(me, the beauty queen)

Hi. My name is Amy and I am addicted to approval.

I have been in recovery for about three years. But once an addict, always an addict as they say. I didn’t always think of myself as an approval addict. I lived most of my life in denial. I was the golden child. In high school I was girl of the year, homecoming queen, captain of the dance team. I was the first kid in the family to go to college and graduate with honors. I married the perfect guy. We bought a house. We drove Volkswagens. What more could there be?

As Oprah Winfrey says, the universe is always trying to get our attention. It may start out as a whisper, but if you don’t listen, the truth will knock you upside the head. In my case, I had just finished a master’s degree and was working as a research assistant for a progressive think tank outside of Portland. I was also pregnant with twins – the culmination of five years of infertility hell. On the night of November 30th 2007, my brother showed up at the door unexpected. Six months pregnant, I was drafting a report on the home mortgage interest deduction. Dad was frantic, he said. Mom went to bed with a book. When he found her, she wasn’t breathing. It sounded bad, he said. Very, very bad.

The mind is funny. Sometimes things are just too big to grasp. I told my brother not to freak out. “You know dad,” I told him, “she’s probably fine.” And I believed it, one hundred percent. A few minutes later, I was hauling my enormously pregnant body into the car. On the way to the hospital, I phoned my siblings. It was late and I couldn’t get in touch with my sister. I asked my niece to drive over to her condo and find a way to break in to the grounds. Still, I wondered if all this was necessary. Mom was probably fine.

I continued to believe it until I got to the hospital. Well until I walked into the room where they were trying to resuscitate her. There was my mother sprawled out on a gurney, completely nude, while doctors hovered over her, desperately trying to revive her pale, limp body. That is when I knew things were not, in fact, fine.

They did manage to regain a pulse. I asked an ER doctor if she was going to be okay. His response was vague; he didn’t look me in the eye. Later a neurologist confirmed that she had very little chance of surviving without the help of life support. So we took her off the machines and spent the next two days watching her die.

Time had stopped.

Three months later, Alice and Anthony were born. Home from the hospital, sleep deprived and surrounded by breast pump equipment, bottles, feeding schedules, diapers, formula, nursing pads, pacifiers and books titled things like “what to expect the first year,” I remember staring down at those two helpless beings sprawled out on my bed.

Time was still a non-issue.

It’s interesting what happens when one gets knocked upside the head. Although I felt as though I was in a fog, some things became desperately clear. I didn’t care about the home mortgage income tax deduction, or the federal definition of taxable income, or the 2007 – 2009 legislative biennium. Aside from a solid night of sleep, all I really wanted to do was read about things like astrology, past life regression, and near death experiences. I openly and unapologetically devoured books by Brian Weiss, Raymond Moody, Sonia Choquette to name a few. The kind of books that important people – people who are smart enough to end poverty or solve the hunger problem – don’t read. But in my grief stricken and sleep-deprived state, these were the books that fed my soul.

And so it began. My metamorphosis.

Eventually my super natural book binge led me to one called Expecting Adam, by Martha Beck. A Harvard intellectual gives up her life as an academic to give birth to her Down Syndrome son. In the process, she experiences all sorts of unexplainable things, angelic encounters, white light experiences, paranormal phenomena and just plain crazy synchronicities. This memoir was about as woo-woo as it got for me at that time, yet it sang to me. I wanted more. So I purchased my first self-help title, Finding Your Own North Star, also by Martha Beck. I began to reassess the life I had created up until this point. On the outside, it looked all shiny and sparkly but inside a quiet and increasingly desperate yearning followed me everywhere I went.

I had created an elaborate façade. I thought the exterior would help me be happy. If I looked good, if I dressed right, if I had the degrees, the awards, the guy, the house, the kids, I would be fulfilled. People would gaze adoringly as I passed by flashing them a confident smile. They’d whisper, “That’s Amy Pearson. Do you know her? Did you hear she single handedly wrote a report that wiped out the home mortgage tax deduction freeing up enough money in the legislature to eliminate hunger in Oregon? How does she do all that and stay so thin…?!,” they would marvel.

The realization that there might be more to life than the near constant time and feeding of my sparkly, shiny exterior led to – what by academic standards – was nearly unthinkable and certainly laughable… I became a life coach.

Martha Beck and her unruly cast of characters became my tribe. The most powerful thing I learned as a coach in training is that I, and I alone, am responsible for creating my inner state. It doesn’t matter whether people marvel at my gold stars or not, it’s up to me to feel good from the inside. As I coach I learned how create an inner life that was so shiny and sparkly I didn’t care who noticed it.

Now in addition to my own coaching practice, I work for Martha Beck, teaching classes and training coaches.

I decided to write this because it took me nearly 37 years to notice I had a problem. I hope you get it much sooner. But if you don’t, it’s my hope that this blog sets you free before the universe knocks you upside the head.

