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The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

He never pushed or hit her. He never screamed or swore at her. He never threatened her physical safety, except maybe when he angrily drove too close to the car in front of them on the freeway while their newborn was sleeping innocently in the backseat. But then, he reminded her to trust God, so they wouldn’t get into a car accident, would they?

Afraid of Disapproval

She didn’t have to be afraid of his fists, but she was afraid. She was afraid of his disapproval. The curl of his lip. The disdain in his voice when he criticized her taste. The way he looked indifferently at her, saying nothing when she got a new haircut. How his eyes looked past her while she was talking. When he grunted and shrugged his shoulders as she showed him something she made.

Sometimes he just came right out and told her that what she did or said or thought or felt was stupid, silly, or ridiculous. Or that her plan was a bad one that would only result in failure. Or that she was making stuff up in her “little” head again.

Yes, she was afraid.

And then there were all her church friends. She cared what they thought, too. She had to be careful to do everything the way they thought was best. Read a certain version of the Bible. Don’t let her kids watch a certain movie. Use a certain homeschool curriculum. Parent in a certain way. If she had thoughts that went against the grain, she kept them to herself. The thought of getting a mini-lecture and feeling bad, well, it scared her.

What was so bad about that? Trying to please people was good, right? And she certainly gave it her everything. She believed it was her Christian duty to obey her mommies and daddies. There were so many of them, though, and they all had slightly different ideas, so it was hard to juggle the whole mess sometimes. Especially when her husband thought differently from her religious friends. Although they all told her that her husband’s opinion trumped everyone else’s.

“What about God’s opinion?” She’d sometimes wonder. But she was just a woman. A wife. Who was she to know God’s heart? Her husband and her religious leaders knew best. She’d leave the decisions up to them and try to cooperate as best she could. That seemed to be the safest route to gaining God’s approval.

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

The Reason Behind Fear

When we are afraid, it’s because we feel a threat to our well-being. It doesn’t have to be a threat to our physical safety. It can be a threat to our personhood. A threat to our sense of emotional safety. A threat to our security, whether it be financial, emotional, or spiritual. When we are threatened, even if it is a perceived threat, we experience fear.

When we are afraid, we react in different ways. Sometimes we get angry. We fight. Sometimes we just want to run away. We disengage. Sometimes we work hard to hold the threat at bay, and we placate and caretake and fix everything around us so as not to allow the floodgates of whatever it is we’re afraid of to come rushing in and drown us.

We can’t cover every kind of threat in one blog post, so we’ll just zero in on the threat of being disapproved of. Maybe it sounds kind of silly. I mean, we’re adults, right? And you may not give a rat’s tooshy what anyone thinks about you. But in case you ever HAVE cared, let’s talk about it.

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

The Secret to Conquering the Fear of Disapproval

There actually isn’t a way to eradicate fear from our lives. As long as things threaten us, we’ll experience fear. Fear isn’t something we can control, but it is something we can manage and deal with. We will have fear at times, but we don’t need to let it control our behavior.

There are two important pieces to conquering this fear of disapproval: love and growing up. Ready? Here we go.

1. Love Conquers the Fear of Disapproval

God’s Word tells us that the opposite of fear is love (I John 4:18). To illustrate this, think of a mother who is protecting her children from a wild beast. She would obviously be afraid, both for her children and for herself, yet her behavior is dictated by her love for her children rather than her fear for her own safety. There are three ways I see this working to help us tolerate disapproval.

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

God’s love for you

Picture a little girl playing with her dolls. She is creating the world they live in. Her opinion about them matters. But let’s say one of the dolls (if dolls could do this – we’re in imagination land now) sneers at another one, “You’re ugly! You’re stupid! I’m better than you!”

Then the little girl comes along and holds the doll who got picked on and says, “You are absolutely beautiful! You’re everything I ever wanted. You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Which voice matters? The created thing’s voice? Or the child who gives those dolls meaning in the first place?

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

In other words, it’s a waste of emotional energy to care what other people say or think or feel about us when we know for certain that our Creator is quite fond of us for all the right reasons.

