We take in commercial messages every day of our lives – almost from the moment we are born. How we should look and feel, what we should do and buy, who we should be and how we should act. Our parents tell us we are pretty or handsome, good or bad, talented, smart, funny.
We want to be loved and accepted. We want people to look at us and say, she’s doing it right. I wish I had her strength, fortitude, motivation, passion, etc. And so we emulate the characters on TV, celebrities in the media, successful friends and mentors. We do what we think the world wants us to do so that we will be approved.
But we aren’t all the same. In fact, we are all so different that it is a miracle any two people are ever able to communicate about anything ever. When my husband and I first started going to counseling, it was a revelation. We would relay arguments we had had that week to our counselor and then he would ask questions to clarify each of our positions. I was flabbergasted by what Erik thought I had said or meant versus what I had actually said or meant and vice versa. We were speaking two different languages and we needed a translator.
We all grow up with different family dynamics in different times with different financial situations. Even siblings in the same family only sort of have the same parents. Take my little sister. She is sixteen years younger than me. Born just after my junior year of high school. We have the same mother and different fathers. But the truth is, we don’t really have the same mother. My mother was 28 when she had me. She was working class poor, married to my father who worked 70, 80, 90 hours a week to start a business. My mother had been a bank teller, a bus driver, and a court reporter. When I was young, she mostly stayed home. My little sister’s mother was 46 when she was born. She is firmly middle class, married to a man who works 40ish hours a week as a minister. Her mother has been a minister since before she was born. She works 40ish hours a week. These two women are the same biologically speaking, but that, for the most part, is where the similarity ends.
This is an extreme example. But even my older sister and I, who are only 3 ½ years apart, had vastly different childhoods. More importantly, our perceptions of that childhood is different. Of course, we have different temperaments, talents, and personalities. These things make us unique. We have shared experiences, but how we process and remember those experiences also vary. There is no moment in our lives when we ever felt exactly the same way about any one thing. And the same can be said of every single person on the planet. Each of us is a unique thing that can never be replicated.
And so, how can we not see the complete insanity of trying to emulate what we see on TV, in the media, or even among our family and friends in order to be good, successful, approved by society?
Knowing that my experience is completely different from everyone else’s, why do I seek approval in the first place? Why is esteem one of Maslow’s five hierarchy of needs? Why is it so important to me what other people think of me? Is it really an ingrained need as Maslow believed? Or is it something taught to us from birth? This idea of satisfying and pleasing others in order to be happy.
Does my dissatisfaction with my life stem from a true inner dissatisfaction or from a belief that I am not good enough in society’s view? Intellectually, it is more important to me to be self-satisfied and for my husband to be happy with our life. But mentally, emotionally, I can’t stop myself from comparing my life to the lives of those around me.
And the truth is, my life is not what I want it to be. I believe that I would be dissatisfied even if society did tell me that my life was okay.
But we need to give ourselves a rest. Break down the parts of our life that we don’t like and examine them. Is it something that you want to change for you, or is it something you want to change for someone else? I don’t think it’s always a bad thing to change something in your life for something else, but I do think we should only do that for a loving committed person, rather than an amorphous entity, like “friends”, “community”, or “society”.
This isn’t new information. This idea that we need to be a certain way and do certain things in order to be okay – in order for the world to condone our life. And I am telling myself more than anything else. These are things I need to remember. If I am happy, then I am okay. And even if I’m not happy, I am still okay, but I only need change what I want.
I am okay. You are okay.