Healing from Approval Addiction

Gary Wilkerson

We have become a society of people who crave approval. Sadly, this dependence on external validation for our success also exists within the church. I speak to pastors all over the world. As a pastor myself I know that we have a big problem with this. “If the church reaches 500 or 1,000, when we're in the new building, when the budget is strong — then I'll be successful and happy.” Laypeople have the same trouble. Life has become all about the externals.

There is now a disorder informally called social media validation. People get depressed because they compare their following to someone else’s, or they have a false sense of pride over having more followers than their friends. These are relational sins of measuring our worth by the approval of others. That insatiable hunger is powered by the need to repair inner wounds. We say, “I’m broken, and external validation will fix me.”

What truly meets our needs, though, is holiness, living in loving relationship with God and with other people. For that to happen, we must rebuild our lives on our relationship with our Creator. We must relocate the house from the sand to the rock and redefine the meaning of life. Life is love not fame, generosity not conceit or power. It isn’t Facebook likes; it’s living in friendship and intimacy with people we care about.

When people seek professional help with drug addiction, they are first sent through detox. Drugs have caused their brains to release too much dopamine, which gives them a sense of tremendous well-being. They have become addicted to that high and have placed their health and lives at risk.

Studies show the same thing happens with social media. When we get likes on a post, our brain gets a dopamine hit, and we immediately want more. Consequently, just like with other addictions, when we are hooked on external validation, we need to go through a spiritual detox.

It won’t happen overnight. It's a long journey of walking with God and learning to look to him for our worth. We find true contentment when we learn who he meant us to be and when we discover our gifts and use them for his glory. Our loving God cherishes us and places great value on our lives. He wants us to truly enjoy the journey.

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