Fear of Disapproval
A couple weeks ago, I began a series on my biggest fears throughout my life and how I’ve dealt and coped with them. The first installment was about the fear of failure and how I feel that I’ve largely overcome that in my life.
The second installment is about fear of disapproval, a deep fear that is related to the fear of failure, but also debilitating in other ways. This is another fear that I feel I’ve largely overcome, although it took longer and I still feel the occasional pang.
In a couple weeks, I’ll complete the series with a third major fear of my life which I believe I am still working through at the moment.
Fear of Disapproval
Last time I talked about how in high school I invested most of my time and effort into three things: music, video games and drugs. I talked about how this was a defense mechanism against my fear of failure, as they were all activities that no matter how good I got at them or how often I did them, there was no real long-term opportunities with them, therefore little risk of failure.
Well, the other benefit of these activities is that they can distort other people’s perception of you allowing you to avoid judgment and criticism.
With music, I performed less than I should have and I played with far fewer musicians of my caliber than I should have. These activities would have required me making myself vulnerable artistically. Instead, I spent most of my time woodshedding in my room, practicing rote and measurable skills and perfecting various songs instead of finding ways to express myself to others. I should have joined more bands. I could have easily played a lot of gigs. But I didn’t. I was too afraid.
The same was true with video games. Although most of the games were played online with other people, those people were largely anonymous and incapable of judging me or my performance. In fact, I believe to this day that a large part of online video games’ success is that it allows people a mild form of social interaction and ambition without the downside of judgment from one’s peers. A success like hitting level 50 in Everquest let’s you imagine how impressed hundreds of other players are without ever verifying it, it allows you the feeling of accomplishment and superiority. While a failure like getting your ass kicked in Quake, you can log off and never see or think about the person ever again. Online gaming is built perfectly as a way to avoid being socially punished for failure while being able to idealize successes. It distorts social feedback in your favor and I took full advantage of this.
Drugs are obvious. They’re escapism, plain and simple. It’s no coincidence that most of my friendships revolved around drugs as well. No one can judge you when everyone is high.
And let’s not even talk about the girl situation.
Everyone in my family is poor at sharing their feelings, particularly negative feelings. I grew up in an environment where not only was confrontation rare, but it was something that was looked down upon and avoided at all costs. I was rarely subjected to disapproval, and when I was, it stung. Especially since open appreciation was expressed so seldom as well.
On top of that, when my parents divorced, I changed from public to private school. The public school had over 1,000 kids and I had a lot of friends and acquaintances there. The private school had a small group of 40 kids in my class, most of which were wealthy, more conservative and had known each other since first grade. I didn’t fit in. I was forced to play sports (which I sucked at) and I spent a lot of time being ridiculed and shunned my first year and a half there. It made an indelible mark on me and I constructed a lifestyle in order to avoid a lot of the criticism and judgment that I received in that period.
And that lifestyle worked… until I got to college. Then it began to unravel.
For one, being in music school where there were over a dozen other musicians who were as good or better than me, being judged regularly by teachers and being criticized by your peers — well, that shot my music defense mechanism down the drain.
Investing so much time into video games quickly felt absurd. Unlike high school, where people are forced to see you and interact with you every day, in college you have to be a bit more pro-active about using your free time, especially when you’re expected to build a social life from scratch. Video games weren’t conducive for that, so they soon left as well.
The good news about college though is that it levels the playing field in terms of social status. Most universities are so big and diverse that there’s no longer a “cool” crowd and most people have so much going on that they don’t have time to judge you or criticize you for what shoes you wear or what you made in your history class or whatever. This opens up a lot more social opportunities for people who had few of them when they were younger.
By the second year of college, I began to come out of my shell a little bit and make good friends, friends who accepted me for who I was, friends who I didn’t need to always get high with to feel comfortable.
Without the three crutches I had always relied upon I finally developed some social confidence. I also got a girlfriend. Later, I largely got over my fear of failure and began accomplishing goals I set for myself which raised my self-esteem. I transferred to a school in Boston and things were looking up for me. I was as comfortable with myself as I had ever been.
It wasn’t until a few years later that the fear of disapproval bulldozed itself into my life once again.
My relationship ended in 2005. It was ugly. I was 21-years-old, hurt, single and desperate to meet some girls. It’s during this period that I discovered the pick up artist community and devoured all of the information I could find. It was the perfect solution to my problems: not only could I get a lot of girls, but I could do it in such a way that I never risked disapproval or rejection.
Well, that was until I actually went out and tried to use the techniques I read about. And by “tried to use” I mean I stood around and did nothing but read.
I quickly discovered I was terrified to approach women, terrified to the point of literally shaking. I then realized that I was terrified to approach other guys too. Basically anyone who was a stranger scared me. Then I realized that I was terrified of even making eye contact with strangers.
