Mei Ling Shiu, Epic Staff serving in NYC, vulnerably shares her identify formation story as a child with various physical traits which caused her to feel “lesser than.” She shares her journey about being performance and approval driven.
Growing up, the things that were provided for me (in varying degrees) were finances, food, shelter, schooling and spirituality. However, as far as validation through emotions – never.
I was not sought out, nor asked simple questions like, “How was your day? How are you doing?” This led me to internalize the question, “Am I worth being heard? Do I as a person matter?” Instead of questioning why I didn’t receive it from my environment, I decided that in order to gain the worth I desired, I would need to pursue it.
I was born with lazy eye, “beauty marks”, “dumbo” ears and an under-bite. And whatever my parents could change, they tried to. Not out of ill-will, but with great intentions of hoping that I would overcome my “born deficiencies”. As one parent stated in an online forum for medical questions, “I have researched otoplasty extensively because I know this procedure is inevitable if my daughter is to not be ridiculed by her peers.” *
Many of my parents’ decisions were made in light of helping me have a “better life”. However I internalized the message that ‘YOU’ don’t measure up. What isn’t your fault, now is. And it’s yours to fix. So fix yourself to “earn” or “get” what you are born to desire, whether validity or approval.
Performance dominated my life because I needed to create something that would minimize the aspects of myself that aren’t “good”. I would put on this presentable self. For the lazy eye, I compensated by adjusting the way I sat and also whom I would speak to at the dinner table… ignoring those that sat on my left side because it would not appear as if I was looking at them, even though I was. For my ears, I would never tie up my hair. For my under-bite, I’m careful not to show my full smile in pictures. So in order to compensate, I made social adjustments…I taught myself to assess situations, and learned how to be approved by the “popular” crowd. All so that I could validate that I’m worth something. I yearned for the approval that would tell me I wasn’t a mistake. I hadn’t clung to the truths in Psalm 139:13-14. I turned approval into my god.
In every aspect of life, I would do anything to gain validation. I did well in school so that my parents would like me (because sometimes I needed to know that I was liked as well as loved). I refrained from things I performed poorly in (i.e. volleyball) so that I wouldn’t draw the negative attention of others. I went too far physically in my relationships (placing the perspective of my boyfriend above what I valued). I led a two-faced life by being a “good Christian” when I knew someone was looking, and then living differently when nobody was. I even led a Christian fellowship at school.
Then, when I went on a missions trip, God gave me a realization that stopped me in my tracks. He lit up Romans 5:8 before my eyes, and reminded me that while I was a sinner — someone that hated what God stood for, despised Him, rebelled against Him, and actively chose to hate him – Christ died so I could have abundant life. I didn’t have to strive to validate my existence, because I was deeply loved and valued.
In a way, I was like the bleeding woman in Mark 5:25-34. She had spent all her time and energy trying to fix something that had “happened” to her. I love that in the crowd, Jesus stopped and asked “Who touched me?” If he hadn’t asked, the woman may have walked away the rest of her life thinking that she had saved herself. But Jesus knew what she really needed, deeper than physical healing.
Do you know what’s been odd? Even though while I’ve been a Christian, God hasn’t taken away my desire for approval or validation. In fact, He’s increased it to a magnitude that I can’t control. I think it’s because it forces me to seek Him in those moments, knowing that only He can satisfy.
1. What areas of your life did you grow up seeking approval from others (i.e. in your family)?
2. In what areas of your life are seeking approval from others right now?
3. Think about a concrete way that only God can satisfy the need for approval you may feel.