I’ve always been something of a nervous person by nature. I shake and tremble when I get too excited or too angry. My palms sweat and eyes glaze over when in the presence of too many people. I jump at sudden movements.
Last year, I was reminded of this painful reality due to a string of panic attacks. I realized that it’s easy to get lost in all of this anxiety, all of this physical and psychological pain, and never actually think to go to the core of the problem.
If you suffer from chronic anxiety for example, chances are that there is a much deeper explanation than feeble “nature or nurture” theories. Chances are that you’re secretly harboring the desire to be liked and accepted creates most of your problems in life.
I will repeat that once more for added drama: wanting to be liked and accepted creates most of your problems in life.
Why? Well, we’ll get to that next.
Liked, Important, Accepted, Respected
The breakthrough discovery I made about myself was that, in essence, I wanted to be liked and accepted above all else, in social situations. That is why I developed so much tension, that is where the majority of my anxiety came (and still comes) from.
After paying close attention to my inner dialogue, or self-talk, I’d discover myself wondering: “was I being friendly enough?”, “did I just offend him/her/them?”, “they must think of me as being snobby or antisocial”, “are they staring at me?”, “is he/she judging me?”, etc. etc. etc.
Exhausting isn’t it? No wonder I suffer so much! And chances are that you struggle terribly as well. In fact, if you think about it, most problems in life spring from either not being liked, important, accepted or respected enough. Interestingly, these words all form the acronym L.I.A.R. Liar. They lie to you and fool you, springing from that false sense of self you have, deriving from your preconceived beliefs, perspectives and assumptions about the world. After all, are you your thoughts? Are you your feelings? You entertain them, and they come and go – but are all these transitory things really you?
Wanting to be liked, important, accepted and respected all fool us into creating hell in our lives. Just have a look at these issues:
- Anger/rage – Usually comes as a result of being mistreated, rejected or disrespected in some way. Anger/rage leads to endless strife such as street crime, murder, suicide, affairs, etc.
- Jealousy – Typically springs from a lust to own or possess what another person has in order to obtain more importance or respect.
- Depression – Commonly involves feelings of worthlessness, and social alienation.
- Anxiety – Usually springs from worry, concern, fear or stress about how one will end up being perceived or treated (e.g. as a failure, a loser, a bitch, a killjoy, etc.)
- Lying – Lies are created to preserve one’s image (e.g. as a kind, respectable person) and sustain acceptance in social/personal circles.
- Bigotry – An attempt to elevate oneself as being more superior (important) over another, while supporting the ideas, beliefs and/or creeds of a particular person/group of people (to be liked, accepted and respected by them).
- Gossiping/backstabbing – Motivated by the desire to bond (or be liked and accepted) with a particular person/group, at the expense of another person/group.
- Peer pressure/bullying – Any form of peer pressure or bullying is basically a way of saying: “be like me/us, do what I say, if you comply, my personal esteem and worth will be validated, putting me higher up the social food chain.”
Do you see what I mean? The thirst to be liked and accepted motivates us to do the most unfortunate and absurd things. It dictates so many things in our lives, from whether we choose to follow our authentic dreams or not, to how much peace of mind we carry with us throughout the day.
There is no such thing as going from “I care about what you think” to “I don’t give a s**t” overnight. If you give too much importance to being liked and accepted (like me), you will most likely have deeply ingrained habits of thinking and perceiving the world which need to be carefully deconstructed (picture a bowl of spaghetti, and that is what you’re dealing with).
There are also two ways of dealing with the desire to be liked and accepted: the knee-jerk (reactive) I-don’t-give-a-crap-what-you-think kind (which can result in some pretty reckless and selfish behavior). There is also the more balanced and peaceful kind of indifference and nonchalance which can be observed in the most equilibrious among us.
So how do you overcome suffering? I’m still working on that, and while I can’t give you all the answers, I can share with you what has helped me so far:
1. Focus on deepening your breathing.
Shallow chest-breathing enhances and accelerates anxiety. Stomach-breathing (where you breathe deeply so your stomach expands) helps soothe and ground you.
