From the moment we’re born, we’re vulnerable. Totally dependent on another human being for our very survival. If we eat, sleep, are warm and have shelter, it’s because someone was compassionate enough to love and care for us. We’d like to think that all human beings possess the basic emotion and responsibility for compassion and care. But that story varies with every human. You may have had a glorious start in life with all your needs met. Others have not been so blessed. If you are one of the others, perhaps abandoned, abused and neglected early on, it’s difficult, if not absolutely impossible to process life in a “normal” fashion. I use that word “normal” very loosely because how normal are any of us really?
This week’s devotional probes how we began seeking approval and why some of us are in bondage to it still to the detriment of our spiritual, emotional and physical health. If you are an approval addict, this week is especially for you.
Disclaimer: This devotional is not a substitute or replacement for regular therapy or use of mental health resources. If the content here causes triggers, please see your regular mental health professional. I am not a licensed counselor or therapist of any kind nor is this devotional an attempt to provide those services. The contents and suggestions in this devotional are results of my own personal experience with these issues and are not meant to be professional advice or therapy.
Proberbs 29:25 (NKJV)
The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.
Loving and accepting myself, if I were honest, has been more than a challenge but darn near impossible. No matter how others spoke highly of me, I had or should I say have no sense of worth in and to myself. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t muster it up, it is something that is just not there. I have no reference point for it. There was no model in my own family for it, except, of course, through accomplishment or more than that, APPROVAL. Approval is something we all hunger for, but for as long as I can remember, I have been starved for approval and acceptance. But I’m discovering that I was starved for it from myself more than from anywhere else.
I’m realizing that’s why, no matter how much others approved of me, it could never satiate my appetite for approval because I still lacked it within myself. I never realized it until now that I have the power within myself to fill that place up so I will never seek after approval. But I am still a long way from that place. But I think if I make a practice of self-approval and acceptance anytime I feel a lack of it from somewhere else, I won’t be so prone to betray myself but will, in that moment, be my own best friend and loving parent and not apply self-hatred just because I can’t be approved and validated by someone else, but instead, practice self-love, approval, and validation.
I had been an approval addict my entire life! For as far back as I can remember, I frequently betrayed my own beliefs and thoughts about certain things so that I would win favor with others. Up until the time I wrote this journal entry, I had always thought it was because I was looking for some magical thing in others that when I found it, all my problems would be solved. But after decades of living this way, I found that to be so far from the truth.
The truth I discovered was that the real problem is that I couldn’t maintain my own approval because I believed other’s truth about the situation above my own. It was a necessity that had become a pattern for me because it was something that was forged in abuse. When we are thrust in a traumatic experience, our only aim is survival. Period. The only thing that matters is stopping the pain and fear. And in those moments, especially as children, we are in self-preservation mode and will do anything, betray anyone to placate the abuser and make it stop. Perhaps get on their good side, so they stop hurting us. But, make no mistake, our goal is to escape and take the pain away.
When we are subjected to this kind of reality on an ongoing basis, years, even decades, we develop an approval-seeking core that seeks to shut down any thoughts, opinions, and feelings we have about the situation, to win the approval of the person hurting us so they will STOP. You might say, “well I never experienced abuse or that kind of pain”. Well, have you ever experienced anyone’s disapproval who you love deeply? In a marriage or a friendship? Sometimes those things can train us to hide or deny our true feelings about what’s happening to keep the peace or maintain the relationship. Even if it’s toxic.
When we fall into this type of existence, where we deny our feelings and values to obtain approval from others, we begin the decline into identity DEATH! We disappear, become invisible and can fall into severe personality problems and depression. In my opinion, many anxiety and depression disorders are because we’re accepting a reality that is toxic or harmful and deep down we know it but feel powerless to change it. We not only feel powerless, we BELIEVE we are powerless.
When it’s taken to the extreme like this, it’s time to investigate where that comes from and it usually comes from a traumatic event, childhood or relationship trauma that we’ve experienced or are currently in where we had to gain someone else’s approval for our very survival. This was true in my case as a young girl. And I carried that pattern straight into my adult life and any relationships that felt threatening to me. Living like this was excruciating, but it’s the only way I knew until the Lord came to my rescue and began to bring deliverance.
As we move into the actions steps that bring us out of approval seeking, I want to reiterate again, this is MY STORY. The things mentioned here, may not pertain to your situation. However, even if you haven’t had the same experiences, breaking the chains of approval-seeking can be done none the less. If you know you did experience abuse or trauma in a former relationship or are currently in one, PLEASE SEEK HELP FROM A TRUSTED SOURCE– a friend, pastor or counselor. If you’re in a dangerous situation the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims, survivors of domestic violence. Call 1-800-799-7233.
Maybe your situation is not as dire as domestic abuse, but if you’re minimizing and betraying your own heart to win the approval of others, trust me, you’re not in a good place. And you already know it.
So, the first step to breaking the chains is hurting enough to want change.
This is where change in our lives is born. Pain! Believe it or not, if it doesn’t hurt bad enough, you probably won’t feel the need for change. But when you get desperate enough, you’ll start calling out to God for deliverance.
Outside of Christ, we are instinctively all about self-preservation. We are about our comfort and will do just about anything to ensure it. But when we give our lives to Christ, He begins to transform us into His image and we begin to do what’s right because it’s right even if it costs us. And letting go of seeking the approval of others will cost you!
It will cost you your fear, your insecurities, your comfort, your hiding, your shame. It will cost you your past, meaning letting it go and not taking the victim road anymore in life. No more blaming others for your issues. Even though I knew that my issues stemmed from an abusive past, I had to finally own them and forsake them! The way I was living and the choices I was making was because of me and no one else.
If you’re not ready to let go of the victim card and take responsibility, YOU WILL NOT EXPERIENCE VICTORY. We have to ask ourselves what Jesus asked the man at the Pool of Bethesda. Do you want to be made well? Do you want to lay down the blame and pick up Jesus’ freedom and walk into your future or do you want to continue in your pain? And believe me, the cost of going forward is everything! This is no small matter. It will cost you everything and all the strength in you to take responsibility! There may be times that you vacillate back and forth. But you have to remember, this is a process, not a sprint!
Only Jesus can give us the courage to make the changes necessary to live a healed life. HE CAN AND HE WILL!! So what is your step this week?
- Decided what you want. [Stay seeking approval or take responsibility]
- Tell the Lord which it is. [It’s ok if you don’t have the foggiest idea how to do it]
- Ask Him to give you the courage to walk it out and seek Him for each step.
- Decide that you will only seek the Lord’s approval, not man’s when you’re in a situation.
- FORGIVE YOURSELF when you slip on the road to healing, but get right back on track.
Jeremiah 7:5-8 NKJV
Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
6 For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
© Crisie Hutchings/ GrannyRocksMusic/ THE WORSHIP LIFE/ Beautiful You Project
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.