Ever wonder what it would feel like to arrive? To be famous. Or, if that seems too far-fetched, the best at what you do, or an expert in your field.
I’ll be honest and admit that I have. It’s easy to think that being successful would bring with it a sense of confidence and security that we don’t have now.
But apparently that’s not really true.
Jimi Hendrix would stand behind a screen in the recording studio because he was self-conscious about his voice. Lady Gaga admitted her outrageous costumes were a way of masking her insecurities. And NBA star Dwayne Wade confessed that money and fame didn’t fix the way he felt about his body. The list goes on and on.
I think we’re all a lot like this. We have a lot to offer, but we’re not quite sure that others see it that way. And so, we (secretly) wait for them to affirm us.
During my seminary days, I can remember looking up to my professors and pastors at church. They all seemed so brilliant, together and larger than life. Looking back, there was a lot to look up to, but I was functionally worshiping them and searching for their validation.
It never really happened. At least not in the way I wanted it to.
In some ways, the people I was looking up to could have done better. By sharing their own weaknesses, for example, so we wouldn’t think they walked on water.
But in other, deeper ways, the problem was me. I was looking for an affirmation no person was ever meant to provide: ultimate meaning, identity and value. I’ve made a lot of progress, but the truth is that I still struggle with feeling insecure.
Over the past few months, for example, I’ve had the chance to post for Desiring God. Someone saw that and (jokingly) said, ‘You’ve arrived!’ But even as people have affirmed my writing, insecurity is still something I’m working through on a pretty regular basis.
We can never find our ultimate identity in what we do, or the praise we receive.
6 Signs Of Insecurity
I’m guessing you can identify with me. Here are 6 ways to identify insecurity lurking beneath the surface of your life. The good news is that, when we start to see it, we can begin to work on it.
- We’re overly concerned about feedback from others. We play their words over and over, analyzing them – often incorrectly – for what they ‘really’ meant.
- We feel great when we’re praised and dejected when we’re criticized. A medical resident I know told me this is a constant challenge as her often-fickle supervising physicians build her up or tear her down.
- We’re not present with others. If we’re obsessing about how others view us, we’re not free to give them our full attention and put their needs above our own. I can’t count how many times I’ve forgotten someone’s name because of the inner conversation I was having with myself!
- We think our only options are the ones in front of us. When we idolize the people ‘ahead’ of us – whether it’s a boss, celebrity, older parent, or mentor, we think we have to be like them. (Social media feeds into this, too.) We won’t feel free to look at them objectively, embracing what fits God’s design for us, and passing on what doesn’t. This is why, for example, I thought I had to get a PhD after seminary.
- We don’t take risks. If we desperately want others’ approval, we’ll find it very hard to fail. We’ll either end up not trying, or, just taking baby steps that we can easily accomplish. Put differently, we won’t trust God for anything big.
- We don’t influence or impact others. Asking others to validate us makes us hesitant. Maybe not with our actual words, but with our body language and other non-verbal cues. People see our insecurity and don’t want to follow us. (Which can lead to more insecurity!)
3 Steps To Overcoming Our Insecurity
So, while others are meant to encourage and affirm us, their encouragement and affirmation can never be ultimate.
Paul outlines a better way for us in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5. (For an excellent, but short, unpacking of this, pickup Tim Keller’s booklet The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). Here’s the way out of our addiction to others’ approval:
- Stop caring about what others think of you. Paul says, ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court’ (verse 3). Some of the Corinthians didn’t think much of Paul’s speaking ability, but he learned not to put too much stock in their opinion. Where do you need to stop worrying about what others think?
- Stop caring about what you think. The antidote to obsessing about others’ opinions is not to replace them with your own. After dismissing others’ opinions as ultimate, Paul dismisses his own, too. ‘I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted’ (vv. 3-4). We can be just as off-base as our critics, and, even if we’re not aware of anything wrong with ourselves, we can be mistaken in our impression.
- Start caring what God thinks. After downplaying what others and even he thinks, Paul says, ‘It is the Lord who judges me.’ When we make God’s opinion our focus, it frees us incredibly. Jesus, who sees me perfectly – with all my flaws – loves me so much that he personally came to rescue me. His opinion is the one that matters. We don’t need to think more highly of ourselves, or less of ourselves. We need to think about ourselves less altogether.
As that happens, we find a deep security that frees us to serve God and others without the inner turmoil we so often experience.
Questions For Reflection:
- Where do you focus too much on others’ opinions of you, and, what impact has that had on you and your relationships?
- How would focusing on God’s opinion begin to change that? Share with us in the comments below!
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