I few weeks ago my old pal insecurity showed up. This is never good. I knew he had arrived before he even made his presence known. I was irritable and unsure about everything, but instead of settling down and getting to the root of what my issue was, I resorted to an old, destructive habit. I went in search of external validation to boost my spirits, “Just a little, then I’ll feel better. I’ll do it the right way after this one time”. At least this is what I told myself, I knew what I was stepping into, and I knew what would happen afterward. It had been years since I resorted to this, but insecurity stood and watched as I tore a little piece of myself away and handed it to him.
Praise felt like the first drops of rain the desert of my soul had felt in months. I soaked them up desperately, trying my best to appear as if I didn’t need them. I smiled on the outside, but on the inside I wanted more. I felt my roots pulling, my grip loosening, my inner strength fading. I was startled by my reaction, by how parched I was.
The moment I went through with seeking out the validation was the moment I wished I hadn’t. Old memories came flooding back, old feelings, old coping methods. The old Daniah stood stark naked in front of me and I knew I couldn’t become her again. Sometimes standing face to face with the person we left behind is what we need to show us how much we’ve really changed.
I was once a professional fisherman, only my trade didn’t require a tangible boat or a line.
I fished for compliments.
I would lure people in with carefully crafted self-deprecation. I would feed into my astounding insecurity just enough to inspire a little bit of pity. The pity would draw forth the compliment and I would feast on it, I would be simultaneously satisfied and ashamed. I would walk away feeling as if I had sullied my soul one more time for a validation high, like I had put my self-worth on sale again.
The devastating thing about placing your self-love in someone else’s hands is that they won’t always be there. At some point you will be left alone with your thoughts, your opinions of yourself, and all that pain. You will be forced to face yourself, and you will be forced to admit that you don’t actually like yourself. I remember standing in front of a mirror and picking myself a part. I hated everything. If someone asked me what I liked about myself I couldn’t answer.
I had no roots, no grip, and no inner strength.
So I drifted, and as I drifted I taught myself to fish. I went through the cycle of baiting with pity and reeling in compliments for years. I was good at it, but I couldn’t stand myself for it. It exhausted me. It wore me out emotionally. I was disgusted by my actions but I couldn’t seem to stop. I couldn’t explain how I knew what I was doing wasn’t the best for me, but I didn’t know another way to fill the gaps, to close the holes. If I stopped then the way I felt about myself would become my entire reality, it would swallow up any good thing that was present in my life. I would be consumed by self-hatred and I didn’t know if I could survive that.
My own journey has caused me to consider the actions of the people I encounter. What if the person that everyone deems as desperate is actually broken and trying to fix his/herself in the wrong way? Our society likes to shame men and women that stay in abusive or destructive relationships because “what kind of person would stay in that?” We like to say these people have no self-respect or strength. That sadly may be the case, but I invite all those who are reading this to have a more compassionate attitude.
I am aware that I was blessed enough to have a moment of clarity before I got into this kind of situation, but I am not naïve or arrogant enough to believe for one second it could not have happened to me. We need to do a better job at realizing that if our circumstances had been different, if we had never had the love of our father or mother or both, if a gracious adult had never intercepted our self-destructive behavior, if we had never encountered the unrelenting grace and love of Yahweh that shakes and breaks and reforms perspectives and attitudes from negative to positive, that it could have been us. I daresay, it would have been us.
Searching for external validation is not the way to feel whole. It is not the way to reform your view of yourself. No human being on earth can love you the way you are meant to love yourself. It’s a different kind of love. It’s a love that is so deep that the soil of another person’s opinion is too shallow. The soil of your appearance is too shallow. The soil of degrees or a job is too shallow. The soil of your children or your spouse is too shallow. It is a love that can and will be shaken by external forces, but holds fast. It is a love that should be honest and pure, not one-sided or proud. You should be able to look at the shards of your character, the broken pieces that are hard to handle and hurt to hold, and you should love yourself anyway.
That’s a love that can’t be found in someone else. That’s a love you need to cultivate for yourself. It’s a life-long project. The more you attempt to get out of it, the more you will search for stability in other things and other people. The more you lean on these external supports to hold you up in hard times, the more disappointed, dejected, cynical, and empty you will feel.
I’m speaking from a place of experience and love, and I am well aware that there are people in much tougher situations than I will ever be able to fathom, but I do know that there is hope. My anchor is my faith. I place my hope in a Savior that never changes, in His unfailing love, in His ever-open arms, in His unfaltering positive opinion of me.
The way I see myself, my identity, who I am and hope to become, is all based on my Father’s consistently loving perspective.
I have planted my self-love in soil that is deep enough to hold it, strong enough to feed it, and forgiving enough to accept all of its flaws. The ground will never change, and with all the craziness that has been unfolding in my life, I cannot survive without that kind of stability. I don’t know of any other source that can sustain the complexities of the human experience so fully.
And just in case you don’t know, you were created whole, on purpose, with a fantastic future in store. That’s not blind flattery, that’s truth.