"Before I could even spell the word "approval" properly, I knew what it was - and that I needed to have it. Remember though, that it's not just any approval that I need: It's yours." -- Shannon Drury
by Shannon Drury
There are more than a few different kinds of cages: ones made of brick and mortar, ones made of concrete and barbed wire. Mine is physically invisible, but constricting nonetheless, for in this tiny, proscribed world, I can't act, think or speak without you.
I have to know: Am I appealing to you? Do you think I'm doing the right thing? Do you think I'm good enough?
Do you like me?
The framework you provided was initially a source of relief for me, an anxious and shy child mystified by many common social interactions. Pleasing grown-ups came easily to me, and when I saw how it smoothed the ragged edges of my unpredictable world it became addictive. No alcoholic or smoker has clung to their habit since toddlerhood, but I have. It's been a fixation long before I ever lifted a crayoned picture to Mrs. Leighton, my kindergarten teacher, and waited for the bun at the back of her head to bob forward, for her pink lipsticked mouth to form the words I longed to hear: "Good job, Shannon."
Her validation felt marvelous. It manifested as a warmth in my heart that radiated out to all corners of my body. It was so delicious that I dedicated my life to feeling it again. And again. And again.
This is not to blame Mrs. Leighton, or anyone else who fed my ego in those early years: my parents, relatives, teachers, neighbors, anyone else who looked at me and patted me on the head. I was a good child, an easy child, a compliant child. My head was patted so often there could have been a groove worn into my Dorothy Hamill haircut. Before I could even spell the word "approval" properly, I knew what it was - and that I needed to have it.
Remember though, that it's not just any approval that I need: It's yours.
Without your approval, I am bereft. When I have it, I am momentarily delighted, yet always aware of how deeply in its thrall I remain - and how much it is my master. Unlike kindergarteners who accepted Mrs. Leighton's praise for their work, aspiring to greater crayon masterpieces in first and second grade, I interpreted her words as an interpretation of my self. Five-year-old Shannon was good, not the artwork. Even at that young age, I gave her the power to define me. Today, I do the same thing to you.
You, dear reader, wield extraordinary power, though most of you don't know it. Hell, most of you reading this don't even know me. (Would you like to? Please say yes.)
Requiring your constant acceptance is exhausting, and it makes me hate you. (I didn't mean that. Forgive me.)
How can I convince you to set me free? (I'll do anything.)
Reach into your pocket for the key that will unlock the cage that has trapped me. (Please.)
But before you do, give me a little feedback on this column. Did it delight you? Excite you? Flatter you?
I'm not going anywhere. I'll wait to hear from you.
Shannon Drury is a self-described radical house-wife. She lives in Minneapolis. Send some feedback her way by writing to email@example.com