When we were kids, we just wanted to be liked. We just wanted to be accepted. We needed to be included in the group. We felt the need for approval from others and developed a fear of being embarrassed and shunned from the herd. We had the desire to be noticed, but we still wanted to sit in the back of the room because we were afraid of being in the spotlight. We felt the need to be relevant, but we didn’t want to be called on, out of fear of humiliation. Some of us may have originally been made to feel inferior by a narcissistic parent or siblings, cruel teachers or classmates, or some other trauma. We still wanted to be accepted, but because of this trauma, we wanted to push everyone away so we couldn’t be harmed any more. The social anxiety caused by this was very real and was often paralyzing. Equally real was our scars and the toxic stew of internal battles inside our heads that went along with it.
These childhood struggles and social anxiety stayed with us in adulthood. “Cognitive Dissonance” is an internal conflict of beliefs of ideas. Or it can be called the ‘war within’. All of this struggling and chaos in our heads creates it’s own anxiety and adds to whatever other burden of anxiety we may have been saddled with. The greatest prison we put ourselves in is the fear of what other people think of us because we have that innate need to be accepted. The greatest battles we often face are between what we know and what we feel – between what is perceived and what is real. If we feel inferior from childhood or adulthood trauma, we start to believe we are inferior, and then we start to believe that other people think of us as inferior. That makes us want to push everyone away and isolate, but yet we still want to feel accepted and approved of. So we end up in constant conflict with ourselves. We get stuck in the indecision of fight or flight. Then when we feel we’re fighting a losing battle within our minds and elsewhere, we give in to despair and become self-destructive.
As a child, I was the only one I knew who didn’t have my real parents, since I was abandoned at birth and eventually adopted by a foster family. They had their own mountains of mental illnesses and split their time between physically and mentally abusing me or being dismissive. I didn’t see other kids treated by their parents the way I was, so I already felt different and inferior. I was always at war with myself, because I wanted to be approved of, but I was in constant fear of being further humiliated and/or abandoned. I found I could escape these conflicts and that reality through imagination (reverie) of being somewhere else, someone else or both. These conflicts in my head continued on into adulthood, so did that desire to escape. Once alcohol and drugs entered my life, I had a perfect vehicle for my mind to escape these conflicts and their anxiety. Eventually my self-destructive substance abuse completely destroyed my life. I asked for, and accepted help to obtain and maintain sobriety. However, the war within continued.
The conflict of wanting to isolate or run, but still be accepted, kept going until I sought therapy. I learned to understand what was driving the battles. I gained an understanding of myself, the childhood trauma that originally created these internal conflicts, and how that trauma drove so many of the bad decisions later in life. I learned how to change my mind by resolving these internal conflicts, one at a time, so my mind was in sync with itself instead of at war. I also gained an appreciation of myself for battling through these horrible wars in my head and still functioning in life. Most importantly, I actually learned to like myself, developed an admiration for my resolve and an approval of myself, which was the key. I then used that same knowledge to gain understanding of other people and realized most were also struggling with similar things, being driven by their inherited genes, personality traits they were born with and whatever the events of their childhoods created. Even the born beautiful people struggle with these issues. Everybody and their situations are different, so comparing myself to other people as a means of self-approval was wasting my time and energy. So with the understanding and realization that other people struggled with being liked and accepted as well, I no longer felt my survival depended on the validation of others, since they were just trying to survive as well.
One small step of understanding at a time, we can resolve these internal conflicts, learn to approve of ourselves, escape from that prison of other people’s opinion of us, and the need for their validation. If we approve of ourselves, we don’t need to obtain the approval of other people any more, nor do we need to escape. We can create a peace within our mind, instead of a war.