This blog is dedicated to my beautiful son, Harry. He was one of my greatest cheerleaders during my Master’s journey, and when knew I had decided to do a blog project around identity, he said:
“Mum, don’t forget to do a blog on impression management.”
I didn’t forget, Haz. This one’s for you, gorgeous man.
To impress or not to impress. Like most things in life, trying to impress others affects most of us.
In the following short clip, you will see some delightful (and somewhat humbling) bird displays as they seek to attract a partner.
In some ways, we are no different to our feathered friends. But in the following ways, we are significantly different. As humans made in God’s image, we have a deep and legitimate desire to belong. We are beautifully designed to experience and enjoy relationship with God and with each other, and it is absolutely natural for us to want to experience love and acceptance.
We want to enjoy others, and we want others to enjoy us.
God has created us with a desire to belong. Innately, we want to be known and seen for who we truly are. There is, however, a certain amount of risk in this, and if we have taken enough knocks during our tender and formative years, we may begin to wonder:
“what if who I truly am is not good enough for others?”
As this wondering further develops into doubt, many of us begin a journey to protect ourselves and to figure out safer ways to belong. “Appearing” to be a certain way becomes far more important than being loved and accepted for who we truly are. We tweak and adjust ourselves around what we have grown to believe is acceptable, constantly checking if we are doing the right thing in order to be liked, to belong. And somewhere along the way, we begin to lose ourselves in other people’s opinions of who we should be.
We have become addicted to approval.
“…if we live with the nagging sense that we aren’t important enough, or special enough, or get envious of another’s success, if we try to impress important people, we probably have approval addiction.” (Chris Hall: Personal Communication)
Approval addiction is doing whatever we need to do to feel loved and accepted. One social media poster-child for this is the platform of Instagram, which has recently rightfully come under intense scrutiny around the mental health crises of comparisons.
Perhaps take a moment to consider the following: What are the first impressions that come to mind when you read the words “approval addiction.” What are some of the things you personally do to feel loved, accepted, and valuable?
What are we prepared to do to show others that we are beautiful, clever, strong, unflappable, witty or independent?
We spend copious amounts of emotional energy trying to manage what others think about us, and our contentment and joy often become dependent on how others respond to us. The pressure of managing others approval (or lack of) can be relentless and exhausting. Is it even possible to get off this crazy treadmill of trying to manage how others experience us? Because if we don’t step off the treadmill, and begin to mature in the specific areas that we are trying to impress others in, we will lose our sense of self.
We begin to live a life that is not our own.
In his book, “Let Your Life Speak: Listening For The Voice Of Vocation,” Parker Palmer writes about his desire to emulate the heroes of his day. Heroes can be a great source of inspiration and encouragement, but in his passion to become like his heroes, Palmer discovered…
“I had simply found a “noble” way to live a life that was not my own, a life spent imitating heroes instead of listening to my own heart.” (Kindle, Loc 62)
How much of our lives do we spend imitating those we admire or think highly of, and forget to tend to the wonderfully unique person we are?
I would say a fair amount.
The Jury Box
In a physical courtroom, there is a jury that pronounces the final judgement on the case. We each have a mental jury box. Over a period of years, we place people in our mental jury box. These can be our best buddies, parents, leaders, colleagues, authority figures, celebrities, and even (often, in fact) people we don’t like very much. For whatever reasons, they are the people we depend on for approval, and we give a lot of consideration to what they may think, say or have opinions on. The mental jury box becomes a constant tape playing in our thoughts, and we end up adjusting our decisions and actions according to what we think they think we should do or not do.
The good news is, if we can put people into our jury box, we can also take them out again. Even though it may take hard work, we can choose who we want there.
“…the core of the false self is the belief that my value depends on what I have, what I can do and what others think of me.”
(David Benner, The Gift Of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call To Self Discovery, p. 81)
Conversely to Benner’s quote, the core of our true self is to understand and live within the beauty and uniqueness of who God has made us.
“For you created my conscience. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am awesomely, wonderfully made! Wonderful are your works – and my soul knows that very well.”
(Psalm 139: 13-14; Tree of Life Version)
And in the words of Dr Seuss:
“Today you are you!
That is truer than true!
There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”
I love the movie, Moana. Moana is a young Pacifika girl who wrestles with expectations from her father and tribe, but she is on a journey to discover who she is, and how she wants to live her life.
If you have some time, take a few minutes to watch a clip from this movie. It is a sweet reminder and call for us all to live the life of our true and authentic selves.
It is not too late to discover who you are, and how to live your life fully. For the sake of the world, live the life you have been given.
Celtic poet and writer, John O’Donohue, writes the following, and I love this:
“May you realise that the shape of your soul is unique,
that you have a special destiny…
May you learn to see yourself
with the same delight,
pride and expectation
with which God sees you in every moment.”
(Anam Cara; A Blessing for Solitude)
- Identify 1-2 people in your jury box, those you look to for approval and self-worth. Consider how much power you give them. You may want to keep them there, or you may want to take them out. The choice is yours. Journal your thoughts.
- Take a few minutes to look back over your day and identify one thing you were doing to seek approval or to try to impress someone. As you identify this one thing, consider how it makes you feel now you have identified this certain behaviour. Now that you are aware of this behaviour, begin to consider how you might want to change it over a period of time. Journal your thoughts.
- We often want others to know when we do something nice for someone else. This week, do something nice for someone and don’t tell anyone what you did. Write a few lines about how it felt to do this action and not be recognised for it.