Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series. See The Value of Affirmation for part one.
When a person has not been adequately affirmed, he lives life with great inner uncertainty and sadness. Although he may be intellectually mature, his emotional life is more like that of a child, frightened of the adult world in which he finds himself. Sensing something is wrong but unable to understand what that actually is, such a person tends to hide his fears and works hard to appear “normal”. He buries his emotions, always thinking of how to act and only using the intellect to relate to others. Without the help of emotions to move him, life becomes exhausting and real joy is elusive.
False Ways to Receive Affirmation
There is no quick fix or formula for a lack of affirmation.
Some people try to self-affirm in a mostly futile attempt to look worthy and important and to feel loved and accepted. Only knowing how to rely on external factors, they may work to achieve degrees, wealth, or titles of importance. Those blessed with physical attractiveness may seek to capitalize on their looks to gain the attention and admiration of others. Unfortunately, none of these things fill the inner yearning for true and authentic affirmation, which recognizes each person’s innate and unique goodness.
Others accept pseudo-affirmation, things that look like love but aren’t truly. Promiscuity and the praise of others (fame) fall into this category, which explains their great prevalence today. Social media offers a platform to many to amass “likes” and “shares” sometimes by displaying the most outrageous behaviors to attract the attention for which many so desperately yearn. But since it’s not the authentic presence of another person, truly moved in their hearts by the goodness of the other, these things not only fail, but contribute to ever-growing frustration and despair. How can I get so many likes and yet still feel so unloved?
So what can you do for yourself if this describes you? Remember, the solution for the unaffirmed individual rests in experiencing the loving presence and acceptance of another person. There is no quick fix or formula. You need to wait patiently while learning to be yourself. So how do you do that?
Being and feeling precedes doing…or they should. It’s the difference between living from the heart and living from the head or the mind. To be truly happy we need to live from the heart, to be in touch with our feelings. Once we know what we’re feeling, our reason helps to guide the expression of those feelings and what we do in response to them. And it’s all directed to the happiness for which God created us.
Nine Suggestions for Receiving Affirmation
So here are a few suggestions to get started on the road to healing.
Be honest with your feelings and opinions, at least to yourself starting out. You may have lived your life trying to be nice and to please others in the hopes they will love you. That may have helped you avoid making enemies, but chances are you haven’t made any real friends that way either. Stop trying to please everyone.
Be more assertive
After getting in touch with what you feel and what you want, then practice being a little more assertive. You’ll feel less like a hapless victim in life when you start to live with more determination. Your feelings and opinions matter as much as everyone else’s. It will take some time and practice. A good therapist can help you with baby steps to get you moving in the right direction.
Let go of your fears
Let go of your fears, especially of hurting another’s feelings. If you think about it, you may find your real fear is actually of making people angry at you…and anger can feel like abandonment. So to avoid that you may stuff your emotions…all the while getting angry yourself on the inside. It’s only by taking some risks and showing our true selves that we can find out who our real friends are. You don’t need to be perfect. You do need to be real.
Use your anger constructively
You’re frustrated and it’s understandable. Using your anger means you harness that energy to do something about its cause, rather than remaining a passive victim. Becoming angry does not mean you demand affirmation from others…love cannot be demanded but only given freely. But acknowledging the anger and frustration that is there may reduce your sense of victimization and help you feel more courageous.
See the good around you
Strive to be present to the goodness around you- in nature, in art, in music, in pets and in other people. For too long you may have been so preoccupied with your own fears that you never stop to smell the roses. Receive the beauty around you and allow your heart to be moved. In other words- feel it.
Don’t expect to find authentic affirmation in bed with just anyone
Sex can certainly be comforting and feel like love, but it’s an easy counterfeit. Unless both parties are fully mature and committed in a marital relationship, it is more likely to be sought for selfish reasons by one or both parties. Self-restraint for the good of the other is a greater sacrificial love. By observing chastity, you’ll have greater confidence that you are being loved for the person you are and not for what you’re giving away.
Stop trying to affirm yourself
It may be a hard habit to break…you’ve been trying so hard for years to prove your worth. But let it go. More often than not that pushes people away – the opposite of what you’re hoping for.
Pray and wait
Prayer, especially Eucharistic adoration, will help you immeasurably as you wait in openness for others who can truly be present to you and give you the gift of yourself. Jesus is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament in every Tabernacle. When exposed in the Monstrance at adoration he is truly present to you personally. Spend time with him there and allow the Lord to love you as you are. There are no special prayers, no expectations. Just be there with him. Allow him the joy of being present to you. The graces you receive will help you as you continue along your healing journey to become the happy, unique and unrepeatable person he created you to be.
Many people after years of conventional therapy still experience this inner emptiness and can feel despair. But know that you’re not alone. It has a name and a remedy. Visit the Baars Institute to learn more about Emotional Deprivation Disorder and Affirmation therapy.