During a quiet moment at work the other night, I picked up a back issue of O Magazine, one of the current quintessentially authoritative journalistic voices of the modern North American woman. It was the December 2003 issue, and I was intrigued by the title of the article: "The Halo Effect" which promised to examine the condition of 'being too good' for one's own good. The preamble contained the phrase "self-sacrificing" and I was immediately zapped by that standard JW buzz-word and the article's suggestion that being "self-sacrificing" is not all it's cracked up to be.
You can read the article here: Stop Seeking Approval
Here are some excerpts:
Causes and Consequences of Approval ProstitutionWe approval whores are people who will do anything to get affirmation and acceptance from others. Approval whores like me tend to think that we're being good (saintly! angelic!) when we let others have their way with us in exchange for a hit of praise. The people in our lives are likely to reinforce our sickness, because we'll do pretty much anything to please them, and what's not to love about that?
Here's what: Being dependent on approval?so dependent that we barter away all our time, energy, and personal preferences to get it?ruins lives.
Wow.... did that ever hit a nerve. As a JW, how important - no, how VITAL to our ETERNAL LIFE - was it to gain Jehovah's approval?? All the WTS had to do was describe some activity as "having God's approval" for us to suck it up and jump on the bandwagon. This is the kind of language that is used to trigger shunning behaviour toward the Disfellowshipped? and Disassociated? and to limit contact with Bad Associations? and the Spiritually Weak?. It's the kind of language that goads people into going door-to-door on brass-monkey weather Saturday mornings. It's the kind of language that goads them into the KH three times a week, even when there are people there that they just can't stand.
The article goes on to describe the efforts some folks go to during the Christmas season to seek praise and approval in the purchasing of just the "perfect" gift or throwing the "perfect" party. Then, it went on to make another interesting point:
if you are an approval whore year-round, this season may deepen your dysfunction to the point where your efforts to please become truly exhausting and other people's appreciation is less and less rewarding. If you feel drained or angry as the season progresses, it's time to get off the street. Learn to respect yourself. Give yourself the gift of the real you, clean and sober.
I was reading the article to Mr Scully (I had a captive audience with him driving... ) and the first thing he said, without me offering any commentary was "Man, that sounds just like the Kingdom Hall. They keep taking and taking and taking and demanding more and more of your time and your energy, and then when they've sucked you dry, they just throw you away like a piece of garbage. The WTS doesn't appreciate anything you do for them. It's like a monster that you have to keep feeding because if you stop, it will eat you alive."
Pleasing others is like sex: When we do it because we really want to, it's a wonderfully life-affirming way to strengthen a relationship, but when it's motivated by obligation, powerlessness, or calculated advantage, it's the very definition of degrading. The key to an authentic emotional life, like the key to an authentic sex life, is to follow your real desires.
Didn't most of us feel like Putting On The New Personality? as JWs resulted in an erosion of our authentic personality, our real self?? No wonder I didn't know who I was at the age of 30... I was just a cookie-cutter clone JW female... "I" never really existed apart from my God-approved place in the WTS.
Clarify Your Own Morality
In our world of commingled cultures and traditions, we may confront innumerable moral codes, all different from one another. There is simply no way to gain approval from each of these disparate sources; trying to do so will make you feel even worse. Instead, clearly define your own moral code and then stick to it whether or not others approve. Right now think of something you plan to do during this holiday that you don't want to do: host a boorish guest, send greeting cards to folks you barely know, overspend to the point of serious financial strain. Then pretend that your best friend, rather than you, is the one contemplating this action. What would you say is her moral obligation? Don't think manners; think ethics. Would it be truly immoral for your friend to invite only guests she likes, or send no greeting cards, or buy fewer presents? Take some time figuring out your real beliefs.
If you decide your unpleasant plans aren't moral requirements, but you do them anyway, you're pimping yourself out. Anything we do solely to please others, in the absence of either real desire or moral necessity is a way of selling ourselves, our lives, our energy. Ask yourself whether the dose of approval you expect to gain from this behavior is worth losing a piece of the real you. I'd be the last one to judge you if the answer is yes. All I ask is that you be aware that this is prostitution, not virtue.
All those years of Doing What God Requires? - a quarter-century for me - was merely me pimping myself out in the hope of eventually getting something big: Living Forever In Paradise On Earth?. It was sincere... it was done with the noble thought that this was the right and only way to worship God... but with that big carrot dangling of Living Forever In Paradise On Earth?... the underlying motive was..... greed. Rather than use those years fruitfully and making the best of my life in the here-and-now, I thought I was holding out for something better. They told me I had a Self-Sacrificing Spirit?, but in reality, I was prostituting away the present and what was real for something intangible and elusive: God's Approval?.
Get Approval for Getting Disapproval
One of the best ways to break your dependency on approval is to set up a situation in which the only way to get approval is to get disapproval. When I taught college-level sociology, I used to assign students to choose a social norm they thought was wrong or just plain silly, then deliberately violate it. The more disapproval they got, the higher their grade.
Once they were pursuing my approval (not to mention that of 90 classmates), some of my most people-pleasing students became embodiments of civil disobedience. One coed brought a homeless woman to lunch at her sorority house. A popular football player wore his grandfather's lederhosen to a nightclub. Another student went to church with "Resist religious intolerance" written on each forearm in magic marker. They all succeeded in garnering high levels of disapproval, which meant high levels of approval in my class. The realization that they could tolerate social censure was a major liberation; suddenly, these students felt free to be true to themselves, even when others condemned their actions.
To use this strategy, call a friend, tell her you're going out to get some disapproval, and ask her to lavish you with praise afterward. It works even better if you have several people?your best buddies, your therapy group, your sewing circle?waiting to hear the tale of your rebellion. The genius of the technique is that whether or not you carry through with your intentions, someone is going to disapprove. Learning to deal with that could prevent a lifetime of selling out.
Isn't this what we've all done who are here? We've taken on the stigma of being Disfellowshipped? or Disassociated? or viewed as Bad Association? among JWs because we knew in our hearts that the cult is wrong... and insofar as the blood issue is concerned, it's dead wrong. We share our tales of rebellion here and strengthen each others' resolve to never sell out to the cult again. Yes, it is really hard sometimes. We've lost loved ones in the process. But those loved ones wanted us to degrade ourselves by stifling the real person beneath the JW façade.
The conclusion of the article really drives it home:
Agree to Disagree
When approval whores disagree with others, we react by not reacting. Instead of voicing our real position, we smile, nod, make cheerful mumbling sounds. As a result, everyone from the John Birch Society to the Hells Angels may think we agree with them. Some of us fear that if we begin voicing disagreement, we'll lose our friends and family. If this is true for you?if these people accept you only because you agree with everything they say?they're not friends or family, they're just customers from whom you regularly obtain your favorite drug. This is a thoroughly unhealthy situation.
Next time someone voices an opinion that contradicts your own, don't play dumb. Voice your thoughts and see what happens. At worst, you'll weaken a bond that wasn't authentic. At best, you'll find that you can disagree with someone and still be loved. This is the way to build genuine relationships instead of tentative, bartered alliances based on the currency of compliance.