I’m a big fan of David Richo’s books; they have helped me immensely in my life and in my relationships. I’ve always especially liked his notion of the “Five A’s” because of how succinct and memorable they are as a simple set of guidelines to mature loving of all kinds.
Here they are in very brief summary:
- Attention to the present moment; observing, listening and noticing all the feelings at play in our relationships.
- Acceptance of ourselves and others just as we are.
- Appreciation of all our gifts, our limits, our longings and our poignant human predicament.
- Affection shown through holding and touching in respectful ways.
- Allowing life and love to be just as they are, with all their ecstasy and ache, without trying to take control.
~David Richo: “How To Be An adult In Relationships”, Shambhala 2010)
I do manage to live by them to some extent, but I’ve increasingly realised that I also have a “shadow” and insecure side to my ego, which craves a different set of “A’s.” I know I’m in trouble when my self-esteem is so fragile that my ego is looking for these “A’s”…especially in a relationship. It’s a warning sign I need to connect more with my inner self and let go of any false ideas which are blocking me from feeling worthy of love.
By admitting to these, and acknowledging they are ingrained in me, treating them with a kind of bemused humour when they show themselves, rather than being ashamed or pretending they don’t exist, I am gradually lessening their power in my life. I’m becoming more aware of when they are hovering in the background or trying to sneak in and take over my emotional controls. I look them in the eye now, give them a wink and say: “I know what you’re up to, but I forgive you and love you,” then I watch them back off in relieved surprise.
So here they are, my “wrong’” “Five A’s”
- Achievement: Part of me believes my value as a person is measured by what I do, rather than who I am. It’s what I was told by our society and what is regularly affirmed to me as a man. But I can never “do” enough to make up for any shortfall I feel in my adequacy as a human being. I end up being a workaholic, or stressed from constantly taking on too much, always trying to “prove” myself, even in bed!
- Approval: Needing to be reminded by other people that I’m a good and worthwhile person. Envying and resenting them for having the power to give or withhold their approval, and reacting to that by being judgemental and dismissive of them (in relationships as well as in general.)
- Admiration: I want to be respected and recognized as having qualities and skills that have status and value. I didn’t get enough of this from my father when I was a boy, so I’m always looking for it now at some level, especially from other men. I defend myself against that vulnerable feeling by habitually being critical and negative, as well as being secretly envious of, and threatened by, the success of others.
- Adoration: Wanting to be put on a pedestal; to be looked up to and seen as “special” to compensate for an inner suspicion that, actually, I’m not really good enough. Wearing a mask of charm and of being “interesting,” while trying to please. But, even if I am “adored,” I can’t get too close to anyone because I worry I’ll be “found out” and can’t trust that anyone could ever really love me for who I am.
- Assumptions: If I find it hard to trust others, or to empathize and connect with them, I don’t really know how they feel about things, so I make guesses. Usually based on my own negative expectations and all too often those turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies which just “prove” to me my distorted beliefs about myself were true.
Anxiety: is the predictable outcome of the “wrong” “A’s,” because any deficit in self-valuing that I’m carrying around, probably as a legacy of not having felt loved enough as a child, can never be made up by others. When I do need these “A’s” they’re like a drug: satisfying for a while if I get them, but I’ll soon need more and worry my supply will dry up. Like any other drug, they don’t address the real underlying need I have to connect with my own intrinsic worth. Each fix I get only takes me further away from this and sends me another step down the spiral of one more “A”: Addiction!
I hope by identifying and understanding the “junk” “A’s” I can avoid being hooked in by them, and focus on Richo’s healthier list, in the same way that I’m trying to improve my health these days by eating better. After all, it’s just as important to feed our souls well as it is to nourish ourselves physically, and recognizing which foods, and which feelings to avoid helps me understand better what is good for me, and why.
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