“I’m so proud of you!” Those five words are something usually quite hard to come by when a person grows up in a dysfunctional family, such as in an alcohol or drug addicted home, like I did. Instead, what one usually tends to hear is the exact opposite.
In my case, the things I heard were always about trying harder, doing better, and needing to push myself more. The one example of this that still sticks in my head decades later was when I came in last place in a final heat of a swim race after qualifying through several prior rounds at the young age of twelve. When I emerged from the pool that day, my mother told me I didn’t kick hard enough, rather than saying how proud she was of me for making it as far as I did.
It’s unfortunate when children end up growing up in families where things like this happen, where they don’t normally hear their parents telling them how proud they are of their personal achievements. But in a dysfunctional home where any type of addict or even a mentally unstable parent exists, there’s a constant lack of unconditional love, which is precisely where statements of being proud of someone comes from.
I truly believe that every child in this world deserves to hear their parents tell them how proud they are of them as often as possible. From what I’ve seen in healthy families where this was done, it’s usually translated into far more self-confident individuals when they’re all grown up. But in the case of myself, since I didn’t live in a spiritually healthy home as a kid, I ended up growing up into someone who spent far too much time vying for the approval from others, just wanting anyone to tell me how proud they were of me. I jumped from one relationship to another seeking this approval, until I realized I was just ending up with the same type of person over and over again who resembled either one or both of my dysfunctional parents.
Sometimes I think that’s how the Universe operates, that the only way we can fix something that’s broken within us is to be placed in relationships that bring those very painful feelings from our past connections up to the surface. Thank goodness I came to understand this principle, as it helped me to find the willingness to actually begin working on fixing this approval-seeking part of me.
To do this, the first step I had to take was to forgive my parents for their lack of healthy parenting. In the process, I came to accept that they were sick people and did the best they could. I also placed myself in their shoes by thinking about all the times when I was an active addict and mentally unstable. Because in doing so, I saw how I was never capable of offering any type of unconditional love in that state, which included saying things like “I’m so proud of you” to someone else. I also learned through this initial step that when people are dysfunctional and addicted to something, they’re never proud of themselves, which makes it virtually impossible for them to ever be proud of anyone else.
The next step in fixing this part of me was accepting the fact that this void from my childhood was never going to be permanently filled by any person I ever had a relationship with. While any of them could tell me from time to time how proud they were of me, the feeling never lasted. I best compare this to that of a car needing gas. No matter how many times a car fills up with fuel, it always reaches empty at some point and needs to be refilled again. Hence the same principle when constantly looking to another for self-approval. It just won’t ever completely fill that void permanently. That’s why I had to learn how to start offering my own self-approval. So each time I began achieving some type of personal accomplishment, such as completing a puzzle, or doing some intense gardening work, or finishing some other project, I started telling myself how proud I was of me for my achievement.
The final step in this healing process has probably been the hardest though and it’s the one I’m still working on. While I’ve been slowly moving away from seeking that self-approval from others, I’ve continued to look for it from something far greater than myself and that’s from my Higher Power, whom I choose to call God. I long to know that God is proud of me for the work I’ve done in my life to become a more spiritually-sound and unconditionally loving person and I don’t think there’s anything unhealthy in seeking that. It really matters to me what God thinks, but the problem is that I just don’t know how to tell whether God is proud of me or not. It’s probably the biggest dilemma I have in life right now.
So, in the meantime, I continue to pray for that knowledge and do the best I can to offer it to myself instead of seeking it from others each time I make a personal accomplishment. Some days are better than others, but all in all, I know I’m leaps and bounds far healthier than I used to be with this. And somehow, I’m inclined to believe that God is actually smiling upon me, even right now, in the small achievement of writing this very article…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson