Each of us begins life completely dependent on others for nurture and protection, a reliance that last for years. Given this initial helplessness, an infant looks for reassurance via the watchful, attention of the parent or caretaker. Being seen conveys so much: the infant is loved, treasured, protected; assured of care while exploring the world, interacting with others.
If the caretaker is caught up in other dramas or a narcissistic self-regard, insecure connection results; the child feels vulnerable and exhibits a lack of confidence, displaying little desire to explore. The toddler, disconnected, becomes increasingly anxious of securing and maintaining the caretaker's attention. And if the disruption of this primary relationship continues, a wounding occurs; the child doesn’t feel loved for its innate, authentic, spontaneous self.
Children will do anything to secure attention and regard, abandoning their authentic behaviors, amplifying or suppressing needs, seeking secure connection. A lifetime's divide begins: authentic behaviors that fail to win attention are suppressed; fears and confusions are often stifled. Meanwhile, inauthentic, performative demeanors are promoted: perfectionism, people pleasing, meeting gender expectations, craving success and achievement simply for the regard and connection it provides. A false self, driven by the crusade for acceptance at all costs chokes the life out of our innate spontaneity, joy, exploration, freedom.
Decades pass. A woman or man stands before a room filled with applause, holding aloft a trophy signifying accomplishment, a career has come to a close, it all a drive for external reassurance. The retiree feels a hollowness inside, for the approval did not arise for authentic sentiments or acts. These external expressions of acceptance are sham, as it was all a performance.
Yet we don’t need to prove we deserve love. True acceptance begins within, by rewarding ourselves with attention and compassion each time we express and explore the authentic feelings that have been smothered and silenced. And there’s a healing power in relationships based on unconditional connection: from wise members of our spiritual community, from supportive loved ones; from the therapist or the genuine friend. There is acceptance available for our entire human experience, if we persevere and take the risk of expressing our hearts, not what others want to hear.