Dear Dr. Norquist:
I think I have become overly concerned about how others see me, like am I pretty, smart enough, witty, competent? This was really almost paralyzing when I was in high school. Now I’ve graduated from college and am at a new job in a large corporation – and I’m up late at night with these same worries running through my mind. You’d think I would have outgrown this by now, right. Why do you think I’m so obsessed with being accepted? Any suggestions?
Dr. Norquist responds:
The question to ask is what drives your worries and concerns about how others respond to you? My hunch is that it is a need for acceptance and belonging. It is born of a powerful, instinctual need to belong to ‘the tribe’ (however you define the tribe).
Historically, being left out of the tribe meant your life was at risk. The tribe provided essential safety, food and shelter. Biologically, this need for acceptance and belonging is a basic survival need. It drives much of our behavior from the time we are infants, wooing our mother’s attention and ministrations, yearning to achieve a secure attachment. This same behavior underlies adolescent cliques and gangs, and the formation of strong partnerships, friendships, and family ties. Everyone wants to be accepted and to belong to ‘the group.’
Our sense of our acceptableness is born of the impressions left by our early experiences with significant others. We see ourselves first in the eyes of the other. We feel secure and connected when we believe we are being looked at with love, understanding and approval. When we are left questioning our acceptableness, when the ‘fit’ with the primary other is insecure, we continue to try to experience it in any way we can. Thus the need for belonging continues to be the primary motivator for our behavior.
Try to remind yourself that you do not need acceptance from everyone. It would be helpful if you would focus your acceptance gauging gaze mainly on relationships and experiences that have given you a sense of acceptance and belonging. Enhancing your current and prior experiences of belonging will feel much more satisfactory then trying to get acceptance from everyone you meet!
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2013 Chaitanya Counseling Services