Trauma interrupts life’s narrative and bends its trajectory, challenging the illusion that our choices control every outcome. Mainstream society responds with victim-blaming, “You must have done something to cause it,” and continues with isolation and disapproval. “You don’t fit in well enough.”
Instead of compassion, survivors receive subtle or overt messages about not measuring up, not getting better fast enough, and not fitting the narrative of a competent adult. Our cultural myths of independence and imperviousness lead to harsh judgment of people who are overwhelmed by traumatic events.
Survivors’ energy is focused on recovery and healing instead of fitting in. There is less energy available to maintain social masks, while triggers and sensitivities require setting boundaries rather than going along with the flow.
Longing is allowed
We have a myth that adults “should” be self-validating, with no need for outside approval. In truth, most of us share the need to see ourselves reflected in loving eyes. We depend on society not only for physical survival, but also for emotional connection and reassurance. Social isolation is doubly painful to those who already feel damaged by trauma.
Is there a longing for approval inside you, buried under the “shoulds”? To acknowledge it without feeling overwhelmed, you can say, “Something in me feels a longing for approval (or whatever is true for you), and I say hello to that.” Take some time to acknowledge all your responses around the topic of approval. Your Inner Critic may have a lot to say.
Do you long for approval from a specific source? The judgments of a critical parent or teacher can continue to echo long after the person loses power over your daily life. You might long for spiritual assurance that you are a good person. You might want present-day approval of your labors from the people around you.
Approved right now
Imagine that your desired source approves of you right now. This person, this being, is filled with radiant love, approval, and pleasure at your very existence. Nothing could possibly shake this person’s good opinion of you. This being’s regard is large enough and positive enough to encompass every truth of your past and present.
Soak in it like a hot tub, like sunshine, like spring rain. Let it nourish each individual cell. Notice your physical and emotional responses to approval.
Approval across time
What trickles or floods of approval do you remember receiving over time? Your Inner Nurturer gathers those memories to support you. What parts of yourself can you whole-heartedly approve of?
As we learn and grow, we sometimes look back at younger selves with critical eyes. Think about your struggles and triumphs five years ago, and send back approval and respect for yourself-then. Take time to visualize yourself as a young adult, a teen, a young child, and an infant. Remember what each younger self accomplished and what obstacles they faced. What doors did they open for you? Send back approval to each of those selves.
Imagine that an older, wiser self from five years in the future sends approval back to you now. Notice how that feels in your body. What are you working on now that your future self will appreciate? You have always done the best you could with the resources you had. You were born approved, and no action or trauma can make you deserve anything less than approval.
Belong to the club
In abusive situations, approval depends on pleasing the person in power. Authentic selves are kept carefully hidden, protected from shaming or punishment. During healing, authenticity becomes a higher priority, and yet the habit of seeking approval persists. We imagine a secret club of people who are healed enough, and work hard to deserve membership.
After many years, we look around and realize this club has no officers or rules. Each person claims membership for themselves. Consider joining!
Monica Cassani writes about isolation in response to chronic mental and physical illness. In the near absence of friendship…