The first series of blogs to appear on “Perceptions of Self: We Don’t See the World as It Is We See the World as We Are” are written based on the Five Steps to Staying on Track by Peter Branden while channeling Zarathustra, a lifelong friend and teacher of Den Nelson. Honesty is the first step.
One of the reasons people lose touch with their authentic selves is because of social or cultural games. We’ve been talking about honesty and how learning to be honest means getting beyond our social games. When we accept ourselves just where we are in the present moment, we stop seeking approval from others in an unhealthy way. Often people don’t know that they have the authority to approve of themselves. In order to stay in touch with our authentic self we have to be honest with what we’re feeling to ourselves and give ourselves approval without being perfect.
People always ask “how are you doing?” Then we have to decide if they really want to know and then ask myself how do I really feel? The final decision is do I want to be vulnerable and self-disclosing. Time, circumstances and people involved change the answer to each of those questions.
We have to observe ourselves compassionately as a witness in our social interaction in order to be aware of how social games make us feel. It seems like there is an epidemic of loneliness – of people not feeling heard or seen. When we’re not seen or heard it’s easy to feel like we (and life) are empty and meaningless.
There’s a lot of pressure to not be real, to not be honest, to appear perfect. A therapist friend asked a table at a restaurant a question: “have you ever been scolded at a dinner table about what you wanted to talk about?” Social games are all about approval or acceptance. If someone turns to you and says, “Nobody wants to hear what you think” that can wound you, make you wary of speaking your mind without a filter, touching matters that aren’t “light dinner conversation.” We’ve all been in social situations like dinner parties where there’s no real communication going on. How do you feel in those moments? We’re all checking our watches, wondering when we can escape.
Playing social games is often an unconscious habit. When we were children and adolescents we needed approval for basic survival in the family home and to have a sense of belonging. With adults it’s different. We still need to have a sense of belonging, of being included, but the adult doesn’t have to trade its authentic self for acceptance. All major teachers or inspiring people, empowering people, are not seeking approval – they’re giving it. What makes people grow is giving themselves acceptance just where they are.
The problem is the lack of self-kindness for being less than perfect. The trap of demanding perfection from ourselves often robs us of the ability to genuinely accept ourselves; and when we demand perfection of ourselves we also demand perfection from others, hurting our relationships. The social games are the result of this search for approval when we cannot or will not give it to ourselves. And the search for acceptance, often in unconscious ways, invites us into playing social games.
We all want to be loved. We all want acceptance. The first step is learning to love and accept ourselves.