In Heart Note +

Sometimes, the reason it’s so hard to say, “no“ is because we get worried that as a result we’ll be disliked or won’t be accepted. #amiright?

The fear of being disliked sometimes masquerades as concern about the other person‘s feelings, or worry that we’re going to miss out on an opportunity. However, in the end, it’s usually about our fear of having one of our core needs go unmet – our need to be accepted.

To want to be accepted is a totally normal and natural desire.  If you feel this need strongly, rest assured – you’re not broken or lacking.

Every human has needs. It’s part of our nature. It’s okay to feel those needs, and it’s okay to want to have those needs met.

How we go about getting those needs met is what differentiates us.

When we seek to get our need for acceptance met outside of ourselves, we give our power away.  We place the locus of control in the hands of others – many whom we have zero relationship with and who we will likely never see again.  

Our need for acceptance is so strong, we’ll sometimes hand our power over to a complete stranger, in effect asking, “Will you please validate that I’m a worthy human by giving me a signal I can interpret at acceptance?”

It sounds incomprehensible to state it like that, and yet, when we peel back the veils of behavior, it’s often what’s at the core.

 

Why Do We Look to Others for Acceptance?

It’s important to acknowledge that we’re “tribal” beings, intended to live in community, so there will always be some naturally occurring approval/disapproval stuff happening within any group. That’s fine and good.  

What I’m referring to here is a dependence upon, and active seeking of approval from others as a primary way to get our need met.

One of the reasons we look to those outside ourselves for acceptance is that it’s the easy path. You get that smile of “approval” from someone you respect, and you feel golden, for a minute.  Like the wink or nod that Johnny Carson used to give stand-up comedians which meant, in theory, that they were golden… they’d made it.  They got the golden ticket.  (That is, until they didn’t.)

However, this is a path that is also narrow, treacherous and rife with dangers.  

The problem with seeking acceptance from others as a primary strategy is that it’s never fulfilling. That smile of approval doesn’t last, and before long, you’re seeking it from another… like a heroin addict seeking their next hit.

The yearning is never satisfied.

Another danger is that it opens us up to manipulation.  Someone who wants you to behave a certain way can remove their smile of approval till you do what they want, and then reward you when you behave accordingly.  This happens in relationships all the time.

Additionally, seeking approval from others leaves us uncertain about who we are – our authenticity.  Am I behaving a certain way to gain acceptance or because that’s who I really want to be?  We can lose ourselves when we’re getting our need for acceptance met through others.

Lastly, it leads us to overwhelm. Because we fear that saying, “no” will cause us to be disliked, we instead, say, “yes,” which leaves us briefly accepted and extendedly burnt out.

There’s got to be a better way.

And, there is.

 

Two Alternative Ways to Get Your Need for Acceptance Met

I share two alternatives because one might resonate more with you – but both are totally viable, depending on your own personal beliefs.

One healthy way to get your need for acceptance met is through the practice of self-acceptance.

Because so many of us are so deeply wounded in childhood – we lose connection with our own inherent goodness and worthiness.  We learn to not trust ourselves, and taught that only external validation matters. So, as we grow, we lose sight of the fact that our internal acceptance is what matters most.

How, then do you practice self-acceptance?

There are many ways to approach this, and I’ll offer just one suggestion here:

Take time, every day, to connect to your innate goodness and worthiness.  You are worthy because you are here. You matter. You are valuable. 

Even in the face of rejection, disapproval from others or depression, we can connect to parts of ourselves which we know are there, somewhere, even if buried deep down, where we have felt worthy. 

Every day, ask in your heart to feel acceptance, and to proclaim your acceptance of who you are.  Repeat it incessantly.  “I accept me.”  “I am acceptable.” “I matter.” “Regardless of what I experience in the world around me, I know that I am worthy.”

Try this consistently and see what happens.

Another healthy way to get your need for acceptance met is through relationship with the Divine.

(By “Divine,” I mean however you conceive of the larger reality outside of yourself (and I’m not referring to a “bearded man in the sky.”)  It could be the “universe,” “god,” “the One,” your “higher self,” “Love,” “energy,” …whatever.)

In prayer, meditation, Remembrance, or any other spiritual practice you engage in, ask to receive acceptance.

What if being accepted wasn’t something you had to manufacture, but simply to receive as a gift – an unending flow of abundant acceptance, in every moment?

What if being accepted was never in question, but sure, constant and relentless?

What if acceptance was available to you, even when you say, “no?”

Ask in your heart to feel the acceptance that comes from the Divine. What is that like? What do you notice?

Try this consistently and see what happens.

Here’s what I believe… when we seek acceptance from within our own heart – an innate sense of acceptance within ourselves, and/or from the Divine, it opens us up to be stronger, clearer and more present with all those around us and in our environment.  Being so allows us to share our gifts without attachment or expectation.  And this is where the world starts to change.

When you struggle saying, “no,” may that remind you of this writing, and help you to remember to practice a new way of getting your needs met.

And so it is.

May the will of Love be done all-ways.

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Comments
  • Brenda Hartman-Souder
    Reply

    Steve, this is lovely and so fitting to my experience. Michael Brown, who wrote The Presence Process, says that “No” is a complete sentence. I tell my clients that at times and I like the added, “Thank you.” It softens and validates the other person but is still a firm no. Your two ways of getting our human need for acceptance met were spot on with how I approach my own personal work and my work as a therapist. However, our culture and media strongly advertise that we need others to meet our needs, fill that hole inside, make us complete, so it’s natural/predictable that as humans we will look outside ourselves.

    I will come back to this essay often and am grateful for all you offer here and at the Heart of Business.

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