The fear of disapproval
By Fr John Catoir
A woman once came to see me for advice. She was dressed strangely. Draped in neat layers of olive drab material, she looked like a high-class bag lady.
We talked for nearly an hour, and she kept putting herself down. I asked her why she chose to dress in that style, and she answered, “I guess it’s because I don’t want people to expect too much of me.” Wow!
Her fear of disapproval had led her to overcompensate, thereby ensuring
the very result she dreaded. Her fear of others’ high expectations
caused her to dress weirdly and be miserable.
How does one get from fear to freedom? Control your thoughts by accepting yourself. Faith can help you find the inner freedom you need because faith teaches that God loves you, warts and all.
Think positive thoughts instead of fearful thoughts, and you gradually will be able to climb out of the rut. It can be done.
A friend wrote to me about how she was too hard on herself. She had read
about an attorney who lived in fear of losing a case. If he did, he thought
his peers would no longer respect him.
It turns out that being perfect does not always win respect. Having personal integrity is more important. If you slip and fall, so be it. Get up, and begin again.
This same friend mentioned an article by Shel Silverstein, The Missing Piece. It is a parable about a circle that had a broken section. There was a missing piece in its circumference, and because it was incomplete it could roll along only very slowly. As it did, it chatted with the worms and admired the beautiful flowers. Then one day it found the missing piece, and fitted it back.
Now the circle was perfect again. It quickly began rolling along at a rapid speed. How different the world seemed when it went fast. The circle realised that by being perfect it went too fast and, in the process, lost the advantage of mingling with the beauty all around it.
The lesson is that, in some strange way, we are more whole when we are broken. Being acceptable to the world is not as important as being at peace with who you are. God doesn’t ask us to be perfect. We don’t have to win everyone’s approval to please him. All we have to do is accept ourselves just as we are and try to hold on to our integrity.
The Lord didn’t order us never to make a mistake. What he said was, “Come to me you who are burdened, and I will refresh you.”
The writer concluded her letter: “And in the end, if we are brave enough to love, strong enough to forgive, generous enough to rejoice in another’s happiness and wise enough to know there is enough love to go around for us all, then we have achieved a fulfilment that no other living creature ever will.”
Fr John Catoir is a columnist for the Catholic News Service.