… approval isn’t *really* what you’re seeking. There’s a deeper need below the need for approval. What you’re really seeking is connection, relationship, intimacy.
As humans we’re wired for connection with our communities, because it’s the best way to be resourceful and survive. Perhaps more importantly, I believe that we intuitively know that, while love is the reason for grief, it’s also the salve that soothes grief, so when we’re grieving, we feel our need for connection and love even more deeply than ever.
When we’re feeling that deep need for connection, anything that could possibly cause rejection is terrifying. The potential of losing further relationships is just awful when we’re already feeling the pain of the absence of a loved one. So we try to avoid rejection and seek approval in our grieving.
It’s really helped me to notice when I’m feeling ashamed and seeking approval, and to remind myself in that moment that when I feel I need approval, I don’t need to feel ashamed about it, because what I’m really seeking is connection and intimacy. When I’m confused and I think it’s approval I need, then I put my social masks on and lose authentic connection and intimacy with both myself and with others. It’s total self-sabotage, because connection with my true self and with others is the very thing I really want.
When I remember that it’s intimacy and connection that I really want, then I can decide whether this person or community is the sort of person or community I *really* want to connect with. If they are, then I can choose to put the social masks away and to bring my authentic self to the relationship, instead of adapting for approval.
It’s not easy – this is always a courageous choice. But with every courageous choice I make to put down my social masks and bring my whole self to the relationship, I experience more of the authentic connection that I’ve really been wanting. And ultimately, the authentic connection – the love – is the most powerful way to both dissolve shame and soothe my grief.
Big thank you to Rebekah and Dana for having the courage to open this conversation that triggered this post!
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