Defeating Anxiety: Overcoming the Need for Approval

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Some times we are our own worst enemy. We are partially responsible for creating a problem that need not be. For example we may encounter different life situations with the idea that it is a necessity to be loved or approved by significant people around us. If we don't have this love or approval it is perceived as awful, terrible, the end of the world, and we respond with anxiety.

The problem with this thought is that it is unrealistic. No matter who we are or what we do some people will approve of us and our actions and some people will not. Even the greatest spiritual leaders of the world have been maligned for their sayings and actions.

Jesus was vilified for sitting with Pharisees, prostitutes and tax collectors. Recall St Luke's account (15: 1-2): Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." But Jesus did this for a good reason to 'help' them: in response to his accusers Jesus replied: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…" (Mt 9:12). Jesus, called the "Prince of Peace" (Is. 9:6) was crucified.

Closer to our own time is the witness of Mahatma Gandhi, the revered leader of Indian independence from Great Britain in the early 20th Century. Among his spiritual sayings: "The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within." "When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, always." As we know this man of peace was assassinated.

We also have the words and actions of Martin Luther King who fought discrimination and injustice by nonviolence. Now decades later he as become an American icon, so to speak. Who cannot remember the ending of his I Have a Dream speech: "When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able at last to join hands and sing in the words of the old Black spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" Martin Luther King too, was assassinated.

What is common between Jesus and men like Gandhi and King is they were courageous enough to follow an internal standard of what they considered right in the face of significant disapproval. They could ask a question: "What do I want to do or accomplish in life? rather than "What do I think others would want me to do or say?" The lesson for us is we have to discover and carry out our value system in spite of disapproval from others. When we realize we do not "need others approval", anxiety attenuates. Following our internal standards can be performed with firmness and conviction but also as attested by the examples above: it can be attained without arrogance, but with kindness and charity.

Date posted: August 29, 2008