From our earliest days, we observe patterns in the behaviors of others that create understanding about how the world works. This is both good (creating a general cultural understanding of behaviors, emotions, right and wrong) and bad (perhaps leading to simplified conclusions that hurt us throughout life).
As children, starting from infancy, we observe that love is equated with praise, and praise follows good performance. This perhaps has the benefit of stimulating us to succeed: in order to make our parents happy, we work harder at school, at learning to take care of ourselves, at doing better in our hobbies, at being helpful and kind. In performing well, being friendly and succeeding, we receive praise, thus affection and love.
But could this also be damaging? We become bound by the connections we made as children, are governed by the memory associations we formed early in our development. Perhaps this is not always for the better.
As adults, we continue to strive to please others and sometimes forget to first strive for ourselves. We forget to first do for ourselves and afterwards for others. This can become damaging when the priorities we misplace relate to important life decisions.
It is not uncommon for young adults to pick the career path their family finds most “suitable,” or for women to marry a partner they are less passionate about in order to please their parents.
That is not to say that praise and love should be done away with – not at all! But we should certainly be aware of the factors that influence our decisions. We not always are. We often do things to please parents, spouses, bosses or children in order to feel worthy and loved. If we fail, we feel correspondingly terrible about ourselves. And we don’t need that unnecessary stress and anxiety; we don’t need to feel like less simply because we are not pleasing someone else.
Their happiness does not hinge on our decisions, but our happiness does. We often forget that we received praise so that we would feel good about ourselves, not so that we would spend a lifetime looking outside of ourselves for validation.
It is difficult to detach from the associations we created in infancy. But we can build an awareness of when we are striving for others so that we may shift this effort into building happiness for ourselves.
Don’t give up who you are for others. If we let our inner selves free to explore our own bliss and take us where it may lead, we may be surprised, but we will most certainly be happy.