We are ridiculously talented at creating buzzwords.
One of the most popular buzzwords in recent years is ______-shaming (enter your category of choice in the blank). A couple years ago, one woman was accused of “fat-shaming” when she shared pictures of her chiseled physique on social media just a few months after delivering a baby. A man became the focus of a short-lived news controversy when he posted his secret picture of a woman breastfeeding her son and the post went viral. This became known as “breastfeeding-shaming.” I’ve seen examples of skinny-shaming, single-shaming, and voter-shaming too.
One Reason We Struggle with Shame
I recently preached a message on the subject of shame at my church and it struck a nerve. I’ve received an unprecedented number of messages from people who were in the room or watched it later online. (You can watch the message here.)
In the talk, I explored four reasons why we struggle with shame. One of those reasons is that we’ve been rewarded for playing the pretending game.
Whether it’s in our family, our jobs or our churches, we often experience a payoff for pretending. This is why we keep doing it. Like the famous line in many conspiracy movies, we need to “follow the money.” Where we find the payoff, we’ll find the motivation for an unhealthy, destructive pattern of behavior.
What’s funny is that we aren’t always pretending for people we like, sometimes we pretend to please those we don’t like too. It’s an ironic place to be and I’ve been there myself – when you’re seeking the approval of people you don’t even like or admire. At the moment I finally realized I was giving people the power of deciding my worth (and I didn’t really want to become like these people), I recognized something drastic needed to change in me.
This epiphany led me down a road to claiming and developing my God-given identity. I’ve been writing about my recent journey to a new identity, exploring the source of insecurity and a tool known as identity statements.
Three Traps We Get Stuck in When We Live for Approval
After sharing that message recently, I began thinking about what’s at stake when we don’t claim our identities and keep seeking a self which is defined by the reactions of other people.
While it’s natural to want the approval and affirmation of others, some of us take what’s normal to unhealthy levels. We don’t want the approval of others; we can’t live without it. Excessive, compulsive social media use only makes this worse.
In reflecting on this theme of approval seeking, I see three dire consequences to approval seeking.
1. If we live for the approval of others, we will die from their rejection.
This quote originates with the rapper, Lecrae. He knows something about the loss of approval. He was a shooting star in the Christian rap industry, winning Dove Awards, Grammys, and speaking at Christian leadership conferences. This period of unbridled admiration quickly shifted to controversy when he experienced harsh criticism for “stepping out of his lane” and engaging the mainstream rap market. When he went on to comment on cultural and political issues and befriended non-Christian rappers, he was treated like a heretic within his fan base. (To learn more about Lecrae’s journey and this crazy season for him, click here.)
Lecrae learned the danger of living for the approval of others, hence his quote “if you live for their approval, you’ll die from their rejection.” What one day sent you soaring can send you crashing the next. Crowds can be fickle – one day cheering for your success, the next jeering for your death. Just ask Jesus – in one week, his crowds went from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”
Putting our identities in the opinions of crowds is a recipe for disaster. Our worth and value are much greater than an opinion poll or the number of likes one of our posts receives.
2. If we live for the approval of others, we will always end up in shame.
Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
The standards of other people will always be greater than we can meet. While it’s one thing to set goals which stretch us and always seek to improve our performance, our worth and value are not up for other people to determine. When our worth and value is synonymous with the judgment of other people, we will continue to feel unworthy and not enough.
Overcoming shame begins with decoupling the connection between the opinion of others and our identity. Other people get to have their own opinions; they don’t get to determine our identities.
3. If we live for the approval of others, we will not become the people God created us to be.
I believe there is a power resisting us becoming the people we were created to be. As a follower of Jesus and believer in the Scriptures, I call this power Satan or the Devil. But other people who don’t share my spiritual worldview have their own names for it. Seth Godin calls it the Lizard-Brain. Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance.
Regardless of your name for it, becoming the person you were made to be will require great effort and include overcoming significant obstacles. Forces oppose you moving forward with courage and purpose. Continually adjusting yourself to the opinion of others requires a lot less focus, but involves more exhaustion and pain. Some of us have tried the path away from approval, only to turn back to approval because we got tired of being shot in the back or defeated by obstacles.
The famous American poet E.E. Cummings once wrote,
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
Take the Fight to Your Insecurity
In my identity statements (you can learn how to write yours by visiting this page), I write, “My worth and value are not up for someone I don’t know and haven’t met to determine.” While that statement is true, I’m not sure it goes far enough. We are accountable and responsible to the people around us, including those closest to us like immediate family and close friends.
But even those people closest to us are not entitled to the power of deciding our worth and value. We must claim the power for ourselves and take the fight to our insecurity, even if it is currently fueled by the approval or rejection of those we encounter each day.
Writing, repeating, and believing a few truths about my value and worth continues to empower me to become the person I was created to be. This same pursuit is available to you today, especially if you’re exhausted from the hamster wheel of performing for the applause of people around you.