Attachment to approval is a bottomless pit

Sep 7, 2020

QUESTION

Dear Venerable Robina,

I hope you are well.

Today I had an argument. I was called selfish, told I don’t listen, that I have no empathy, that I help out of duty and not empathy or compassion.

What struck me was that I thought I had been doing the opposite the whole time. I thought I was putting extra effort at listening (which am really not proficient at). I thought I was putting my needs and wants on the side trying to allow the other to get some space. I never felt obliged at helping out, of course sometimes it’s hard and I might puff a bit, but never felt like a duty.

Then as soon as I was about to express how I was feeling, the other person put it into words right before me.

“Sometimes I don’t feel appreciated, I feel like I want to express my struggle and nobody is here to listen to me. I feel like all the effort I put day in day out has no value in the eyes of the others. I feel like nobody understands how hard it is and I just want to cry.”

At that moment I started feeling how much it didn’t matter what I was feeling and how hard it was for me because the person in front of me was experiencing the same suffering, the same frustration, the same pain as I was.

As much as I felt the other person’s pain and understood we both suffer for the situation, inside my head there was a voice saying “But what about me?!”

As much as I wanted to put my pain first and say, “But I…” I understood the pain in the other and I was biting my tongue and holding back my words (I didn’t always succeed).

How can I cope in these situations? How can I fight the need of expressing my pain and be understanding of the other? How can I be understanding of the other, but at the same time have a constructive conversation and release a bit of frustration on my side?

Also, why is it that when I think I am doing my best and put my best work on, put effort and developing understanding and helping as much as I can, I get called out for the opposite?

Please Venerable, keep teaching us ignorant beings. Please live long and bless us with your teachings.

Thank you, Venerable 
T

ANSWER
Good to hear from you, T.

The trouble is, the more we are unable to take responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings — in other words, the more we crave to be heard and understood by another person — no matter how much the other person listens, it’ll never be enough.

There you are, each of you doing your best, but each of you stressed out, and each of craving to be seen and heard and approved of by the other. 

This is the essence of the suffering of attachment: the deep, primordial dissatisfaction that no matter what I get, what I have, what I achieve, how much someone loves me or listens to me, it’s never enough. Attachment is a bottomless pit of dissatisfaction.

The trouble is, we don’t know how to be satisfied with ourselves; we always need the other person to see us, thank us, appreciate how hard we’re working. We simply don’t know how to approve of ourself, appreciate ourself, to be satisfied with ourself. This is what makes us go insane in relationships!

For sure, it’s wonderful if our partner appreciates us, thanks us, listens to us, loves us – but if we don’t work on our own mind, learn to be our own friend, no matter how much they give us, love us, listen to us, it won’t be enough. We have to keep learning about our own mind, about this primordial craving to be seen and heard by others, and slowly learn to become content with ourself, to satisfy ourself.

And, of course, it’s exactly the same for your partner. 

And the more we can become fulfilled within ourself, the more we’ll be able to listen to the other person, really hear them. 

Keep moving, one step at a time.

Does this make sense?

Love,
Robina

QUESTION
Venerable,

Thank you for your kind reply, for taking some of you precious time. Your words are always encouraging. 

I have spent most of my life doubting myself, questioning my worth, dismissing my efforts or achievements, and always feeling like I don’t really deserve good things. It is a hard battle to fight.

Maybe I project that mindset towards the world around me. Like if I see the reflection of my mindset on people actions.

Sometimes I see everything like an obstacle. Recently I started forcing myself to see everything like a useful tool, or a piece of a giant puzzle. I stop myself more and more from allowing anger to overtake me, but most times I realise it too late , after I hurt someone dear.

I am afraid of not being a good parent because of that. Or a good partner.

My practice is more stable, but I still can’t translate it completely into my actions yet. 

How can I free myself from such deep conditioning? I don’t like disliking myself and I don’t like hurting people?

Thank you Venerable for your precious time. And thank you for your support.

With devotion
T

ANSWER
Slowly, slowly T.

Be humble and patient. Learn to be satisfied. Practice thinking, “I am doing well.” Don’t just hear me say it, you say it!

Love,
Robina

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