In our birth family we had to do and say what others deemed appropriate, and we needed approval so our basic needs would be met.
Then socially we sought approval to create friendships. Peer relationships made us feel apart of something and connected us to something bigger than ourselves.
These are the most impactful and important parts of our acceptance journey; the first relationships that allow us to survive and thrive in society.
But as we grow older, other people’s approval is no longer essential for our survival.
Of course we want to maintain our family connections and our important friendships, and of course we appreciate recognition from others, but as adults we can meet our basic needs.
Other people’s approval is a bonus rather than an essential.
But when someone doesn’t accept us, we may initially feel that deep fear from childhood, the one that makes us feel like we are unsafe if we don’t meet other people’s needs.
The truth is that in most families, all needs would have been met even without consistent approval.But young children with growing brains don’t always know this; they think in black and white and either feel loved (safe) or not loved (unsafe).
And this belief system is carried into adulthood; unrecognized as old or false, it shows up and affects today’s choices.
The fear of not being loved, or not being approved of is our most common human fear. And when someone is unkind, or says something nasty on social networking, or breaks up with us, or chooses another instead of us, or flips us off in traffic, or doesn’t hire us for a job, it can take us back to that childhood place, the place of feeling unloved, unaccepted, unsafe.
But our job is to recognize that this is no longer true (or may have never been true).
The deep feeling of fear and disconnection is an old wound or an old misunderstanding, and that right now, in the present, some people may not approve, but that doesn’t challenge our ability to survive.
It may hurt, it may be uncomfortable, but that initial fear you have, the one that makes you reel, the one that makes you attack, the one that brings you to your knees, that’s probably the old wound, not the present day circumstance.
So now, when someone doesn’t approve, or someone says something unkind, you may be able to respond in a way that is consistent with the reality of this moment.
Maybe you can first listen and see if there is something to learn. Or if the person is irrational or intending to harm, you can let it go and realize it’s their own pain they are dealing with, it has nothing to do with you.
And maybe, if you really want to take it deeper, it will remind you to be more accepting of others instead of disparaging or judgmental.
Maybe the feeling of the old wound or the sting of the present day accusation will remind you to be more caring and accepting toward other people.
As you begin to accept others, you may notice the fears of being unaccepted begin to fade away. Not because you have gotten tough and uncaring, but because you have become more compassionate and empathetic.
You have regained your foundation, you are living in the moment, and you recognize you are safe, right now, right here.
And other people’s inability to fully accept you is their opinion rather than something you need to fix, change, or worry about.
Being able to handle other people’s negative opinions or choices without internalizing it or retaliating is strength, and being able to accept yourself without everyone’s approval is a sign of growth and maturity.
Recognizing judgment and learning to accept others is empowerment and freedom. It heals that old childhood wound, and it changes your life.
Cathy Cassani Adams, LCSW, CPC, is the author of The Self-Aware Parent, the host of Zen Parenting Radio, a columnist for Chicago Parent Magazine, and a blogger for Chicago Now. She’s a self-awareness teacher and yoga instructor in her community, and she teaches in the Sociology Department at Dominican University.