For years, I’ve been a performer. An actor on the stage of my life. The role? Frankly, I played the role of the insecure musician who needed everyone to think he was the coolest and most talented guy around. To do this, I had to control every aspect of my life and image. Everything had to line up or shape up to make me come across just the way I needed to. Outfits, haircuts, social media posts, you name it. It all had to line up.
After years of this, I finally met someone who saw through the facade (enter wife, stage right, looking smart and very cute). One day, she asked me about all the acting. “It’s a lot of work trying to maintain that. Aren’t you tired all the time?”
I stopped and thought about what I was doing, likely for the first time ever. I was tired. Exhausted, actually, and had been for years. Somewhere in life, I learned that I had to impress people to feel good about myself. That just being me wasn’t quite good enough and I had to try just a bit harder for people to value me.
That, as you can guess, is unhealthy. So now I’m on the exciting journey of how to not care about what people think…in the good way. Not the “I don’t need anyone else” way but the “That person disagrees with me and I’m not going to let it ruin my day” sort of way.
I’ve compiled a list of things that should help you identify if you, too, are performing for love and approval.
1. You care about what people think of you. A lot.
You are always thinking about other people. You may pick out your outfits to appeal to the people you seek to impress. You may change the way you interact with others from one person to the next. Everything you say, you criticize afterwards and worry that you might have said something you shouldn’t have.
THE LIE: I will feel worthwhile if people have a good opinion of me.
THE TRUTH: You will only feel worthwhile when you finally believe what the Lord says about you. Chasing approval from other people is a fruitless endeavor.
2. You criticize yourself for making mistakes.
You have no grace for yourself so when you make a mistake, you are your own harshest critic. You likely think that this criticism will help you keep from making the same mistake in the future. You think you’re helping yourself but you’re not.
THE LIE: Mistakes make me look bad and if I look bad I am not worthy of approval.
THE TRUTH: You’re slowly killing yourself and sabotaging future efforts because you’re petrified of making mistakes. Mistakes are the stepping stones of success.
3. You criticize others for the sake of feeling better about yourself.
When other people make mistakes or don’t perform well, it is your bread and butter. You may not be malicious about it but you do feel a bit better about yourself and feel a little more secure in your position when this happens.
THE LIE: Seeing others fail will help me feel better, more valuable and more capable.
THE TRUTH: Feeling this way is really just a sign of insecurity. Insecurity will keep you terrified of seeing other people succeed, particularly when they succeed at something you want to be good at.
If you can’t do it perfectly, you won’t do it at all. You only want people to see you how you want to be seen. If they see you produce something that is mediocre, then you are mediocre. Even if they compliment you on it, you just HAVE to tell them all the ways you could have done it better.
THE LIE: I must produce quality to be viewed as quality.
THE TRUTH: This is a great way to be tired all the time. It’s also a great way to never be able to enjoy doing anything.
5. High need for affirmation.
Why do you need to be told 100 times that you did a good job? You don’t really know but what you do know is that you need to be told 100 times that you did a good job. Actually 101. Make that 102. You know, a few more times couldn’t really hurt. What’s more, you live for complements. When you don’t get them, you go fishing. “That was good, right?” or “I’m really happy with the way that turned out. (LONG PAUSE) What do you think?” or “This thing I just posted is so funny. Look!”
THE LIE: Affirmation from other people will eventually satisfy.
THE TRUTH: Needing constant affirmation is another telltale sign that you are insecure. You might have noticed by now but that void has never been filled by a complement or any other form of affirmation from another person.
6. Achievements and recognition make your world go around.
Congratulations. You got that promotion you’ve wanted for 2 years. Or you finally got that elite opportunity that only a few people are able to qualify for. Then why aren’t you satisfied? You spend approximately 8 minutes enjoying your new position before you start eying the next bigger and better thing.
THE LIE: It’s always the next achievement that is the one I really wanted and will finally make me feel valuable.
THE TRUTH: There is no achievement large enough or elite enough to make you feel “special.” This is why the most famous people in the world are some of the most miserable. Wealth and fame were supposed to fill that void but they didn’t.
7. You take criticism from others very personally.
Criticism kills you. You know it shouldn’t but you hate hearing it. You feel like a failure when you’re criticized. You feel like you’ve let the other person down. You feel like you’ve disappointed them. You then revert to point #2 (i.e. criticizing yourself).
THE LIE: If I receive criticism, it means that I’ve failed. Again.
THE TRUTH: Criticism should never break you. Constructive feedback should inspire you. Destructive feedback should be flushed.
8. You have a RIDICULOUSLY high need to be understood.
“Heavens above! Please don’t think that I said that. That’s only 98% accurate. That 2% might make you think less of me somehow.” Your image must be controlled at all times. To do this, every aspect of your life must be controlled by YOU. That means you can leave nothing up to interpretation or to the imagination.
THE LIE: People are going to misunderstand me if I don't say exactly what I mean and, if they do misunderstand me, I can fix it by explaining myself.
THE TRUTH: No matter what you do, you can't control what other people think. It’s just best to go ahead and accept this. You’ll be surprised how liberated you’ll feel.
Any of that sound familiar? If so, you just might have it in your head that you’re not quite good enough on your own to get love.
It’s work to undo this kind of thinking and this post is really just to help you identify if you have a bit of a performance thing going on. You’ll need to talk to the Holy Spirit about where you learned this mentality from. It usually will link back to a painful period of time in your life where you experienced rejection. You should forgive that person/those people and move on with your life. I’d also recommend bringing someone you trust in on your process (and don’t ask them if they think you’re so brave for tackling this thing…you know you’re being brave and we don’t need to fish for complements anymore anyway). Having someone walk with you through this will prove invaluable.
In closing, I will leave you with this quote from the ever-so-wise Bill Johnson.
“If you don’t live by the praises of men, you will not die by their criticisms.”