A year ago an elder from my old church looked me in the eye and told me I didn’t know God. Now, this guy doesn’t even know me (other than what my abusive spouse has told him about me), and yet he expressed this bizarre opinion to my face with brazen confidence.

The gall of it shook me to my core at first, but then Jesus got in my face and reminded me to Whom I belong. And He reminded me that I don’t know Him the way I will one day, but that HE KNOWS ME!

Isn’t that beautiful? God’s love for us isn’t dependent on whether or not we cross all our t’s or dot all our i’s. Praise Him for that! I don’t know Him the way I will, but I DO know Him well enough to know my Beloved is mine, and I am His.

So what do I make of that elder’s personal, ill-informed, and somewhat arrogant opinion? I make nothing of it. It’s not my problem. It’s his to own, and I have better things to do with my time than to think about someone else’s personal take on who I am and what I believe.

I do want to spend my time meditating on what my Savior thinks of me. And that makes my heart sing!

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

Your love for yourself

This can be a stickler for some Christians. We can’t love ourselves, can we? I mean, we’re just dirty rotten sinners deserving of nothing but hell-fire, and besides, God calls us to love our neighbor more than we love ourselves.

Wait, what?

Wrong. That’s not what the Bible says or teaches as a whole. The verse says this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

So if we don’t love ourselves much, we don’t love other people much, either. And I’ve seen this to be true on many levels. You’ve probably heard the obvious example people often give to illustrate this: if you were on an airplane with kids, and the airplane is about to go down, and the air masks drop from the ceiling, what do you do? You breathe in oxygen yourself first so you can distribute it to the children. If you didn’t take care of yourself, you’d be dead, and nobody could help the children.

Haven’t you seen this in your own life? When you are healthy and feeling good, aren’t you better able to minister to others? On the other hand, when you are burnt out and stressed, your energy level is low and you feel snippy and unable to deal with the needs of others. And yet so many Christians put pressure on women, especially, to “die to self” and meet everyone’s needs at the risk of losing their mental, spiritual, and physical health.

That’s hogwash. Love yourself. God made you, too. Hating on yourself is hating on what God created. Try this. Look in the mirror and say, “I LOVE YOU!” Two years ago I looked in the mirror and said, “Nobody took care of you for over two decades, including me. But that’s about to change. From now on, I’ve got your back, Natalie.” And I have ever since. I love myself now, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

When you fully love and accept yourself, all the good and the bad, you are better able to tolerate the fact that others don’t. It’s okay if they don’t. Whoop-Di-Doo. You do, and that’s what matters.

GET THIS! Your opinion MATTERS!

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

Your love for others

This is a harder concept to grasp, but when you are truly able to vulnerably love others, you can let them be who they are while still being comfortable with who you are. Loving others doesn’t mean making them happy, appeasing them, or doing what they want. Sometimes loving others means saying “no” to them. Sometimes it even means letting them go when they no longer like being around you.

When you start standing up for yourself, they just may not like you anymore, because people who love you only for how you make them feel or how they can use you to meet their own agendas are definitely NOT going to like it when you stop accommodating them.

Sometimes they will walk away on their own, and sometimes you will need to walk away from them if they refuse to engage in a mutually honest, caring, empathic relationship.

A little over a year ago, I lost two friends in one week. As I grew in my ability to understand healthy boundaries, I took the risk of telling them the ways they were hurting me with their words and manipulative behaviors. I had caught one in some lies, and I wasn’t able to trust her anymore.

I knew we would either grow closer or I’d lose their friendship, and in both cases, they walked away from me. One of them even did some things to sabotage my reputation in some serious ways. I didn’t go after them to “patch things up.” It was horribly painful, but I let them go, and God gave me the time and emotional energy I needed to develop some healthier friendships.

Sometimes we love others, and they hurt us deeply. Sometimes we love a church, and it turns on us when we decide to get out of our destructive marriage. Learning to tolerate the disapproval of an entire system is a huge step in growing up. And that’s the second way we conquer fear.

