I am working with a precious sister in Christ who is a college student. We will call her Daughteroftheking. We are going to be addressing some idols – like having other’s approval, having to have high grades at all costs and perfectionism. I personally had these idols,too. So I am pretty familiar with them. This is part of our first correspondence. I am not able to email everyone anymore. But I hope to be able to email with a few women who are willing to allow me to share their journey so that maybe many others might also benefit. First, I asked a few questions. Her answers are below in italics.
1. What are your greatest fears?
2. What causes you the most anxiety?
3. What will happen if you get bad grades?
4. What do you believe you need to feel happy and successful?
My greatest fear is to FAIL, that means to get in an undisirable situation by my fault, like not learning enough, not practising enough, not trying everything I can to get there. And of course: overlooking something important. My greatest fear in the morning is that I forget something important for school and that I would be, as a result of that, totally unprepared for whatever I missed.
And the other one: that someone is better than me. This applies more to school, because I’m perfectly aware of the fact that there are millions of very good violinists. I hate the feeling of being second, even when there are “two first places”.
And the last: to be a failure myself. There are a couple of things which I despise in other people, and I try to avoid to be like this. Examples: Laziness, being disrespectful to the teachers, not being interested in school, and so on, being incompetent or stupid.
Many times our greatest fears are the opposite of whatever our idols are. They can reveal to us what our true beliefs and goals in life are and what our hearts are really set on and what we actually are living for.
I am an identical twin. Everyone compared my sister to me all day every day – and we compared ourselves constantly. No one wants to be the “ugly twin,” the “stupid twin,” the “fat twin,”the “frumpy twin,” the “unpopular twin”… I believe that there were several things that drove me to perfectionism:
1. The belief that I would be loved and accepted more if I were perfect.
2. The belief that I COULD be perfect! I really expected total perfection of myself.
3. The belief that I needed to compete with my sister and not look like a “failure” next to her.
4. The fear of someone thinking I was incompetent or irresponsible. I GREATLY valued being responsible.
Actually, I was quite overly responsible because I tried to take on the weight of God’s responsibility and the responsibilities of others on myself as if I were sovereign and as if I were in charge and knew best for everyone. That actually came from a very warped, tiny, wimpy view of God and a LARGE, powerful view of myself that was extremely distorted. So, I trusted SELF. I made myself god. Not consciously. But I actually believed that I was responsible for things that really only God is responsible for and I believed I was responsible for others. I didn’t verbalize this, but I expected other people to submit to me and honor me and do what I said. I expected the same thing from God. I didn’t realize I had made myself god. But that is how I lived and behaved – as if it was my right and responsibility to take on all of these things and to trust myself instead of trusting God. This lead to extreme worry, fear and anxiety. I didn’t see my pride. I didn’t see that I had raised myself above God in my heart. I didn’t understand what I was doing and was confused by the dismal results I got.
There were several moments in my childhood where I thought I learned I was sovereign. And no one ever corrected my thought patterns. We can talk about that if you would like.
What happened in your childhood that made you feel you had to be in control and take care of yourself, and maybe others, too?
What would happen if you were to fail? Spiritually and emotionally, what would that do to you, do you think?
What do you say to yourself when another violinist in a competition you are in wins or is better than you are?
Why do you believe you are valuable?
What makes you lovable?
What makes it possible for people to accept you?
2.: Hmmm… I guess school and the music educational system causes me the most anxiety. My good friend once told me that I’ll be very happy and relieved when school will be finished, but that’s only partly true…because then comes University, a job, and so on… She said that I usually look like I’m constricted by a kind of social corset :/ because I’m constantly trying to please people whom I shouldn’t care about.
So school causes you a lot of anxiety. It did for me, too. I had to have A’s. Not just A’s, but HIGH A’s. Really, I was dissatisfied with anything but 100% on my tests. To me, 100% was the bare minimum expectation I had for myself. I would agonize over every missed question. My first test in pharmacy school, I made a D. I had NEVER made a D in my life before. I was devastated! I used the wrong number of hydrogens in the formula for baking soda and I did the same thing through the entire page long problem, so my professor counted off for every single time I did the same mistake. I cried and cried and cried!
I would worry so much before tests. My stomach was usually a mess. I had a friend that would stress even more than I did and she would have to go throw up during tests, she got so nervous.
I HAD to make HIGH GRADES. HAD TO.
You know what?
In pharmacy, all that matters is that you get a degree and that you pass your boards. NO ONE cares what your grades were in school. No one EVER asked about my grades. Those questions I obsessed over didn’t matter at all.
