I have a confession. I’m a recovering addict.
Deep down, I’ve known for a long time that I had a problem (one among many😉) but I’m just now getting to the point of being able to put into words what that problem is. I’m just now able to admit it. Looking back, I see it was something I struggled with for as long as I can remember.
I was addicted to attention.
There, I said it. That’s a big step for me.
That may sound weird coming from someone who’s so quiet, but I’m not talking about public attention. I never have had, and still don’t have, any desire to be in the spotlight or be famous (although, sometimes I wonder if that’s why so many people want to be famous).
What I mean is, my whole life has been a constant striving for love, approval, and acceptance by people. When I drew the attention of men especially, I felt like I was getting some of those needs met. It was as strong of a draw as other people experience to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn, or any other kind of addictive substance or behavior.
It made me do things I wish I could stop. It ruined relationships and alienated friends. It filled me with regrets over my weakness.
Some people are lucky enough to get their need for love and attention filled by their parents and family while growing up. Others, like myself, spend the better part of their life seeking it out in dysfunctional ways or trying to numb the pain of not having received it, with alcohol, drugs, etc.
None of us like rejection. None of us like to be hurt or done wrong.
We all need affirmation. We all need to feel like we matter.
We all want to be accepted and feel like we belong. None of us like to be abandoned, ignored, forgotten, or left out.
We all need to be loved and feel loved.
All those desires are part of what makes us human, we’re social beings, designed to be interdependent (not dependent, independent, or codependent). Those needs are not wrong in and of themselves — unless they drive us to seek fulfillment in all the wrong ways, as I know they have with me in the past.
Peoples’ yearning to be accepted if only for a moment, their craving for the approval of another as shown through a smile or a look, their search for some small sign of love, can result in a wide variety of attention-seeking behaviors.
One person may become the class clown or comedian, hoping to get noticed and make people like them by making others laugh. Another may be labeled the trouble-maker, who has found the attention they get when they misbehave, even though it is negative, is better than nothing. Someone else may rebel against the norms of society to catch someone’s eye by going with spiky purple hair, edgy clothing, full body tattoos, and multiple piercings (although tattoos and piercings are almost more common than not having them these days). Yet another one may end up the gang’s go-to girl just to feel like she’s part of the group.
Although I didn’t do any of the above, I did do some things I’m not proud of and although I know the Lord has forgiven me, I’ve had a hard time forgiving myself. Without getting into any details, let’s just say my need for love drove me into the arms of one man after another, to whomever gave me the most attention. It meant the dissolution of two marriages, disapproving attitudes from those ready to judge, plus my own guilt-laden regrets.
One way I tried to gain attention was through my clothing. You can see the same thing at any school or on any public street. As with a lot of women, fueled by the images and suggestions in the media, I chose my clothes based not on comfort but on how they made me look — I wore whatever made me look sexier, more youthful, slimmer, in vogue — all to get those approving looks.
For someone growing up in New Zealand, where going without makeup was the norm, I tended to prefer to cover up and enhance with makeup. I felt more comfortable once I got to the States and just about everyone wore makeup. I’m still not brave enough to go without makeup very often. By putting it on, I feel better about myself, more presentable. I can remember, as a teenager, not wanting to leave the house because my face had broken out (all right, I admit it, I still feel that way sometimes when I have a blemish😏).
I think my need for approval is also part of the reason I have perfectionistic tendencies. I told myself, and took it on as a mistaken belief, that if I didn’t let anyone see my imperfections and shortcomings, if I acted like I had no flaws and didn’t make any mistakes, then I’d be loved.
Unfortunately, I’ve failed miserably at being perfect and did way more things wrong than I ever did right.
For someone like me, failing at something meant I was a failure. I took it personally and my shame and insecurity increased each time. It led me to not want to try a lot of things and I gave up when things got too hard. I figured if I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail, right?
Not trying something for fear of failing was really the ultimate path to failure.
How else do babies learn to walk, kids learn their alphabet, learn how to count, learn to read or ride a bike, except by trying, messing up, and trying again?
At what age or stage do we decide that it’s no longer acceptable to keep trying until we master something, and instead we personalize our failures and try to hide them?
At least if I’d tried I would have given myself the chance to experience something new and possibly succeed, or if it didn’t work out, I would have provided myself with a valuable learning opportunity. It’s a shame really when so much can be learned and gained from trying and failing — reminds me of some of Thomas Edison’s wise quotes about failure:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
My fear of failure meant it was easier to keep to myself, too. Although I’m one of the more introverted personalities (INFJ), my need for approval also encouraged me to remain quiet and exacerbated my awkwardness in social situations. I had always told myself and believed that if I kept quiet, I could hide behind my mask and people wouldn’t find out what I was really like and how far I was from perfect. I was practicing Proverbs 17:28 long before I even knew the Bible verse: “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.”
I was scared of getting close to people, yet also scared of losing them. Unfortunately though, it meant I was caught in a catch-22 because being so quiet tended to alienate people anyway. People are uncomfortable with silence. I didn’t know what to say and so they didn’t either. It’s a shame really because I’ve had so many people tell me they like to hear me talk (something to do with the accent, I think 😉).
So many times I didn’t say anything (and sometimes still don’t) because I was afraid I’d sound foolish or not say the “right” thing. I’d agree with someone, especially if they had a strong personality, even though I really didn’t or I’d stay silent so I at least wouldn’t disagree with them. That way I didn’t rock the boat, even though I knew everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and that didn’t mean my opinion was wrong. However, I tended to take opposition personally (something to do with poor personal boundaries, I’ve been told) and saw it as an attack on who I was.
There’s nothing wrong with being a peace-maker. In fact the Bible says in Romans 12:18 “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone,” and in Matthew 5:9 “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”
There’s a difference, though, between a peace-maker and a people-pleaser. I am both, but take it from me, the latter is a lost cause because no one can please everyone all the time without losing themselves. Now, after years of subduing my thoughts and refraining from speaking up, sometimes I wonder if I’ve lost the ability to form an opinion of my own, much in the same way a muscle that isn’t used tends to weaken and wither away.
I was even scared to start a blog like this in case people actually read it. I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough to say or people wouldn’t like the way I wrote or they wouldn’t agree with what I wrote. Although I did finally get over the fear of posting publicly, I’m still not brave enough to sign my real name to my writing and the main reason for that is I don’t want people’s judgement. Unfortunately, people are people and that’s what they do. Unlike me, some people have no shortage of opinions on a lot of things 😉.
It’s been a long journey from that girl and young woman who always needed someone else to validate her worth as a person, to the woman I am today. Sure, I’ve still got a ways to go, but at least I’m healing and making some steps in the right direction, and I no longer seek out others to make me feel good about myself.
I’ve got to give all the credit to God for the progress I’ve made, though. He’s the one I turn to when I’m feeling weak, too, and for many years now, He’s been faithful to keep me from making the same mistakes again.
He’s given me the strength to accept and be okay with who I am, He’s helped me make peace with my past (mistakes and all), and He’s given me the courage to finally step out of my comfort zone to do some things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time — focus on my writing — because that’s what He’s put on my heart to do.
All these changes have come about because I finally allowed Him into my life and let Him show me how much He loves me, even before I knew Him. I draw my self-worth from Him now.
He chose me to be one of His children before I was born. He created me at this time in history and placed me just where he needed me to be. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for me. He accepts me as I am. He knows me better than I know myself. He knows everything I’ve done and everything I’m going to do. He knows my thoughts, even before I think them. He knows all my weaknesses, faults, and failures. All this and still He loves me!
And the good news is, all those things about Him are true for you, too!