2. Zen music.
I’ve loaded my MP3 player with loads of calming songs which I listen to, both to and from anxiety provoking places (e.g. trains, buses, shopping centers, city squares, etc.) It really helps to put you into a peaceful, calm place. Thanks to Sol, Deuter has become one of my all-time favorite composers (have a listen to him!)
3. Physical grounding.
I carry around with me a small stone (Tiger’s Eye) that I use to ground myself in the present. Any small, meaningful object that you can easily slip into and out of your pocket, will do. The objective? Carry it in your hand when intense situations arise and concentrate on the texture and temperature of the object, tapping into your physical, tactile sensations to center yourself.
10-15 minutes each and every day. Start early in the morning so your mind is fresh. I light a tea light candle and gently focus on the small flame. Let thoughts come and go, and slowly you will be able to simply observe them when they come, without identification.
To build courage, stamina and resilience, it is necessary to learn how to “psyche” yourself up, distracting your mind from negative thought patterns. Self-hypnosis and affirmations also help to reassert you personal worth, and foster healthy self-esteem.
6. Discredit yourself.
Adopt a cautious and skeptical approach towards what you think and feel. We are deceived so easily by our assumptions, perceptions and feelings on a daily basis that it’s necessary to learn not to trust everything we think and feel so much.
7. Herbal tea.
Some medicinal herbs such as Damiana, Mugwort, Passionflower and Lemon Balm help ease the tensions you feel, providing you with a much earned break. My personal favorite is Damiana. Always research what you put into your body, however, as some doses can be toxic, or may have potential unwanted side-effects (e.g. the herb ‘Valerian’ soothes anxiety but stimulates drowsiness).
I’m an absolute newbie to this traditional Chinese practice, but so far I love it and have really benefited from it. Related to Tai Chi, Qigong is a mixture of moving meditation, exercise and rhythmic breathing. There are many free tutorials on Youtube which can give you an idea of what to expect, and there are also many reported health benefits.
9. Alone time.
Absolutely necessary to relax, recuperate and revitalize. Solitude also gives you the opportunity to assess and analyze what you are going well with, and what needs to be addressed more.
10. Accept the worst.
This is a difficult one to work with, but with persistence, I’ve managed to make this work for myself with much relief. You can too with enough willpower. Basically, ask yourself in any social situation: “what is the worst that can happen?” Usually answers such as “I’ll get rejected and they’ll laugh at me”, or “they will all hate me and gossip about me”, or even just “they will think less of me” springs to mind. Nothing too drastic, and nothing that will permanently destroy or kill you. By removing the fear we have, and replacing it with acceptance, our anxiety practically dissolves immediately.
11. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
This technique is excellent for alleviating general body tension, and is really quite simple. I practice it at least once a day, and if you suffer from anxious tension you should try it as well. In essence, it involves sitting or lying in a quiet place, and tightening and relaxing each muscle group in your body. Start from your face (forehead, eyes, nose, lips and jaw), tense the muscles for 5 seconds, then release for 5 seconds, breathing deeply. The exercise uses the same simple strategy and moves down to the shoulders and neck, arms and hands, back, stomach, buttocks, thighs, feet and toes.
12. Cultivate Self-Love
Learning how to take care of yourself and embracing the person you naturally are is essential for overcoming self-esteem issues that contribute to constant anxiety. Slowly, as I’ve learnt to become my own best friend, I’ve seen that what ultimately matters is how you feel about yourself. You can’t control what other people think, but you can control how you think about yourself! The more respect you develop for yourself, the less (in my experience), you obsess over what the person next to you is thinking of you.
If anything, I hope this article and my experiences, have helped to open your eyes to the culprit behind a lot of pain and anxiety in life: wanting to be liked and accepted.
If you’d like to share your own discoveries on your personal path, or anything that has helped or assisted you, please share it below for the benefit of all!