2. Seeing Ourselves as Adults Conquers the Fear of Disapproval

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

Are you afraid your spouse or church friends or counselors or pastors or neighbors or family members will disapprove of your decisions? Will disapprove of you, personally? Some of us have been immersed in a religious system that treats adult women like children.

They are expected to serve their families and submit to the whims of despotic husbands while having no voice of their own. Their personhood is stolen, and they are sacrificed on the altar of patriarchy, which is a distorted view of humankind based on age-old anti-female prejudices that worked their way into the earliest Bible translations.

A long time ago in a land far away, children were required to “be seen but not heard.” And this is how it is sometimes in a patriarchal culture. Women are required to “obey and shut up.” This relegates them to child status and removes their dignity and honor as adult women.

Do you see yourself as a child? I did. I actually felt like I was either my spouse’s mother, taking care of his ego and protecting his reputation—or his ignorant silly child. I never felt like a woman, in my own right. A grown adult in equal standing.  Someone to be respected and honored, like any other adult human. But that was because I saw myself through my spouse’s eyes.

If your spouse sees you and treats you like an adult woman with love and respect and honor, then you’ll FEEL like that. You’ll see yourself like that. But if he doesn’t? You maybe won’t.

The good news is, you don’t have to see yourself through his eyes. Remember the doll story? He’s just another created human being, and his opinion isn’t always right just because he is a male. But God’s view of you? Now that’s worth looking at. What if you could see yourself the way God sees you?

  1. Created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). (Incredible!)
  2. Created to be an “ezer kenegdo” Genesis 2:18 – means “to rescue, to save, to be strong” – not “helpmeet” as modern translations put it, implying that women are merely helpers of men and nothing more. Ezer Kenegdo was a term used for God multiple times in the Old Testament.
  3. God chose to be born into this world from the womb of a woman.
  4. God’s chosen first messengers of the Good News of His resurrection were women.
  5. Jesus told stories that included female heroes.
  6. Jesus was not ashamed to be anointed by an “emotional” woman in front of the religious leaders.
  7. God tells us in His Word that the twelve disciples abandoned Christ, but the women held their own and stuck by him.

God’s view of you vs. man’s view of you. You get to decide whose view you want to believe.

Did you see Lord of the Rings? There are some strong female characters in that trilogy that illustrate what I’m talking about. Look at these pictures and imagine yourself as an adult woman. An “ezer-kenegdo.”


The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval


The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval


The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

They were all adult women who made decisions for the good of their people. They didn’t let foolish people, including foolish men, stop them from being who they were called to be. They had a purpose, and they took responsibility for their lives and their jurisdictions, including themselves.

When we believe that the responsibility for ourselves lies with others, whether it be our spouse or our pastors or counselors or small group leaders, we are caught in a satanic lie that will leave us confused and crippled. Exactly what the enemy wants. He knows your God-given potential. He knows your God-given power as an ezer. And he will use lies to get you to abdicate your responsibility and allow others to control your life.

God is the only One with full authority over our lives. And contrary to what some religious people teach, He will deal directly with you. He won’t go through someone else, including your spouse, just because you were born without a penis. Men who recognize this power and beauty will work together with women to spread the love of our God to this world. Those who don’t are not only shooting themselves in the foot, but they are tearing down the very kingdom God is working to build.

All queens everywhere in history had to put up with disapproval. So rise above it to your place as an adult woman of God. You are loved tremendously, and your life has power, potential, and deep meaning. Disapproval is uncomfortable, but as you exercise your “toleration” muscles, you will find yourself growing stronger and stronger while at the same time feeling less and less afraid.

The Secret to Tolerating Disapproval

Flying Free Sisterhood

An online coaching, education, and support community for women of faith in destructive relationships.

