Some of us need applause.
People often wonder aloud why other people choose to get up on stage at karaoke, or perform in front of other people in a play or give a speech at a fundraiser, and it's always difficult for me to see why it's so hard for them to understand.
When I was growing up, my father (like so many others) seemed to feel that the best way to inspire me to do my best was to frequently remind me that my efforts were not good enough. I wrote songs that I felt really spoke from my heart, and people seemed to like them. But my father thought I should be a rock and roll guitar player, and pushed me so hard to be what he envisioned for me that I found myself wondering how it was possible that he apparently could not see me at all.
The little voice in the back of my head telling me that my efforts were not good enough rode with me to school every day, and later, to the office. It sat behind me during tests, interviews, and performances. It echoed in my ears every time I found someone I wanted to get to know, or someone I thought I might like to date. It was like a tattoo that nobody could see but me.
Negative comments leave an indelible mark on the soul, regardless of whether they contain any ink of reality.
I found solace on the stage, drinking in the faceless cacophony of approval from total strangers in an effort to refill my emotional gas tank and try to drown out that infernal voice of self-doubt. I was a teacher's pet, shouting out answers in class for no other reason than to impress the teacher and force an adult to praise me out loud in front of witnesses. I found myself cheerfully allowing simple applause to replace real affection from other people. Turns out, I am a person who needs applause.
In 1998 I was found by a discarded puppy I named Jack. For 14 years, this beautiful Shepherd mix looked to me for love, guidance, and approval, and hung on my every word, perceiving me to be the smartest and most wonderful person in the world. It's remarkable what this sort of unequivocal and unconditional love can do for the soul. My good dog Jack gave me a reason to wake up in the morning, and his boundless adoration and sweet companionship successfully drowned out the small voice of inadequacy in my head. When he suddenly passed away in October 2012, I lost a lot more than my dog.
I've been fortunate to have friends in my life who are supportive and encouraging, and I've tried to be a positive force for others because I know how important it is. My parents are the most amazing, supportive and encouraging people I know, and I consider myself lucky to have them. But we all have people in our lives who don't quite have the same notion of what it is to be a good clapper. Knocking someone down a notch at every opportunity is the mark of someone whose own issues of self-worth have convinced them that they can only feel good about themselves if they make others feel unworthy and inadequate. I understand that negative memories often stand out more than the positive, but I also understand that constant negative energy drains a person's life force and is just as damaging as taking out a sledgehammer and hitting someone over the head with it. I've seen firsthand what happens to a person who's barraged with an opinion of them to which they eventually surrender, perhaps simply for the lack of any opposing viewpoints.
Perhaps you need applause in your life, too. Frankly, I can't imagine anyone who doesn't, at least to some degree. I hope you can find it within you to be like good dog Jack, freely giving the adoration and love that those around you so dearly need. I hope you can set aside your own fears and demons when it comes to the small successes of those about whom you profess to care deeply. And I hope you receive the encouragement you need, whether it be from man or beast, because without it, life is scarcely worth living. If someone in your life makes you feel small, stupid, or unworthy, that is the opposite of love. It is the opposite of right. Love yourself enough to protect your spirit. Surround yourself with people who clap.
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