10 ways to overcome your craving for approval

Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jennifer is the author of Love Idol (Tyndale Momentum, 2014)

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I gave up mirrors for forty days this spring. 

It was part of my journey toward loosening the grip of an idol that had a hold on my heart. It’s the idol of approval. Truth is, I’ve sometimes cared more about what people think than what God thinks. And like most women I know, I’ve been far too critical of the person I see in the mirror every morning. I nitpick every “flaw.” So I gave up my reflection.

My mirror-free journey was more than an exercise in finding peace with my physical appearance. It served as a metaphorical reminder of the myriad ways we measure our approval ratings. Authors monitor book sales and Amazon rankings. Pastors count people in pews. Rarely do people say, “I have enough money in the bank, enough people in my church, enough followers or friends or _________.”

People measure worth by the size of their 401Ks, the square-footage of their houses, and the inches in their waist size. We’re either not enough . . . or too much.

We measure, to see if we matter.

We’ve all done it—whether we’re viewed as real “somebodies” or whether we think of ourselves as the “nobodies” sitting in the back row of life. We want to be known, approved, and liked.

The craving for love isn’t, in itself, sinful. In fact, our need for love is God-created. But because of our sinful nature, present in every human since the Garden of Eden, we are tempted to feed our craving with the approval of man.

But we don’t have to be controlled by our approval ratings. Here are ten ways to get over the approval you crave from other people.

1. Identify where you go for your approval “fix”
Every journey toward freedom from others’ approval starts here—in the naming. Whose approval do you seek most? Where do you look for it? To let go of something, you have to first admit you’re holding on to it. The moment you’re willing to call the problem by its actual name, you’re one step closer to canceling its power over you. This is perhaps why lives change in rooms where these words are uttered quietly into a circle of understanding faces: “Hi, my name is [insert name here]. And I am a [insert addiction here].”

2. Go on an approval fast
After you name it, fast from it. I gave up mirrors for 40 days. And I survived. In fact, my life felt fuller—even if my hair wasn’t perfect. Mirrors aren’t, in and of themselves, evil. But they can become a source of unhealthy self-judgment. Identify an area where you seek the approval of others, such as social media. Then give it up for a day a week, or even 40 days, and behold: you may discover that you’re thriving without your own mirrors.

3. Stop lying to yourself about yourself
Some of us having been telling ourselves the same false narratives our whole lives. The lies make us feel pressured into working harder, faster, and longer to reach some invisible standard that we think will give us the approval we need. Who are we working harder for? Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.” Not so we can present ourselves to a spouse. Or to our coworkers. Or even to Bible study partners. But to God alone.

4. Remind yourself what God says about you
God wants to fill our need for approval and love. All the approval we’ve ever wanted is actually and already ours. God says we’re already beautiful (see Psalm 45:11). We’re already beloved (see 1 John 3:1). We’re already known (see Psalm 139:1). We were already loved, even when we were dead in our transgressions (see Ephesians 2:4-5).

5. Stop comparing
Envy is at the root of much of our approval-seeking. We miss the beauty of our own lives if we’re holding up a mirror to someone else’s.

6. Celebrate others’ successes
We’re actually all on the same team, and it’s called the body of Christ. Author Lisa-Jo Baker says it like this: “It’s never a competition in the Kingdom. It’s always a co-op.” We would do well to pick up pom-poms to cheer one another on. In doing so, we can achieve what Timothy Keller calls “the freedom of self-forgetfulness.”

7. Do good deeds in secret, without applause
Go ahead. Do what Jesus said. Be a charity ninja—so secretive that your left hand doesn’t have a clue what your right hand is doing. Then sit back and enjoy the freedom of your approval-free zone.

8. Risk a subpar performance
Do something new that you’ve always wanted to try—running a 5K or taking a painting class, for instance—even if you believe you’ll perform with mediocrity, even if you believe you’ll fail. The moment we stop fussing over the opinions of others might be the moment when we start actually living.

9. Love from your approval, not for it
When we are freed from unhealthy notions about love and approval, we are able to love others without expecting anything in return. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Period.

10. Keep an eternal perspective
So maybe you’ve wanted a few accolades this side of heaven. But don’t forget that the divine accolade—as C. S. Lewis calls it—is coming. And that’s the accolade you were created to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23).

Image: Flickr

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