A group of young people put their arms around each other in acceptance.

The essence of service lies in genuine connection and compassion without our egos thrown into the mix.

In today’s world where people seek the approval of others that will ‘validate’ their ideas or existence, we get lost from authentic selves.

It’s as though truly being “me” isn’t good enough unless it has the approval and acceptance of people that we know.

That, in itself, can be a huge trap because if we aren’t settled in our identity in a healthy way, we’re taking clues from others around us. People we’ve chosen to be around who may not have our best interests at heart. The fact is, we surround ourselves with events, information, and relationships that will not only feel familiar but confirm what we desperately want to believe about ourselves; that we are “right”.

The quest for external validation often overshadows our sense of worth and purpose, it is vital to recognize and cherish the inherent value we possess within ourselves.

The allure of seeking approval from external sources can lead us astray, causing us to distance or deny our true selves and rely on outside validation. This pattern of seeking external confirmation can create a web of expectations and people-pleasing behaviors that do not align with our authentic selves.

A woman is leaning forward onto her hands which are covering her mouth and nose. She's in deep, worried thought, looking out at the distance.
A woman struggling with low self-esteem, wondering where it is coming from.

Case in point: A person who has been taught that they aren’t smart as a child because their grades didn’t line up with what the parents thought they should be, has no other conclusion that they are worthless in who they are.

A feeling/relationship-focused child is living in a very different framework than a thinking/task-focused child. Thinking children are rewarded for their participation in classes, while the feeling, or relationship-focused children are penalized for their talking, fidgeting, and creativity. (The best way to annoy a teacher is to be born a drummer and consistently beat your desktop with a pencil, for instance.)

Where it begins ...

As a feeling/relational creative child, I cringed when my task-focused Mother would yell at me for something I had done and demand to know, “WHAT were you THINKING?!” I knew that no matter what I was going to say, it would be the wrong answer because I had no clue how to answer that question – until fifty years later!

She would have gotten a much better understanding of me and what I had done if she had asked me, “What were you feeling when you did that?” She would have discovered my curiosity and tendency toward sensory (I’ll call it scientific because its cause and effect) explorations.

The message was clear, and as much came out of her mouth one day when she said she wished she could give me a new brain. Evidently, the one I had was defective.

My Dad calling to me when these frustrating moments occurred, by saying, “Hey Dummy, come here!” didn’t help. Therefore, I knew that I was wrong, defective, and a bother and needed to constantly seek the approval of others if I was on the right track. Naturally, those who I attracted into my life felt, “right” because they were like my parents.

By the way, the behaviors I just described carry with us into adulthood and are what I call, “hidden trauma”. Hidden trauma causes us to react to the world around us in an unhealthy way, and self-sabotage what we are doing in life, simply because we are seeking the approval of others.

As I began to heal from my childhood traumas and later from the devastating events that led to our journey as pastors in a church experiencing destructive behaviors and chaos as After Pastors, my heart yearned for love.

True love. That of acceptance and empathy where people cared for one another and encouraged one another. I taught an evening class on the importance of returning to 1 Corinthians 13 in how we related to each other.

What I realized as the trials and tribulations rolled out in all of our lives was that every person involved was reacting out of a lack of knowledge of what that chapter even meant, and instead was seeking approval of others in proving they were “right”, no matter what it cost another individual.

Gossip, accusations and more took place of worshipping God as the false god of “safety by being right” was set up before the people. Just like the time the Israelites built the Golden Calf, the people’s negative emotions, beliefs, and fears had to have center stage in the absence of revelation as to what we were experiencing.

In the decades that have passed, and with the information I’ve gleaned from my research (big surprise – I’m not stupid after all! I can read!) I’ve learned that before we can love others, we must love ourselves … as God created us to be. Not as man approves out of his or her ignorance and personal opinions.

Our egos are false identities that we hope will be approved of by men. It’s our ego that sets us up to accept adoration and worship that does not belong to us or to seek the next “hit” of dopamine from unhealthy behaviors or addictions. We cannot love from this place.

By first noticing all that makes up the person of “me”, (the good, the bad, and the ugly) I can approach the throne of God in truth and authenticity, knowing that I have serious faults and serious gifts. By learning how to forgive myself and give thanks for who I am, I can love myself and be authentic – without apologizing.

Imagine what we could accomplish together if we all showed up authentically, loving and encouraging one another without ego in the way.

“Ego can’t receive love.
Ego only receives praise”
Shannon L. Alder

We cannot give what we do not have ...

Image of one hand reaching out for another hand, clutching a rock as though hanging from a cliff.

If I have not received love or love myself, all the outside sources in the world will never give me what I want, because I won’t recognize it. If I love God … and then love my neighbor AS I LOVE MYSELF. I will know what love is and be able to give it without hesitation because I have already given it to myself and have it to give to others.

Notice when you seek approval from others, and notice when others are seeking approval. Is it confirmation that is being sought, or approval of value? Paying attention to conversations is also noticing what is not being said and seeking wisdom in how to respond without our value coming into question. Resist over-analyzing or complicating too. Stay curious, stay loving, and invite the conversation in order to gain more insights.