On Getting Approval

Recently, I shared an Instagram photo and quote by Yogi Bhajan on the mindful hub Facebook page. you can see it bellow. I received many responses from mindful hub readers.  I wondered why it struck such a chord, but then I remembered that we are deeply social animals.  Whether we like it Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 6.48.00 AMour not, we need each other.

Soon after I shared a blog post from the Unbounded Spirit blog by Shemsi Prinzivalli called “How Not to Be Offended.”  Again, I saw a bigger than average response.

 We care what others think.  Why? Because whether we like it our not, we are interdependent.  But how do we keep this need for approval from taking over our sense of self and well-being?

Just like anxiety, fear of social rejection is an evolutionary response that kept our ancestors safe.   When staying close to the hearth at night was a matter of survival, being shunned by the group could mean our demise.

There is a story of an ancient tribe that would place an animal bone in the tent of a community member who had broken tribal law.  The bone meant you were no longer welcome. It meant you would be ignored by the tribe.  Inevitably, the tribe member would fall ill.  Even though the bone itself did not cause illness, being shunned from the tribe was emotionally and physically devastating.

In addition to matters of safety, social isolation is stressful.

How do we keep the adaptive social/evolutionary response of seeking approval from getting out of control?  Here are some tips to find balance.  Use them as a mindfulness practice during you next social interaction:

1. You are safe.  It can feel like you are going to die or be injured or come into harm’s way when you feel rejected.  Did you know that the area of the brain that registers social rejection is right near the brain’s pain center?  The next time you are feeling left out,  tell yourself, “I am safe whether these people like me or not…. there are other groups I can turn to.”

2. FOMO, technology, and loneliness.  it’s a contradiction of the digital era.  Physically we are more self-sufficient, and the social rules we play by are less rigid, so we are less likely to be socially ostracized for our choices.  Yet thanks to social media we get to watch others’ lives and on social media most of us show a photo-shopped version of life.  Even though we have more social wiggle room than ever, many people report feeling more lonely, yet very few people will admit to feeling lonely. It’s just not done!  Remember that loneliness is a natural human state (even though Facebook would like us to think otherwise.)  If you are feeling lonely, don’t isolate.  Reach out to old friends, make efforts to make new friends.  Don’t buy into the the Facebook version of life.

3.  Nature and nurture – understand your constitution.  Some of us born with extra-sensitive antennae regarding other’s emotional states.  This can make social interaction, especially in situations where we are being evaluated, very stressful.  Prepare in advance by knowing your constitution.  Being socially sensitive is not a weakness.  In fact you are probably the emotionally intelligent one in the group.  Let yourself take breaks in social situations.  Balance solitude with healthy social interaction.

4.  Don’t take it personally.  Is someone being harsh with you?  Consider this quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:  “If we could see the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”  Remember that another person’s response to you comes from a life time of experiences.  You may remind someone of the bully who tormented them in high school.  Stay open if someone comes across as aloof or disinterested.  They may just be defending themselves.

5. Practice authenticity.  You can’t control what other’s think.  Which leaves you with one choice:  Be yourself.

6. Praise and blame comes and goes.  Both Buddhism and Yoga teach that “praise and blame” and “fame and ill-repute” come and go.  We may be scrutinized one day, and celebrated the next.  Practice equanimity.  Remember we are all imperfect.  We are all here to learn.

7.  Balance external input with internal intuition.  This is where mindfulness can really come in handy.  Listen and learn when you are getting external feedback, but don’t forget to get quiet, and listen to your gut.  The more you do this, the more you will be able to say … “No…this evaluation of me does not sound right.”  Or if it does ring true, tuning into intuition will help you respond by saying, “thank you for reminding me of who I am.”

We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness every day!

Be sure to sign up for our newsletter as this fall we will be presenting a mini-course with five mindfulness practices to help you balance your human need for approval with a grounded sense of self.

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