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The Comments

  • Avatar
    May 24, 2018

    I am recently divorced of 3 months. I unfortunately have to interact with my ex because of our children under age of 18. He continues to verbally assault me when I don’t cater to his unrealistic expectations (of recent he demanded I be home when he came to pick up the kids , age 11, 13 & 16 because “a good mom would be there to help her children”, or because I’m going out on a date (I am a whore that can’t wait to get laid), etc. He calls me names and badgers me. I am getting better about not allowing him to bate me into his arguments, hanging up when he starts his rant, as well as mentally telling myself how stupid he is and his opinion doesn’t matter. However, I am still left feeling wounded and hurt. How do I convert what I know in my head to how I feel in my heart? And do you have any go to verses you recommend I read when I am feeling so beaten up?

    • Avatar
      → Angela
      June 8, 2021

      Hi, i’m so sorry you’re going through this. I would definitely say that the best way to interact with your ex is not to interact with him. I use our family wizard, which is a scheduling app, and all of our interactions are only within this app. He’s not allowed to contact me on my email, or phone. He should not have to interact with you at all except with scheduling for the children, which can be done through the app. You should never have to speak another word to this man. And you certainly should not have to deal with him giving you his opinions about anything in your life. My heart just breaks that this is going on for you and you are already divorced three months. Please go no contact. Please read up on no contact. Much care to you!

  • Avatar
    May 4, 2018

    I am in the first rung realization, I am from a country in the east and have settled here two kids 17 year girl and 10 year boy, 18 years into my marriage, no physical abuse but his family always comes first his parents visit and stay with us for 6 months. I have no say, his mother be littles me and my kids a lot and try to control us all the time. initially his brother and family lived in our home, they were very controlling and belittling too, I for 10 years. He never contributes to housework or childcare. never spends time with me or kids. Never wants to listen to us too. I do have a job and savings. But still it is a scary thing

  • Avatar
    March 25, 2018

    I just went back to re read this post from our assignment to read it a few weeks ago. Today I was in a better place to digest all of the helpful – life giving information in it. Natalie when I return read this I felt so validated because I could really clearly see the steps the rings in my own past story. Sometimes I doubt myself and when I read things that show definite similar steps it validates my experience- it helps me see that – geeze Kerry your not crazy this really happened to you and it happens to a lot of other women and the steps and behaviors are similar and you need to remember that and how far you have come. I will continue to re read this post probably a zillion times in my future as I move forward out the pit. Today I choose to accept Gods love of me. He created me and wants me and I am going to thank Him and rest in the knowledge of that love…….

    • Natalie Hoffman
      Natalie Hoffman
      → Kerry
      March 26, 2018

      I’m so glad it has helped to give you clarity. It is in knowing the truth that we are set free from the destructiveness of lies. Fly Free!

  • Avatar
    August 15, 2017

    What an incredible post. It resonates so loudy with me. I’ve endured 29 years of emotional abuse I didn’t understand until the past year. I am getting out and am gaining strength to recover my Self.
    Natalie, your post is so empowering, I put it on my desktop and plan to read it daily.
    Thank you so very much.

    • Natalie
      → Alison
      August 23, 2017

      You are so welcome, Alison!

  • Avatar
    Rebecca Davis
    March 21, 2017

    Dirty rotten sinner–right. One of the ways Christians are kept in bondage. For a woman to be released from the bondage, she has to start thinking correctly about herself as you show so beautifully here, and it’s also good to know why and how what she was being taught was wrong. Hope you don’t mind if I post a link to my own blog post that wen t up this morning that I think in some small way complements this one.: “Four ways teaching Christians to embrace ‘I’m the worst sinner I know’ is harming the church.”

    • Natalie Anne
      Natalie Anne
      → Rebecca Davis
      March 21, 2017

      Thank you for linking to this! I will share it on Facebook too!

    • Avatar
      → Rebecca Davis
      April 26, 2023

      Thank you! This was extremely helpful!

