I never seem to quit thinking on a topic, even after I’ve written a blog. Last week, I explored the need for approval. That post was triggered by new research that confirmed my thoughts: that affirmation from others makes us happy. While we may not need others to rubber-stamp our lives, getting that little boost of “you’re okay” certainly can boost our mood. We don’t require it, hopefully; we just like it.
As my brain pendulum seems to do, my thoughts have now swung to thinking about the opposite: not needing approval at all. COMPLETELY independent, perfectly secure individuals may seem to be able to live by the motto “what others think of me is none of my business.” But what about when that idea is taken to extremes? Worst case scenario, what kind of person eschews the opinion of others 110%? If I let my creativity run rampant on that idea, I imagine a person who does whatever s/he wishes, without regard to the needs of others. How would we describe someone who is so inclined? Selfish, narcissistic, insensitive, completely wrapped up in him/herself. This sounds like a two year old throwing a tantrum, or maybe a self-absorbed adolescent. Or even a danger to society? The crazed gunmen who terrorize schools, theatres, etc. are out to please only themselves, not caring one whit about approval or affirmation of others.
It’s just one more balancing act; neither extreme is healthy. The goal is not to be utterly pleasing others all the time, nor to be pleasing only one’s self, even when disaster is not the result. Social creatures, we want to feel good about the core of our being. We need to like the basic person we are, and self-affirm the majority of our choices and qualities, even in the face of frowns from others. That degree of independence is a laudable goal. At the same time, mental health calls for balance, attending to the needs, preferences, and safety of others.