Sticks and Stones and Other Lies

Why is it so important for me to be liked? Why is disappointing others my worst fear? And what do I do when someone intentionally tries to break me?

For a myriad of reasons, I need approval. Not constant back patting and cheerleading, but every once in a while, a “good job” or other sign of genuine appreciation really goes a long way. 

And it’s not just at home, or with friends, or at work, but everywhere. I seek approval and fear disdain. 

I imagine that people are judging me all the time. When I go grocery shopping, I imagine what the cashier thinks about the items in my cart. And I start rationalizing my purchases. Yes, I have a box of Nutter Butter snack packs, but I also have grapes.                         

And it’s realistic to think that this is crazy, that the cashier could not care less, but after being publicly judged for buying baby formula and pull-ups ONCE, I think it is happening all the time. 

Like about a month ago, a cashier complimented my shopping cart for being neat and orderly, so now I’m hyper-aware of how I pack my cart. 

I feel like I ooze this vulnerability. I want to be seen as a good patient at the doctor’s office and so I read those “Things doctors wish you knew” articles like the gospel. I listen, have my list of questions ready and acquiesce. I want to be seen as a good mom so I swallow my insecurities about small talk and socializing and make friends with people at the playground so my kids have someone to play with. 

I’m not sure where this came from, but I do know that I have felt this way most of my life. I can remember washing the car in my parents’ driveway and hoping that anyone who was watching noticed how well I washed all of the car. How I vacuumed every last crumb. How responsible I was. How hard working I was.

Is that narcissism? I worry about that. Am I so full of myself that I think everyone is watching me? 

Or is it paranoia? Worried that everyone is watching and judging me?

Either way, it’s not a good trait. 

So when someone picks up on this vulnerability and exploits it, uses it to their advantage, I feel completely paralyzed. My spirit deflates. My enthusiasm evaporates. My heart crushes. 

And what do I do? 

The normal advice would be, “Don’t worry about it. It’s their problem, not yours.” “You can’t let someone like that get to you.” “Just put your head down and move on.”

But it’s just about impossible for me to do that.

I have to fight the urge to do more, show more, be more to win that person over. I have to fight my brain that says it’s due to some deficiency in me, some level of incompetence, some personal failing. I have to fight the spiral that threatens to develop that says if this person feels that way, all people feel that way.

So what can I do?

I can write this, as a way of expressing those feelings that aren’t good for me. I can go for a run and tire my body and brain to diminish the thoughts in my head. I can email and text friends who have my back. I can play board games with my kids and watch the Olympics.

And I can hope that’s enough to keep the thoughts away.

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