You Need Emotional MDRs transcript
Welcome to stren #29. Today’s stren offers a case study illustrating what I call our minimum daily requirement for approval [MDR] . Most people are aware of the term “minimum daily requirement” because we see it on food and vitamin labels: “One serving has 50% of the minimum daily requirement of vitamin C.” Just as our body has minimum daily requirements of thyroid hormone and certain vitamins, we require a minimum daily dose of emotional satisfaction to sustain our mental vigor. Today, we are very aware of our physical need for food, vitamins, warmth, sunshine, etc. and we know where and how to get them, but few of us recognize that we have a minimum daily requirement for approval to sustain our enthusiasm or how to provide for those needs. Are you such a person?
Caroline was having an especially difficult day. Before she left for work, her husband complained that she never showed any interest in his career. At the office, her boss rejected the proposal she’d put extra effort into, and her secretary quit, telling her she was impossible to work for. Caroline sat at her desk, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. She pictured herself marching down Main Street, the VIP in a parade. A brass band playing, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” marched behind her. Two young women dressed in colorful costumes walked along in front of her, carrying a banner that stretched across the street. The banner read, “Hurrah for Caroline!”
After a few minutes of engaging in her “pick me up” fantasy, Caroline returned to reality with renewed energy and enthusiasm. She took problem-solving actions. She put in a requisition for another secretary, phoned her husband saying she wanted to discuss his complaint, and began revising her proposal.
Six months ago, if Caroline had been confronted with only one of the circumstances she found herself in, she would have dwelled on her shortcomings, mentally beat on herself, become depressed, and considered herself a failure. Now, she is able to look at criticisms from others objectively, without putting herself down.
Caroline came to see me because of her recurring bouts of depression and a variety of physical complaints, including headache, stomach queasiness, and insomnia. I soon discovered that Caroline’s mental and emotional state was usually dependent on others’ reactions to her. If people praised her or otherwise showed their approval, she felt good about herself and remained in a cheerful frame of mind. She seemed unable to cope with critical comments, however. Whether or not the criticisms were valid wasn’t the issue. Because she didn’t possess the skill of providing for her self-esteem, Caroline reacted to the criticism with a depression that was often incapacitating, causing her to stay in bed or lie down with a headache.
Caroline was an intelligent young woman who was well informed about physical fitness and nutrition. It appeared to me that she pampered her flesh, but neglected and even abused her mental well-being. She obtained at least the MDR of her physical needs, such as vitamins and minerals, so one day, I asked her if she paid any attention to emotional MDRs.
“No,” she smiled weakly. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Could you imagine that just as your body has minimum needs for certain physical
substances, your emotions also have daily requirements?”
“I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“I’m saying that you can feel better about yourself and suffer far less from depression by taking responsibility for giving yourself your MDRs of emotional nutrition.”
“What do you mean by MDRs of emotional nutrition?”
“Your emotional MDR is the minimum daily requirement of positive feelings about yourself that you need each day to sustain your well-being.”
“How can I give these MDRs to myself?”
“By substituting positive statements for the negative, demoralizing statements you usually make about yourself. Look in the mirror first thing in the morning and tell yourself, ‘I’m lovable. I’m a hot sketch.’ Or sing about your accomplishments while you’re in the shower, walk proud, as if you know you’re somebody. Recognize and let go of self-pity, blaming, and ‘what-if’ worrying; use your newfound energy to develop an attitude of gratitude. Assign yourself a unit every time you think or say something positive about yourself until you reach, let’s say, at least ten a day. You can add up the units in a notebook or just do it mentally.”
Caroline was skeptical, but she agreed to try what I suggested. Like many depressed individuals, at first she had difficulty thinking of anything positive to say about her self. With a bit of effort, however, she began to list some qualities that led her to believe that she was just as worthwhile as anyone else – for instance, that she was friendly, neat, and a hard worker. By focusing her attention on what she had, her accomplishments, and what she might attain, she had less time to put her self down. Her mood improved. One day, she decided to jot down the units of approval she received from others. At the end of the day, her total was two. “If I depended on others for my emotional MDRs, I’d be depressed most of the time,” she said.