What did I gain by worrying, obsessing, making myself sick, being so afraid, freaking out, beating myself up, crying, etc…?
Was all of that necessary?
What did my mindset say about my faith and trust in God?
What were my greatest priorities?
What does God say my greatest priorities should be?
3.: First of all it will be a great shock. Everyone usually starts asking me: Oh my God, whats wrong with you? What happened?(I hate those questions!!!) I would probably be quite worried and increase the amount of time I spend learning. For some tests I start preparing more than a month before they actually are, just to make sure I’ll make it.
I also sometimes argued with the teacher. In some cases their correction was really wrong(because I did it in another way, so they didn’t see it was right at first). But some teachers don’t give in, so I get a B or something like that. I guess some of them are kind of afraid of giving me a bad mark :/ when I got back my german exam(it was a B), my teacher would look at me with a frightened face(she was joking, but…).
I would probably get even more nervous. If I got a bad mark in something I did together with someone else, I usually let them know somehow I’m not happy. And next time I’m working with them, I make sure they work better. Wow, that sounds so horrible when you actually write it down!
So, people expectations of you play very much into your way of thinking, right?
So you do all that you can to try to argue your way to get the highest grades possible?
What happens if you don’t meet people’s expectations and they are disappointed?
How many hours/day do you usually study?
How many hours/day do you practice violin?
How many hours/day do you spend with God?
Do group projects make you really nervous? Would you rather do all the work yourself?
How much worry and stress do you have about tests and grades?
4.: I need success in school and in my musical studies. I think that verbal and non-verbal appreciation of my effort is really important to me. It makes me happy when others admire me or are jealous, or if the teacher says good things about me. I like the feeling of being the best, having the best grades, the highest scores, and so on. I need the feeling that I am progressing well, that I’m keeping up with the new subjects. I like the feeling of doing so much that I feel totally secure in that particular subject when it comes to the exam.
But on the other hand, I’m a naturally curious person. I love learning and understanding the world more and more. I love every subject we have in school, I find everything interesting. So I need learning and school to be happy, because that’s what I like to do… Same with the violin: I need it. I tried once to visit my family for a week without it, and I cried on the way there because I missed it so much…It seems to me that this is really a part of me, a part which I need. Here again I like to be praised and to do well in a concert and so on…
There reason I contacted you is this: I need more than that to be happy and successful. I heard I wise saying a few days ago: “just because you fly with the first class, it doesn’t mean you’re a first class person”. I would much rather be known for my faith, for my gentle and quite spirit, for my kindness and understanding than for my intelligence.
And here comes the constant feeling of doing something wrong, of not living exactly how GOD wants me to…Together with total cluelessness about how to change that 😀
You need success in school and in music? Why?
Do you actually need it? Is this truly a need or is it a desire? I mean, getting good grades is great. But, you can live and breathe and function if you get Bs, right? As long as you have air, food, a place to live and you can still have people in your life and relationships even if you don’t have perfect grades. Does your value as a person depend on having high grades?
What value do people have who are not able to get high grades?
What happens when you enter a phase of your life where you do not receive any praise from people?
What if your husband is a fairly non-verbal man and just doesn’t give much praise? What will you do?
If you have children, they won’t be able to praise you for many, many years. Where will your sense of worth come from?
At your job in the future, you will likely not get much praise at all. What will your motivation be to do a good job?
Here is some bad news about life after school.
You DON’T get a report card on your job and you DON’T get a report card as a wife or as a mom. I mean, on your job, you may have a yearly evaluation, yes. But it is not continual feedback and affirmation. If/when you get married, your husband may not compliment, affirm and praise you all the time.
There is a problem with making high grades so important and all that feedback and affirmation so important. It goes away after school. Then you lose the scale you used to feel successful and to feel affirmed. Then, you start to want to find affirmation like that in other areas of your life, too. This actually easily leads to a woman demanding that her man give her attention, affirmation, encouragement, feedback, praise, etc… because when you get addicted to those good report cards, you can feel like you are floating in space without having that constant affirmation that you are “good enough” and that you are “better than everyone else” and that you are “perfect.”
There was a great deal of pride at the root of this mindset for me!
What does God say? Let’s look at that!
Where does God say your worth comes from?
Why does He love you?
What can take away His love for you?
What is God’s purpose for your life?
The Bible says not to seek the approval of men but of God. I didn’t realize that I had to choose between the two. Either I seek people’s approval, or I put God’s approval first.
What would change in your life and your priorities if your only purpose was to receive the praise of God when this life is over, and you didn’t care about the approval of people?
I will write more with the other questions later!