Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Monday, April 9, 2012

Affirmation Anxiety/Addiction

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

Proverbs 29:25
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

John 12:43, For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

1 Peter 5:6 , Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

Our collective journey into the realm of servant leadership carries us to many uncomfortable places. Self-awareness regarding our weaknesses and sins increases greatly with the removal of our conventional defenses that provide a false sense of comfort and security. For those of us who experience what is termed “affirmation anxiety,” the performance evaluation process is clearly a “step on the water” experience. Affirmation anxiety is the term used for the apprehension associated with the need to receive positive feedback and recognition. We all experience this condition at one time or another given the inherent human need for affirmation, support, and direct evidence regarding the fruit of our labors.

Christian servant leadership management requires us to recognize, support, and encourage employees to cultivate hope and confidence. Concurrently, we must provide accountability (tough love) entailing setting standards and providing corrective feedback. As scriptures states, those whom God loves he disciplines (Proverbs 3:12). It is important to seek out and be responsive to external feedback, but resist control by emotional responses. When we place more weight on the praise and feedback of men more than the word of God, we are vulnerable to a whole range of dysfunctions. Only God can love us and forgive us unconditionally, and if we assign more importance to human feedback, it becomes an idol and a source of fear and insecurity.

Our inherent worth derives from our priceless and unique creation in the image of God. Natural affirmation anxiety frequently morphs into affirmation addiction absent a complete reliance on God. The root lie is that in order for us to achieve meaning, self-purpose, and success, we must “earn” the approval of others and achieve worldly definitions of success. In essence, we defer to human standards and judgment the primal definition of our self worth and the meaning and degree of our success discounting God’s success standards of obedience, Christ-like character, and love. We thereby lose control of our emotional and spiritual peace. In effect, we delegate our sense of self worth and well-being to the frequently fickle, unreliable, and invalid assessment of human wisdom and judgment.

God calls us to work to the best of our ability and to seek excellence while maintaining a sense of Godly perspective and priority. When we recognize the primacy of the eternal performance standards, we understand implicitly that the temporal assessments of the workplace will not stand the test of eternity unless founded upon Godly love. As the Apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13, we can possess all knowledge, wisdom (and we can infer worldly success and the praise of men as well), but without love it profits us nothing. When we place workplace performance feedback in its proper perspective, we are better able to learn from our mistakes and improve performance, be more emotionally stable, and pursue excellence rather than perfectionism. Perfectionism inhibits growth through linking our worth and identity to performance outcomes instilling a fear of failure by yoking us with impossible achievement standards robbing us for our joy.

I am growing in this area as well as I am learning not to obsess over less than perfect teaching ratings. The perfectionist in me gets discouraged when one or a small group of students provides a low rating (the lost sheep phenomena). The Godly perspective is to recognize that Jesus did not please, nor did He attempt to please, everyone, and so it is foolish for me to attempt a feat that is both impossible and contrary to the example set by Jesus and scriptural teachings. I do not have to be perfect to be a good instructor. My goal is to be open to feedback and make improvements (the teacher must be teachable!). I am improving in this area, but it is an ongoing challenge given our inherent tendency to focus on the exception. Let us all commit to place Christ at the center of every area of our life and adopt the liberating standards of Godly achievement.