So here are some aha’s I’d like to share:

1. Having a persona is not the problem. We all have them. But does your persona allow other people to get to know the real you or does it hide the real you? If you’re using your persona to hide, you’ve got a problem. Here’s a clue, if you’re exhausted you are probably addicted to approval. My persona required constant work – a masters degree, a policy job, staying continuously up-to-the-minute on current events. How much time and energy do you give away doing shit you don’t want to do to maintain that shiny and sparkly exterior?

2. It all starts with permission. Stop judging yourself for what you want. But wait Amy, what I want is unacceptable, irrational, not practical and just plain stupid (and besides it’s selfish), you argue? Well I respectfully call bullshit. Quoting the great Brooke Castillo, “The extent you don’t know what it is you want is the extent you won’t ever get it.” She also says that what we want is code for directions to our destiny. And I agree, 100 percent.

3. It takes a tribe. Quoting Martha Beck, “the unit of biological survival for a human is one individual. But for emotional survival it’s two. Everyone needs at least one compassionate witness to their experience.” Finding my tribe helped me to break free from my limited perspective. It helped me think bigger, see new opportunities, find a new normal for myself, but most importantly it helped me to learn the difference between fitting in and truly belonging.

If you liked this article, please join me for my upcoming free class!

Related posts:

{ 25 Comments }

25 Responses

  1. Kristah says:

    Amy,

    You changed my life with 8 simple words, “it’s all about the story you tell yourself”. From the moment I heard that phrase I realized I am in complete control of my emotions. You taught me that I am perfect just the way I am, right now in this moment. Every day is still a challenge because as you say I am a recovering approval addict, but I feel so much lighter these days. There’s much to be said about letting go and accepting the now, it’s quite liberating! So thank you, I’m more appreciative than I could ever express in words.

    Kristah

  2. Amy says:

    Wow Kristah, you just made me cry. I am grateful to you! Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Christine Majeran says:

    “But does your persona allow other people to get to know the real you or does it hide the real you?” Love this. Love the whole article.

  4. Amy, This is such a wonderfully well written post. Thank you so much for sharing – you have a great gift.

  5. Amy says:

    I am getting high of all of your sweet approval. When I can be myself and be acknowledged for putting that out in the world it is the sweetest thing of all. Absolute Icing on the cake.

  6. Susan says:

    I too was the approval addict with a Masters Degree and six figure income. I looked good from the outside, and craved so much more from the inside. Martha Beck and “Finding Your Own North Star” became the catalyst for change. I found my Tribe … and I leaped. I’m so grateful to share this Tribe you Amy. Love this post … and love you.

  7. Cristina Calderon says:

    My favorite part: “that’s Amy Pearson, do you know her? …how does she do all that and still stay thin?” I love it!. I did recognize some of myself here. I am just so thankful to have you in my life and for your transformation because it has a very positive effect on me… with you Peasrons I am at home.

  8. Connie O'Connor says:

    Amy, I am sorry I don’t take the time to comment more regulary. I love reading your articles. They are honest and funny, and always strike a chord. I love you and am so sorry we are not going to be able to make it out to the reunion this year. I will miss seeing you, those beautiful kids, and that perfect husband of yours, too! And, Happy Birthday to your mom. I know you miss her more than words. xoxo

  9. Lilia Lee says:

    Wow! What a moving, touching story. Thank you for sharing it and the lessons you learned from it.

  10. Colleen says:

    Hello Amy! I loved this post and it hit quite close to home in several areas. I have many photos similar to the one above in a box in the closet…interesting how the spiral of approval addiction is exacerbated by certain paths.

    Like you, I was an approval addict in denial for a long, long time. Over the past few years I have worked on only being true to myself and I can honestly say that I am in a much better place now.

    I discovered Martha Beck and “Finding Your Own North Star” earlier this year. I have read it, put it down, walked away for days and weeks at a time and keep coming back. There are parts that hit so very close to home that it is sometimes too painful to continue, but the book is my constant companion. I am currently in the metamorphosis stage of the caterpillar becoming the butterfly. Dissolving the caterpillar is one tough journey. Wondering where my tribe is….

    I look forward to following you in your journey.

  11. Bonnie says:

    Thank you, Amy, for shining your light on the path. I hit a patch of fog this morning inside myself, and your words, enthusiasm and energy helped clear it away.

  12. april says:

    amy – this is beautifully written
    thank you

    having also lost my mom (who was my best friend), i can closely relate to some of your feelings

    (i also went back and read your previous post about the things your mother has taught you. and cried.)

  13. me says:

    I was struck about the story with your mom. I’m so sorry for your loss, there are no words. :(

    I am captivated by what you said about diving into woo woo stuff because it’s comforting — that’s been me lately. In one way, I dislike that I’m seeking to feed my confused, lost soul with the divine, especially when I am supposed to have an understanding of science education, but your story helped me a little more accepting of myself. I really appreciate you putting this out there. I think I will probably call you in the next 6 months while I’m putting my life back together — thank you for your help and for baring yourself. It’s the one thing that will make it easier to bare mine. <3

  14. Becky says:

    Wow! Great post :)

    For me, I knew somehow that those external things weren’t the answer, so I DIDN’T pursue them. Then told myself that since I didn’t “buy in”, that I didn’t “fit in”, so I was some kind of outsider, couldn’t relate to anyone, wasn’t “qualified”. I still grapple with that today.