  • Avatar
    March 21, 2017

    Yes, the most hurtful disapproval is the kind of judgement that comes from so-called friends (*frenemies*), people who used to walk alongside your path, laugh with you, cry with you, pray with you and share their struggles with you… Them for whatever reason, they no longer could support your dreams, your healing process, they wanted someone more easy-going, more succesful, more ‘capable’.
    It’s hurtful… but there is no forcing someone to like you. The back-biting, sabotaging and telling tales behind your back (especially when one disagrees with their assessment on one’s life and refuses to follow their instructions) is very hurtful.
    So glad the Lord gave you the energy to find and build new relationships: I am still praying to find new friends to replace some friendships that were broken, due to the reasons mentioned. How to have healthy trust and openness again, without being too naive, too trusting…
    It goes both ways, we cannot build friendships alone – it takes two to do that (with God opening the doors of course!)
    Thanks for your blog and this post! All the best from here <3.

    • Natalie Anne
      Natalie Anne
      → NGal
      March 21, 2017

      So true. It does feel like a minefield sometimes. I love Brene Brown’s books – very healing in this area of relationships.

      • Avatar
        → Natalie Anne
        March 21, 2017

        Yes – and having broken friendships is often seen as another ‘badge of shame’, the proof of a terrible character flaw… ‘She cannot get alone with anyone, that shows she is unstable and crazy..,’ Putting boundaries in place is seen as a lack of character and it gets a double judgement from the others around you…

        I’ve learnt quite a bit of abusive female-female relationships in the past few years. Especially a phenomenon that Barbara at Crying Out For Justice web site called ‘The Queen Bee’: someone, who seems like a caring and compassionate person, but ends up stinging those she draws into her orbit, if they show any independence and refuse to bow down to her demands.. ‘You should be grateful for all I have done for you, how dare you question my instructions…’ They basically want to hurt anyone who does not allow them to run their life – they get meaning and satisfaction in controlling others and being their source of strength and ‘spiritual guide’…

        They find fault with everything: if God hasn’t answered your situation yet, or, if He has answered in ways the Queen Bee did not like or think you deserved… ‘How dare you get a blessing that I did not expect you to have…’

        At the moment I have no close female friends in my hometown. I am praying for some real contacts, who do not have the need to shred me to pieces and hurt me. Sometimes I think female on female relationships are the hardest: it’s no surprise that men are hurtful, but when the same happens (albeit in different ways) with those, who are in the same boat (single or divorced) and are supposed to support one another, it is much more painful.

        • Natalie Anne
          Natalie Anne
          → NGal
          March 21, 2017

          Lots of great insights here. Thank you for sharing them!

  • Avatar
    March 20, 2017

    I have been standing up for myself more and more, lately, so this post is timely, thank you. I have learned to be stronger and know myself and stand firm in my beliefs despite disapproval. I bring everything before God now.

    I actually had to stop going to church for a time because I needed to hear God and not everyone’s rhetoric and opinions. Of course, I was told it was sinful to “forsake the assembly.”

    I have been researching and studying scripture and history, asking questions, and changing how I read scripture (like with the Equality Workbook), and I am told that I am going down the wrong path and twisting Christianity. For the first time in decades, I feel like I am finally finding the right path…eyes on Christ, rather than distracted by what everyone else is saying.

    I have been listening to my gut, my instincts, my God-given,discernment, even if it goes against my husband’s wishes. For example, my daughter needed me to do something extra for her to ensure her well-being (health and academic). Hubby, without hearing us out, said no. I knew in my gut that if I just fulfilled her request it would help her not feel sick every day and stop interfering with her academics. I sought prayer from a women’s group and the leader told me I must submit to my husband. I knew it my gut that it wasn’t good to submit in this. Apparently, even if wrong (but not sinful), we wives are supposed to submit and trust in the Lord despite whatever wake of consequences befall. I could not let my daughter be the innocent victim in this. Some would say that I defied my husband. I say that I listened to my God-given gut instincts and it was right.

    That instance was the straw that broke what was left of the patriarchy camel’s back.

    But, I need to take a page from my sister’s book. She doesn’t argue with people or express her beliefs to gain support or approval. She knows what she knows and keeps it at that.

    • Natalie Anne
      Natalie Anne
      → libl
      March 20, 2017

      I actually like the page from YOUR book – you beautifully express what you’ve learned in order to help others on their journey. ((hugs))