By Kimberly Davdison
I can’t do that…what would they think of me! One enduring attribute of most human beings, particularly women, is that we obsess about the approval of others. Most often we don’t realize it is an obsession, but it is. We are approval junkies shaped by other people’s opinions—real or assumed. It is imperative to figure out if one is an approval junkie because this obsession affects more decisions than we realize.
I can’t recall a time I didn’t seek others approval. As a wee babe I needed my parent’s blessing. Then it was my grade school teachers and peer groups opinions that mattered most. It mushroomed from there. Truth be told, today, it surfaces its ugly head on my facebook page!
When I was ten I lived in London, England, and had a friend whose mother worked on the Beatles management team. She worked out of her house, so every time I went over there, I thought I’d meet at least one of the Beatles. I never met any of them. So I did the next best thing. I created a fantasy and told my friends I was introduced to Paul and John. That got me attention and approval!
When I was a senior in high school I lost fifteen pounds and received compliments and praise from my parents and friends. I finally felt accepted and esteemed. Sadly, this event was the trigger that set off my downward spiral into two decades of battling an eating disorder, promiscuity and alcohol.
A fact of life is we will not always be favored with our peers. One of my professors stated that ten percent of the people you interact with will not like you, no matter how nice you are. What I know now is my need for approval stems from insecurity—low self-esteem, self-image and self-worth. Living for two decades with a deadly eating disorder, and an addiction to alcohol and men, only made my need—or fear—for approval stronger.
Not surprisingly, fear of man’s approval is an attribute completely absent from Jesus’s thought process. The word “fear” has two meanings. ‘To be afraid of’ is what we normally think of. The other meaning is ‘to have a reverential awe of.’ Jesus said, “I will show you whom you should fear…” (Luke 12:5). Jesus is speaking of God the Father. Biblically, ‘to fear the Lord’ means we hold him up in reverence and with respect because he is so awesome and holy.
To ‘fear man’ can go either way. We can become so obsessed with another person that we are in reverential awe of them. Or, the other person’s opinion of us is so important that we become afraid of the consequences of that person not approving of us. This first type of fear is idolatry. The second type of fear is debilitating. They are both strongholds which must be broken.
The definition of idolatry, according to Webster, is “the excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” An idol is anything or anyone that replaces the one, true God. In the Old Testament, those who worshiped idols were blind and insensitive (Isaiah 44:18). They couldn’t see or hear what God had to say. Nothing has changed today. In subtle, undetectable ways we become like the idols we worship.
If you look at Jesus’s life and teachings in the Gospels, he shows no adoration or fear of men, whether they be the hostile Pharisees or disciples in training. His life and messages were completely God-directed. There was never a hint of compromise. He feared no human being.
Searching to fill a void, we all worship something or someone that we value, love or are profoundly impressed with. John Calvin said, “Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.”We are worshipers by nature. We underestimate the power of the objects of our worship. If we connect with someone else besides God, life will get out of kilter. Idols cannot give us love or significance or a sense of belonging. Repeated bowing to anybody else only leads to slavery (Romans 6:16).
I began breaking down this stronghold by facing the fact I was an approval junkie, a.k.a. people-pleaser. God showed me that by obsessing about other people’s opinions I had a distorted view of reality. Because we are all born with a sin nature, we must acknowledge that we are not beyond deceiving ourselves. We tend to ignore what is truly valuable and place more stock in things that are transient and erratic. Instead of pursuing the will of God, we pursue an illusion—the approval of mankind.
If we are living to make sure others like or love us, we give them the power to determine our self-worth. I must constantly remind myself that God’s opinion is the only one that matters. Without compromise, we must seek the esteem and worth that comes from serving and loving God, rather than the esteem and worth that comes from human approval. Only then do we get in touch with reality.
Obviously, what people think about me affects my self-esteem and self-image, which ultimately influences my thinking, motivations, attitudes, behaviors, and relationships. Yet, it is my self-worth I need to be concerned with. It is tied to my character because it is based on what people know I am—a child of God—versus what they think I am.
Breaking this negative mindset begins by accepting who we are and where we stand in God's eyes. A W. Tozer said that if the devil comes to you and whispers that you are no good, don’t argue with him, instead, remind him: “Regardless of what you say about me, I must tell you how the Lord feels about me. He tells me that I am so valuable to him that he gave himself for me on the cross!”
Self-worth is like a plant. It has the capability to grow in any direction, but only grows in the direction of the sun—the direction that receives the most reinforcement. We must first know Jesus before we can really discern and understand who we are in him. Colossians 2:10 reminds us that only in Christ are we the person we were designed to be because he has given us everything we need to be authentic.
Jesus zealously tells us not to fear mankind. He urges us to fear God only. We must break these behavior patterns and refuse to allow other people’s approval or disapproval dominate our thinking. The Word of God confirms:
- Those who hunger and thirst for God's approval will be blessed and satisfied (Matthew 5:6)
- We should not try to please men but God (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
- We were created for God—for his pleasure (Colossians 1:6).
God gives us his seal of approval! He “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts...” (2 Corinthians 1:22). “You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). Marked with a seal suggests possession and security. This means you belong to God.
Thomas À Kempis wrote, “You [Jesus] are the truth which does not deceive and cannot be deceived. Every man, on the other hand, is a liar, weak, unstable and likely to err, especially in words, so that one ought not to be too quick to believe even that which seems, on the face of it, to sound true.” People are fickle. They come and go and will always let us down. But Jesus said no one will ever snatch you out of his hand (John 10:28). It is a forever commitment.
As we pursue Jesus, coming to know him more intimately, then we start to follow his will. We will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:30-32). As truth begins to infuse our minds and hearts, then we are set free from approval addiction.
In any decision we make we must consider God himself and his Word, and ignore the effect our decision has on our standing in others’ eyes. Is that easy to do, especially if you have been an approval junkie all your life? No! That is why a relationship with the God and studying his Word daily is so vital. God’s Word sets us free as we allow it to nourish our soul breaking down those deadly strongholds. His grace is more than enough to compensate. Like Jesus, our lives are to be entirely God-directed and God-centered. God must be our obsession.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer Topical Reader, comp. Ron Eggert, 2.185, Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1998
Thomas À Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2004 (1940), 93