    Thank you for your transparency. You are so articulate and I really feel you when I read this. My work is with #2, giving myself permission to be who I am and to want what I want.
    Your words and your heart motivate me to marinate in that.

    Much Love,
    Becky

  15. Stacy says:

    Love this post! My first time here and I’m hooked. I am a past-life hypnotist – trained by Brian Weiss and a holistic counselor. I rarely tell people, except close friends, I do past-life hypnosis and I only pratice on friends of friends. I think I have feared the judgement of all my colleagues. You have called me out of the closet! Thanks so much, Stacy

  16. Amy says:

    Stacy! I love that I outed you! And I want a past life reading!!

  17. Stacy says:

    Lol. Hmm. I’m on the east coast, you have any travel plans :) I’ve never done it by Skype but I guess there’s a first time for everything! We could give it a try.

  18. julie says:

    hey amy

    Loving your newsletters as they are so authentic and really encourage me so please keep on doing and sharing your own unique do. I am celebrating my birthday this week and for the first time in 52 years I find myself thinking more often than not ‘I DON’T CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK’ and a lot of that is due to you and your great work.

  19. Kathi says:

    Oh Amy you are so amazing! What beautiful story of transformation and embracing what’s real and important. I’m so sorry you lost your Mom at such an important time in your life, but I’m so sure she was and is still there for you. I am still crying over this story, so beautiful, and so bright. You are a golden girl!
    Love, Kathi

  20. amy says:

    @Stacy, really?! I would love that!! @Julie, Oh my goodness, your comment really spells out why I do what I do. THANK YOU for taking the time to share. It means the world. @Kathi, wow. Thank you. I know she is too. I really do. I love you all!!!!

  21. Traci says:

    I was just going through my inbox this morning and your email popped out at me. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

    I too lost my mother, but it happened long before I was ever born – to her own depression and anxieties. She is still alive now, but it took me until I was age 36 (why your post really spoke to me), to actually face the fact that I have yet to accept and grieve the loving mother-daughter relationship that I always longed for, but never had.
    I have waded through a lot of emotional muck this year. Thanks for adding to part of my growth experience with this post.

  22. Irina says:

    It is nice to come across your website and blog, Amy. Hi! I love your writing. The third tribe idea – how true! Me too, here I am, sitting in my nice home trying to *accomplish* things to gain weight of importance, to (finally!) hear people gossiping *that Russian woman Irina, she writes cute children stories, and she also is a painter, she is a good decorator, and she is good at…also brilliant at….* – just to feel that I belong (to my son’s school meetings with all the other cheerful moms, to my husband’s extended family who probably thinks that I am a coo coo, to our small town and the neighbors who don’t talk to me, etc). I find myself so emotionally exausted that I have no desire to finish any of my decorative projects, or publish any of my (probably poor written) children books. I have never thought of myself as an approval needed person, since I’ve learned how to live with the people who underappreciate me and being o.k. with that. But maybe I am??

  23. Maureen says:

    Hi Amy,

    I’m new to your site…in fact I just signed up for your course yesterday. I loved your story about your mom. I, too, lost my mother nine years ago, had a complete nervous breakdown because I simply could not deal with her loss, and then after being stuck in grief for five years I finally began the journey of putting my life back together. I’m an approval addict and I worry excessively when I think my position has slipped in the eyes of my peers. I love your candor and I’m looking forward to all that I can glean for you and the others on this site. Your website is a much appreciated gift!!!

  24. musa says:

    It all began when I was five years old. I was a happy kid even though my parents were divorced. I was spending the weekend with my father when the most tragic thing in my life happened.
    Well, it all began when I was coloring a picture in my coloring book for my mother. When I was done with it, I showed it to my dad, and he started crying. Like most five-year-old’s I was curious, so I asked what was wrong. My dad led me up stairs and sat me on my bed. He said, “ Remember your little brother who passed away? The one who died in your arms at the hospital?”
    I said, “ Yeah, but we promised not to talk about him. So, what’s wrong?”
    He said, “ Sweetie, your mom passed away.”
    What he said ran through my head again and again, “Sweetie, your mom passed away, Sweetie, your mom passed away, Sweetie, your mom passed away.”
    At first I didn’t comprehend what was going on but after a minute or two I realized what had happened. I started crying, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop. My dad tried to comfort me but in a way I didn’t want to be comforted. The only thing I wanted was my mom. The day I found out was the day of her funeral. My dad isn’t the kind of person to go to a funeral, so I had to go into the funeral home alone. When I found the room, I walked inside. I froze. I couldn’t believe that my mom had so many people that knew and loved her. Almost everyone was crying. The only people that weren’t crying were my two little brothers, that were too young to understand, and the people that worked at the funeral home.
    In many ways my mother’s death has helped and hurt me, but out of all the things that have happened in my life this has been the worst. my email is sowemusas@yahoo.com

Leave a Reply to Connie O'Connor

*