Caroline, like most of us, was far too dependent on what others thought of her. She let her mood be controlled by people and events that were, predictably, unpredictable. It is appropriate for all of us, including Caroline, to depend on others for our emotional MDRs when we are children. Children don’t have the mental resources to create their own feelings of self-worth. As adults, we don’t have to continue to react in the same way; indeed, we are unwise to remain so dependent.
We are encouraged to do more and more for ourselves as we continue to mature. We dress ourselves, take care of our personal needs, choose our lifestyle, and learn to support ourselves. In virtually every area of life, we are taught, and expected, to take care of ourselves, except where our emotional well-being is concerned.
Wouldn’t you be insulted if, at this stage of your life, someone tried to brush your teeth for you or feed you? Yet not only are you not taught to provide for your emotional well-being, but you are even taught not to be kind to yourself. You are admonished if you say good things about yourself, especially if you share your self-satisfaction with others.
Larry, an engineer with an interest in technology, was pleased with the original software he’d created for his computer. He took a great deal of pride in showing it to his friends. One evening, his mother took him aside and told him he was acting like a braggart. “She always told me that praise only counts if it comes from someone else. She says I’m selfish, vain, and an egotist if I say anything good about myself or what I’ve done.”
Larry had worked hard at providing for his emotional MDRs. His tech ability was near the top of his list. Larry’s mother didn’t recognize that he was simply attempting to share his accomplishments with others, not lord it over them.
We are so strongly taught not to provide for our emotional MDRs that most people find it very difficult to do so. We understand that it’s healthy to use our energy for self-encouragement rather than self-blame. Yet the lifelong repetition of self-putdowns such as, “I’m stupid,” “I’m a jerk,” or, “I should’ve known!” are so ingrained and so natural that making positive statements about our self feels awkward. Don’t become discouraged if you don’t get immediate results with your emotional MDRs. Think of the units of self-put-downs you’ve been giving yourself daily. With lots of practice, the way you would gradually strengthen a muscle, the positive statements can catch up with, challenge, and overtake your habitual, negative mental put-downs.
Just as we don’t know the exact number of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other requirements we need to enjoy optimum physical health, we don’t know the exact number of MDRs we need to satisfy our emotional well-being. As we increasingly create more of our emotional MDRs, however, we’ll sustain our well-being more confidently. As you experiment with this idea, you’ll discover the number of MDRs you need to give you “fuel” to carry you through the day. Ten units was Caroline’s starting point. You can also start with ten and increase the amount up to twenty, thirty, or as many more units daily as you need. You’ll know that you have created sufficient MDRs when you’re able to maintain your well-being on a consistent basis, and face life’s challenges both energetically and enthusiastically.
Taking responsibility for our self-esteem doesn’t imply that it’s inappropriate to welcome and enjoy the approval of others. Approval, recognition, love, and support are worth working for. But when we take responsibility for our own emotional MDRs, what we get from others becomes a bonus, rather than a necessity. And you’ll find that when you’re less needy, it is easier to be a lover than a love “junky.”
Take time each day to provide for both your physical and your emotional well-being. After you exercise, or while you’re eating breakfast, take a few moments to consider your emotional MDRs. You can give yourself MDRs anytime and anyplace, but if you become accustomed to doing so at certain times of the day, you will form the habit quickly. Make a short, positive statement to yourself; “Attagirl!/“Attaboy!” Or use detailed imagery, such as Caroline’s brass band fantasy.
As you begin to feel consistently good about yourself, you’ll notice that people will enjoy being with you and seek out your company more often. People are attracted to a person with an upbeat attitude. The friends and popularity everyone desires are far more likely to develop when you no longer need others to reassure you that you’re O.K. And you can add your new, upbeat attitude to your list of emotional MDRs.