In group. “I have insomnia,” Teacher says. “Every morning I wake up at three.”
“Since when?” I ask.
“Do you know why?”
“Sure. Testing starts soon. I lie there worrying about how my students will do.” She frowns. “The thing is, the damn tests are ridiculous, and I know it Everyone knows it. And I know I’m a good teacher. And yet I can’t stop worrying about how my kids will do on these meaningless tests and what sort of evaluation I’ll get. And I get so mad at myself for losing sleep over this. I feel so stupid.”
“Me too,” blurts Store Manager. “I know I’m a good manager. My boss tells me I’m the best they have. But whenever it’s review time I get crazy. I’ve never had a bad review, not one, and yet each time I worry this will be the first.”
“God that’s familiar,” says Wife. “I feel like that whenever my inlaws visit. I keep imagining my mother-in-law is judging how I cook, how I keep house, how I raise my kids, how I wear my hair, for gods sake. And yes,” she turns to Teacher, “it keeps me up the night before they visit.”
“Does she criticize you?” Teacher asks.
“Never. She loves me. And I know that.” Wife shakes her head.
“Steve, what the hell?” Teacher asks. “Are we stupid, or crazy, or what?”
“None of the above,” I say. “You just have more than one part.
“You have an adult part and a kid part. The adult part knows you’re a good teacher or store manager or that your mother-in-law really does loves you. But the kid part, she’s hungry.”
“For what?” Store Manager frowns.
“Because you didn’t get enough when you were kids,” I say. “Kids who get enough absorb it. They store it up. Then later they can give it to themselves. Kids who don’t get enough enter adulthood insecure and hungry. They usually hide their hunger, even from themselves. But it plays like background music behind everything they do. Secretly they seek approval everywhere they go. And when they think they’ll get the opposite, they panic.”
The three are quiet.
“Okay,” Teacher says finally. “So what do we do?”
“You start feeding yourself,” I say. “First, admit your need for approval — to yourself.
“Second, take it to people you love and trust. I suspect they have no idea how hungry you are. Let them know, like you just did here.
“Third, be brave. Ask them for what you need. Ask for reassurance and validation and encouragement. Do you guys ever do that?”
They shake their heads.
“Isn’t that codependent?” Teacher says.
“No. Hiding your need, that’s codependent. So is lying awake worrying about it. So is knocking yourself out to be the perfect teacher or manager or daughter-in-law. Perfectionism is what kids do to get approval.
“But owning a need, and asking for help? That’s healthy. That comes from the grownup part.”