Saturday, February 7, 2009

When plenty is never enough


I've been thinking a lot lately about the need for approval - why some people seem to have zero need and others have an unquenchable thirst for it. I admit I am closer the the latter description than the former.

It's easy for a person to say that they don't care what other people think, and I've known a few who really walk that talk. People who wear outrageous clothes they find in dumpsters, and take part in role-playing games in the park, on one extreme - or who are complete sociopaths who have no conscience whatsover. But I think most people who say they don't care what other people think really do care - maybe more than the average person. That act of being defiantly bold and unique and living by some unspoken personal creed is in itself a seeking of approval for being defiantly bold and unique.

For those of us who are somewhere in the "mainstream" (whatever that means anymore) there's no denying that we are seeking approval constantly. To get the approval of your friends by wearing the current fashion, listening to the current music, seeing the hot new movie - to get the approval of your family by graduating, ascending, achieving, marrying, reproducing - to get the approval of your circle by espousing the political maxim of the week and jumping on popular bandwagons , to get the better grade, the sleeker car, the tres chic shoes, the latest set of irons, the promotion - all, to some degree, attempts at validation by someone other than yourself.

For me the approval I seek is almost always about making people laugh. If you've ever seen a two or three year old child do something that makes a group of people laugh, and see the child's reaction - typically to try and make them laugh again and again - then you can agree that the desire to entertain is innate in at least some of us. There must have been some time when I was a child when I got a good laugh, and that became my drug of choice. Fairly obvious I guess, for someone who fell in love with theater and made a living on the radio.

But the need for approval runs much deeper and becomes its own problem. Some part of me still seeks to know that my long gone father approved of me - a man who did not know how to give his only son a hug or say "I love you." Is that a gap that can ever be filled? Some part of me seeks constant approval that I am not too fat, that I am at least an above average golfer, that I am an insatiable tiger in bed, that my thoughts are deep enough and my circle of friends is wide enough.

It's not as if I don't get enough pats on the back. In fact, I often feel I get more than I deserve. But plenty is never enough. If I cannot achieve approval on my own terms - to approve of myself - can there be relief from this need?

4 comments:

LisaB said...

My biggest need is the approval of the person I love. Unfortunately, the person I love doesn't love me. We were great friends and a good couple. Just not good enough for him. So now he is gone and I still desire his approval. I think there will be relief from this need as I learn to understand that I can't control anyone's feelings about me by seeking their approval. I can only be who I am, and the choice to approve or not, is theirs.

Anonymous said...

... good enough parent ... good enough employee ... good enough sister ... friend ... spouse ... the list never ends. I thought age would lessen that need and it has, for the most part. But if it helps any, I don't know of any women who be thrilled with "an insatiable tiger in bed!" (Think of Madeleine Kahn in "Blazing Saddles": I'm tired, sick and tired of love .."

your daughter said...

well, look at it this way, you're a top notch time-waster, an above average whiner, and one of the all-time greatest bill payers.
yeah?
that's called optimism.
look it up.

love you.

Barry Martin said...

Thank you, daughter. I hadn't thought about how good I am at writing those check, but you know, you're right. I can pay those bills! Yes! I rock. You've really made me feel approved.