This is a common trait of those who grew up in highly dysfunctional environments--particularly those with alcoholic or ultra-rigid parents. Mothers and fathers who are chemically addicted and/or highly critical often produce children who try desperately to earn approval--from their parents, teachers, peers, coaches, or just about anyone who gives them attention.
It is not a characteristic they simply outgrow.
Many attention-starved kids grow up to become attention-starved adults. They buy into the lie that their self-worth is dependent on two things: what they do and what people say about what they do.
And they always seem to come up short.
They go through life with a pervading sense that no matter how well they perform they will never be good enough; that they will always be found lacking; that they will never meet the expectations of others.
I am one of those people. At least I was.
In my seemingly never-ending quest for acceptance I stumbled upon a phenomenon called "unconditional love." Having been a regular attender of Sunday School, I had learned at a very early age that God loves His children unconditionally. I knew about unconditional love. But, due to some pretty faulty thinking, I had never experienced it.
First of all, I grew up believing that all love had conditions. There were always strings attached. I couldn't be loved until the expectations of others were met. Love had to be earned.
Secondly, I had developed some defective beliefs about God. I viewed my Heavenly Father through the lens of my alcoholic dad. As a result, I believed that God was just another father I couldn't please; another father who looked at me and shook His head in disappointment, another father who withheld His love from me until I got it right.
Once I came to understand the truth about my Heavenly Father and His love for me everything changed. I experienced unrestricted, unqualified, unquestionable approval for the first time in my life. I finally and fully grasped the fact that my Heavenly Father’s love for me carries no expectations. That there are no strings attached. That His love cannot possibly be earned.
I remember vividly the thrill of cradling my first grandchild after he was born. And as I held him close and looked at that sweet face I found myself overflowing with love for him. I realized there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him. And what exactly had he done to earn that kind of love? Absolutely nothing. At just a few weeks old pretty much all he did was eat, sleep, and poop. I loved him not because of anything he had done. I loved and continue to love him because of who he is: he’s my grandson.
That is a picture of how our Heavenly Father loves us. He loves us freely and fully with no strings attached. He loves us even when we smell and need to be changed. He loves us so much there is nothing He wouldn’t do for us. He loves us not because of what we've done, He loves us because of who we are: we're His kids.
I no longer live seeking to measure up in the eyes of others. I have been deemed good enough by a Father who is fully pleased with me just as I am.