Saturday, July 7, 2012

Validation Addiction

Hi, my name is Lauren and I'm addicted to validation and approval from others. There, I admit it. And I'm willing to bet you're addicted to it too, since most people are. Maybe I need a 12-step program . . . well, really, maybe we all do. We're addicted to approval and obsessed with what other people think about us. We love it when they like us and stroke our ego and affirm us, and we're crushed when they don't seem to like us, or simply when they say nothing about us. Silence has become equated with rejection. For far too many of us, we allow the opinions of others to hold us in bondage.

I believe that while this sort of addiction has been around in some form or another since cavemen roamed the earth, it has grown like wildfire because of technology--namely, social media. Don't get me wrong--I love social media and I use it daily. It's incredibly useful for keeping up with people and with events happening in the world, and I don't think it's necessarily harmful when people post about their successes and accomplishments as a way to keep friends in the know or to advance their careers. However, social media fuels our addiction because it's no longer enough to be liked and validated in the real world; you also have to be liked in the virtual world. It's no longer enough to simply succeed; you have to post news of your success on Facebook and have the requisite number of people "like" it. You have to get enough comments and pageviews on your blog. Enough visitors to your website. Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blogs, Twitter . . . the opportunities for virtual validation are endless. People have to retweet you, follow you, share your work, comment on your posts, friend you, and connect with you. And counterintuitively, how others perceive you and interact with you in the virtual world has become a skewed sort of litmus test for how you're actually doing in the real world.

In addition to social media, the message in our culture that "reputation is everything" fuels this addiction to approval and to being perceived highly by others. And in a lot of careers, especially law, reputation is . . . well . . . everything. It can take years to build a good one, and mere seconds to destroy it. But I believe it can get to a point where we value our reputations more than our actual identity and more than our true character. And it's not the same thing. Your reputation is all about who others think you are, while your character deals with who you really are, even if no one else knows about it. And it's easy to get to the point where we care more about what other people think about us than who we really are.

The second commandment tells us that we are not to make for ourselves any graven image (an idol). But yet, when we are obsessed with what other people think about us and how they perceive us, we ARE constructing and worshipping an image: our own image, as seen through other people's eyes! What people think about us can be an idol. Reputation can be an idol. Validation from others can be an idol. Our validation addiction is a way of breaking and shattering the second commandment even in our own day, and a few months ago, the Lord deeply convicted me of my failings in this area. He gently, but somewhat painfully, reminded my heart that who I really am in Christ should matter much more to me than simply who others think I am and what they think about me. If your reputation and approval from others is more important than your true identity in Jesus, who bled to make you His, then that's an idol you need to smash at the foot of the cross, and walk away finally free.

I think the hopeful thing about all this is that our validation and approval addiction means that we're craving influence and starving for impact. And people who crave influence and impact can use that to tremendous advantage in pursuing Kingdom purposes. But will our spheres of influence be about us, or about God? How can our obsession with influence and approval be transformed into a vehicle of grace and compassion for a hurting world? Thoughts? (I feel like it would be totally ironic for me to solicit comments on this post, so I won't. Just some food for thought!)

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