PUA exposed something in me: around people I knew or people who were introduced to me, I could be quite confident and charismatic, but around total strangers I was still nervous and very insecure. I began to notice that at college parties, if I didn’t know somebody, I had no idea how to meet them. In classes I was afraid to talk to anyone sitting around me unless they talked to me first. The fact that I walked with an iPod everywhere and listened to it at all times of the day began to seem less like a passion for music than a fear of contact with humanity.
Socially, I was trapped in a box, only to be let out by people who chose to engage me.
The process of undoing this fear was long and grueling. It took me three months before I worked up the nerve to talk to a cute girl I didn’t know. And when I did, I was so nervous that I awkwardly apologized for talking to her. It took another three months to be able to do this on any sort of consistent basis. And then another three months after that to actually start getting dates with women from it.
But one person actually, for better or worse, helped this area of my life more than anybody, and he did it in a fairly short amount of time. His name was Matt and he was a rock star. No, really. He was actually a rock star.
I met Matt at a Fourth of July party in 2006. It was by chance. I met a girl at a party the night before and she ended up inviting both me and him to the party the next night.
Our initial encounter was a bit awkward, well, for me at least. Here I thought I was in with this girl and she had brought another guy. His arms were covered in tattoos and he had GQ good-looks. He was a singer in a heavy metal band and had just come off touring the US and Europe. Being a metal head and a musician myself, I naturally asked him about his band. Next thing I know, he and I are sitting alone in the corner with each other’s iPods out, playing music for each other, talking about music, and pounding Jack Daniels after Jack Daniels. We both forgot about the girl.
Matt didn’t give a fuck. I mean that as literally as it can possibly mean for a human being. Matt said and did anything at a moment’s notice, for better or worse. This included getting thrown out of a bar for standing up for me when some guy threatened me for talking to a girl. This also meant doing whatever drugs were put in front of him in inadvisable situations.
He also had sex with more hot girls than anyone I had ever met before or since. Naturally, I gravitated towards him. Not only had he already lived out my musical fantasies, but he was living out my sexual ones as well. It was hard not to be taken by him. He would end up being taken by me as well — maybe because I understood music as well as he did, maybe because I treated him as a real guy and not some celebrity, maybe because I had come from a background that he always secretly wished for himself — either way, we became good friends for the next year or so.
Years later, after studying a lot of psychology, it would become clear that Matt was undoubtedly a clinical narcissist: both obsessed with what people thought of him at all times and altogether completely selfish and self-absorbed. And for a period, his narcissism rubbed off on me.
Whereas a month prior I had been terrified to ask a girl in line at the grocery store a simple question, I now found myself stopping random girls on the street to tell them I wanted to pee on them. Whereas I had nervously guffawed my way through introductions that spring, that fall I was calling girls and telling them that I only do anal on the first date. We drank too much. Nothing mattered. Especially since Matt had a seemingly unending pussy carousel. Matt and I would openly ask girls who were friends if we could swap them or if we could do cocaine off of their naked bodies. We’d often get slapped or have drinks thrown on us. But sometimes they would say yes.
It was all totally out-of-bounds and exactly what I needed at the time. I experienced more rejection in that year than the rest of my life combined. I also experienced more sex in that year than rest of my life combined.
In a brilliant breakdown of the psychology behind the pick up artist community, blogger “T” says that pick up artists take men who are codependent in their relationships and train them in narcissistic behaviors in order to get laid, and it works. It takes men from being overly concerned with what women think about them and training them to having little to no concern about what women feel. It’s over-compensation.
I’ve written extensively about how PUA conditions men to objectify women and their sex lives in order to improve it.
I was no exception. Between the PUA theory I was devouring by day and my nights out with Matt, my relationship with women became highly objectified, a mere transaction of syllables for the purpose of my own personal pleasure. And although this negated my fear of disapproval around women and strangers to a large extent, it also dehumanized me and my interactions. I became an aggressive, selfish narcissist incapable of legitimate connection and empathy. And it’d eventually make me more miserable than when I started.
Years later I would figure this all out. That I too had overcompensated. And that the influences in my life were largely not healthy. Matt would be long-gone. On another tour with a new band. Deeper into drugs than I cared to deal with.
And it would be yet another process to bring myself back to humanity, to be able to approach women and strangers with empathy and compassion, with vulnerability. Reverting from the narcissism would bring a lot of the anxiety and fear back, but this time it would be far more manageable. And the end result far more comfortable.
Do I still worry about disapproval? Of course, it’s human nature. But like my fear of failure, it’s something that exists today as a low-level throb, not a blinding siren immobilizing anything and everything I want to accomplish. It no longer interferes with my social life or love life as it once did. And as I become a more and more of a public figure, the criticism and attention that I am subjected to only diminishes the fear even further.
Get your dating life handled. Become an attractive man once and for all, without faking it or pretending to be someone you’re not.
Models: Attract Women Through Honesty has been referred to as the best book in the field by many, and has received five-star reviews from all over the world.