When I look back on my experiences in life I can list so many things that I had to overcome. One of the most difficult, however, was learning how to accept myself even when there was a lack of approval from those around me. It was programmed into my head that I was not smart enough, I was not good enough and that I would never succeed. When I ended up on the street, I was at rock bottom but I didn’t believe I deserved anything else; I simply existed to get through each day. However, something deep inside of me always wondered if there was more to life than this and there was only one way to figure that out and that was to get myself off the streets. I set one goal: to make it to my 16th birthday and that was the only thing that kept me going. Sixteen was the age that I could get a job and, because I knew that I wanted more than what I had, this was the only ticket I had access to. I fought relentlessly to change my circumstances and it worked out for me. Unfortunately, what I didn’t realize was that I would still spend the better part of my life trying to prove myself to one person…my dad. I spent a lifetime seeking his approval and it took an exhausting mental and emotional toll on me. Getting him to put his stamp of approval on me was like chasing the wind; but I kept trying right up until the day he died.
When I was a junior in high school, I was attending West Mesa High School (https://wmhs-aps-nm.schoolloop.com/) and I remember having a College Day. The speakers talked about college and it sounded so crazy to me that someone could choose a school, learn about whatever they wanted to and get a job after they graduated. I went home that day and couldn’t wait to tell my dad about it. When I was done informing him of these amazing options for ‘school after school’, he simply responded, “That is for rich kids, NOT for people like you.” Now, as a reader, you probably have emotions of injustice that have just risen up and rightly so. However, as a victim of abuse who was constantly being minimized, my deflated response was, “Oh, I didn’t know that. Well, that’s dumb.” and I went outside to play. I took his word as fact, moved on and never considered it again (until I was 48 and was able to earn a Master’s in Theological Studies…but that’s another blog, for another time). As an adult who has raised four children and influenced many others, it hurts that any parent would strip their child of the belief that they could better themself. Abuse comes in many forms and one of them is psychological. I was programmed to have a poverty mindset and to believe that good things were meant for others and not for “people like me.”
Instead of college I ended up on the streets. On weekends I would crash parties so that I could get free booze and food. However, during the week I didn’t eat much at all. I had that Mexican pride thing going for me and refused to beg anyone for anything. Other than selling snow cones in front of my dad’s pawn shop, I had no work experience. The only real job I could get was as a dishwasher at a college restaurant called, The Frontier Restaurant. I didn’t care though, because it was the first time I was earning money and could actually afford to eat. Plus, I got a discount at the restaurant where I could eat one free meal and one discounted meal EVERY day and this was equal to food heaven for me!
From that position on, I worked my butt off and always advanced whenever I took another position. At every job I was an overachiever and my only goal was to outwork everyone else and prove that I was the best. For me this was pure ambition but, for my co-workers, I was very annoying! When I was 22 and living in California, I landed a job at a car dealership. I was hired as the “New Car Contract Processor” and for some reason, the main boss took an immediate disliking toward me. For the sake of privacy, I will refer to her as, Cruella, and she was a difficult woman to please. Two months into this job, the company decided to switch software companies and a huge team came in to install an entirely new system throughout all three locations of the dealership. The company needed a “point person” and I was chosen. For three weeks I helped the company complete the install. After they left, the Used Car Division called and needed help troubleshooting an issue. Cruella came to me and said, “Come with me, we need to go and troubleshoot next door.” As we were walking to the next building, Cruella, who had slowly started being nice to me during that three week process, smiled at me and said, “I am giving you a $100 a paycheck raise and a promotion; don’t tell anyone else because you are the only one getting promoted.” I WAS FREAKING ELATED!!! Cruella finally approved of me!!! I felt like I had won the lottery!!! I lived alone at the time so there was no one to share my great news with, and when I laid down to go to sleep, I realized that I was feeling really depressed. At this point I was already a Believer, so I prayed because this was confusing to me. I distinctly remember this thought going through my head, “Because she is not your dad and you still don’t have HIS approval.”
I hadn’t realized that my ambition, tenacity and hard work were all grounded in seeking his approval. I wish I could say that I suddenly came to my senses and no longer needed it, however, it isn’t that simple. As I mentioned in, Never Cry Again, abusive programming takes years to unravel but, as a survivor of domestic abuse, there is something that still remains a conundrum to me: Why do we long for the approval of the person who has treated us the worst? Dads are one of the important figures in a kid’s life so it makes sense that I would seek his Love and approval. However, what about the cases where it isn’t a parent, but it is the ex-husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend? It makes the healing journey so much harder when we need the Love of an emotionally unavailable person. In the latter part of his life, my dad really had changed and tried to be different. The last time that I visited him in the hospital, which was the same day that he passed away, he left me with the gift of his approval. He was not a man of many words, but I knew that he was trying to communicate that he WAS proud of me and that he Loved me the best way that he could. As a young woman, still having no idea who she was or how she fit into this world, the look of approval in his eyes played a huge part in helping me to believe that I was enough.
I have not always had the proper support system that I needed to help me move mountains in my healing process, and my road to self-acceptance and approval has been very difficult. I needed the approval of those closest to me but they were emotionally unavailable; it was often that I felt incredibly alone even when I was standing in a room full of people. I also have a very strong personality and for years was made to feel like that was a bad thing. I always felt like I had to stifle who I was in order to be accepted, even in the Christian community. Thankfully, because I have a close relationship with Jesus, He was the one that I could always turn to and where I learned of my true value. In spite of the false reputation that has been assigned to Him, God is not a god who sits on His throne of judgement waiting to smack us upside the head every time we screw up. No – He has nothing but Love and cares deeply about everyone. He is the only reason that I am who I am today and, because I have His unconditional approval, it doesn’t matter to me who does or doesn’t approve of me.
Now, I say this to every reader, every victim of abuse and every person who has gone through tough things in life: Whoever you are, whatever you have been through and whatever you believe, find confidence in who YOU are and walk with your head up because you don’t need anyone to put their stamp of approval on you. I once read this saying, “Just be you, because everyone else is taken.” You are uniquely you and your story can either make you or break you. Don’t let it break you because no one deserves that kind of power over your life. There is value to constructive criticism from people whom you trust and have the best in mind for you; but practice silencing the voices of opposition from those who do not have your best interest at heart. Learn to stand confident in the person that you are. Take whatever you were given and use it to empower yourself so that you can, in turn, empower others. Find out what strengths and unique giftings you have and begin to develop those. Find out what makes you want to get up in the morning and GO DO THAT! Always remember that who you are is valuable and that you matter.
Until next time, just be YOU and stay safe.