Affirmation is addictive. Compliments are like an adrenaline rush: they offer a quick emotional high, but before long the effects begin to wear off, the downward surge begins, and the search for the next emotional fix begins. That is why compliments feel good; they create energy. Approval is the driving force in most relationships, especially in dysfunctional ones. It is both poison and pleasure to the brokenhearted. Let me give you an example.
I never will forget my high school friend Ginger. Ginger was cute, adventurous, funny, and highly successful—that is, in every area except relationships. Growing up, her parents were busy traveling the world and building careers, and sadly, Ginger’s emotional needs were neglected.
What I remember most about my friend was she was easily lured into wrong relationships by the verbal affirmation of those with impure motives. Throughout high school, she was drawn to every one-liner deceptive young men threw her way. Yearning for acceptance and addicted to approval, she was willing to do whatever it took to gain and keep the approval of others. Her need for attention was like a giant, overshadowing her good judgment and proving hard to defeat.
A powerful inoculation, affirmation immunizes the heart from unconstructive criticism. A healthy dose of encouragement will help safeguard the heart of those most susceptible to the negative effects associated with rejection. Providing verbal affirmation to a rejected heart is like giving water to a person dying of thirst. A wounded person craves positive words of encouragement. In fact, they can thrive on one rightly spoken word for months.
While affirmation in moderate doses can be beneficial, an irrational need to please others can quickly lead to unbalanced and unhealthy relationships. My friend Ginger isn’t the only one who has battled the giant of insecurities. I have watched man after man abandon his wife and children for a secretary who filled his ear full of flattery. I have heard from teenagers who discarded their virtues for a night of cheap cookie-cutter compliments.
The Bible is full of tragic stories born out of emotional crisis. Consider Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:8). If we were to ask Cain why he killed his brother I am sure the answer would be one word: rejection. The feeling that his offering was unacceptable devastated Cain emotionally. In turn, Cain took the life of someone he loved. Do you know someone who reminds you of Cain? Someone who is destroying their life or the life of someone they love because they have not learned how to respond to the voice of rejection?
One of the most challenging relationships in life will be with the person who has experienced extreme rejection. This is true because they subconsciously feel unworthy of time, energy, or affection. Before long, those incapable of receiving your love will deplete a large portion of your emotional energy.
Many years ago, I had an engaging friendship with a female colleague. The first few months were pleasant, even rewarding. However, before long I quickly realized maintaining our relationship would require more energy than I had expected. At the onset of our friendship she expressed the desire to assist me, working with various projects and freelance jobs when needed.
What I did not detect was that she was very insecure. She required a continual stream of validation, affirmation, and conversation centered on her latest crisis. Instead of relieving my already strenuous workload, her insecurities added to it. Over the next few months the person I had perceived as a mutual contributor in our relationship emerged as an emotional sponge slowly absorbing my energy. Before long I was forced to let her go, and our relationship ended on a sad note.
Is it possible to express your love and affirmation limitless times and in myriad ways only to have your sincerity questioned? Yes. Trying to affirm your commitment in an unhealthy relationship is like pouring water into a bag filled with holes. There will never be enough praise to fill a heart full of insecurity. The trouble is not your inability to express love but the bleeding heart that struggles to receive love.
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