Cartwheels: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
When a child turning cartwheels – just for the joy of it – receives attention and approval for those cartwheels, that child begins to perform them in order to receive that approval. Eventually the cartwheels become old, the adults become less exuberant, and the child forgets that he was originally happy doing cartwheels just for the joy of doing them.
In these little ways, trick-by-trick, we become dependent upon the approval of other people for our happiness. Happiness lies in our own hands. But since we started getting approval for our cartwheels, we have forgotten how to find it by ourselves.
As a survivor, when I started my journey into recovery, I had no idea of who I was, who my authentic self was. I was aware of what I did for a living and what I had. Those were the things that defined me for years. In the last nine years I have talked to and worked with countless men that have faced the same scenario of wanting to discover their authentic self.
The realty is we get a lot of payoff in our society for being inauthentic. We grew up learning how to pretend to be who we thought other people wanted us to be. We are taught that we would receive love and approval from others based on how well we conformed to the person they wanted us to be. The price tag for this kind of approval is ultimately far too high. We give up our own sense of self worth when we change whom we are in order to get some one else’s approval.
For myself while growing up, approval was something that rarely if ever came my way. It was as though no matter what I did, I was never good enough. I went to church and was an active member in the youth group. I tried to fit in, however I could, wherever I could, yet I was still not good enough for my mother and stepfather. I so badly wanted to be accepted.
Because acceptance is so important to a human being, meeting societal norms and a parent’s expectations can feel good. For many people, that feeling is good enough to sustain them throughout a lifetime. Though it may be one in which they might not have lived their own dream, they were happy enough living someone else’s. But for other people, the pleasure that comes from satisfying a parent is not enough. The yoke of pulling a life made up of someone else’s dreams gets too heavy, and it leads to despair and resentment.
For survivors, this can be especially pertinent. One of the most common effects of childhood sexual abuse is a loss of a strong sense of self. This often manifests as co-dependence and an almost overwhelming need to people-please. When unhealed emotional wounds drives this desire, we can never receive enough approval from enough people. Eventually, the pleasure we get from pleasing others drains out almost as fast as it comes in, and resentment rushes in to fill the void. If we get too caught up in this cycle, we can temporarily lose the ability to recognize our own desires.
What are some of your desires that you have been putting on hold in order to please others? There is absolutely nothing wrong with pleasing others as long as it is being done as a choice, rather than a compulsion.
For example, in the past when my behavior was less than loving toward my wife and being fearful that she would leave me because of my behavior, I would try to earn her love back by buying her expensive jewelry or clothing. My motive was not one of love—in fact most of the time I had ulterior motives that rarely had anything to do with love and seldom did I do things just for the joy of pleasing my wife. However, today I love doing things for her, not out of fear that she is gong to leave me, but because I love and appreciate all that she does for herself, our relationship, and me.
When I talk with others about this subject I suggest they ask their selves one question, “What’s my motive?” What is your motive for pleasing others? Is it because you are afraid they won’t love you, or is it because you appreciate them as a human being? Ponder this, if you cannot love yourself unconditionally, how can you possibly love another person unconditionally?
Randy Boyd is a licensed California Alcohol and Drug Counselor, the founder of the Courageous Healers Foundation, and an associate of “It Happens to Boys.” He speaks at conferences, schools, and treatment facilities, about the effects of abuse on men, and how men can heal from those effects. Randy is the author of the new groundbreaking book addressing the sexual abuse of boys entitled “Healing the Man Within”, a book for male survivors written by a male survivor.