Ch.185 Spreading Out My Need for Affirmation
After Pat died, I took up a new hobby: colored pencil drawing. That was somewhat of a stretch, given that I lack any native artistic ability. I can’t draw a decent circle by hand, and understanding one-and two-point perspective, much less using them, is perplexing. I did start with one asset, however. My years of painting adult paint-by-number pictures had greatly improved my hand-eye coordination. So, surprisingly, I’ve gotten off to a pretty good start. I’m taking lessons through a Great Courses dvd class, going along slowly and painstakingly.
A week ago, I created, with much help from the teacher, a nice picture of two cherries, complete with shadows, boldness (each is about 5” across), depth, and a mixture of red shades (My teacher forbids her students to ever use just one color. Every portion of the picture, even the background should be a blend of at least three or four colors.)
There are some people in this world who could create an object of beauty, say something to themselves like “yup, that’s pretty good”, and go on to their next challenge without showing the piece to anyone and without needing any sort of external validation. I am not one of them. I need to show my creations to relevant people, hoping and expecting to receive some form of “Ron, that’s really nice. Good job!” I don’t know if my need is excessive; maybe I suffered from “affirmation negligence” growing up. I do know that hearing words of praise makes me feel affirmed not only for what I’ve done but also for who I am. Those generous words are the ultimate antidote for shame.
But I have a problem. Pat used to be the person I could go to for immediate affirmation. For example, just about every night, after I spent an hour on my paint by numbers piece, I would take the painting to her, point out the new parts I had just completed, and bask in her praise. I could count on her to attend to the work in detail, so I would receive not a “Yeah, good job, babe” but a “That light brown really fits in nicely with the dark green in the leaves and you painted that thin blade of grass perfectly.” Occasionally, Pat would notice something that needed correction and she didn’t hesitate to tell me so, although she was always tactful in her criticism.
Now there is no Pat. She is gone, forever.
I have two options. First, I could recruit someone to be my #1 affirmer almost all the time. That person would be called my wife. Unlikely, at least for now.
The second option is to spread my need for affirmation around, getting portions from my children, friends, brothers, acquaintances, and extended family. That’s what I’ve been doing, with good results. It’s not the same, though: no single person can replace the warm feelings that came with Pat’s praise. Oddly, not even receiving cumulative affirmations from many people is as powerful as were Pat’s words of praise or criticism. For one thing, much of the praise comes from a distance, such as when I send them a picture via smart phone, and they respond similarly. Mostly, though, Pat’s praise (and criticism) came folded into five decades of togetherness. But now I’m sounding unappreciative. And that’s a mistake. Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without the loving and kind affirmations (and occasional criticisms) of the people in my life.
By the way, I try to affirm others a lot. The other day I kept telling my daughter Jenny she was doing a good job every time she placed a puzzle piece into the puzzle. After about the tenth “Good job” she laughed. And then she started saying “Good job” to me. I felt truly loved and understood.