Performance orientation is the context of this article refers to attempt conscious or unconscious to earn love or approval through rule based performance. In other words if I do things right people will like me if I screw up I’ll be rejected or somehow punished and/or rejected.
It is important to understand that there are good and bad reasons to attempt and desire a high level of personal performance. It is good to perform (work) competently for pay 2 Thessalonians 3:10. It’s good to perform well because you love what you do. It’s good to perform well because you desire to advance your ability in a given task.
On the other hand there are some things that are not good to perform for. Doing so damages your very being.
Performing to earn love, logically and unfailing leads to the conclusion that if one’s performance is inadequate love in reduced or not available.
Unconditional love is so fundamental to human well being that any sense that love might be conditional leads all kinds of dysfunctional behavior and mental illness.
Performing for love is, without exception, is linked to unhealthy shame. When someone uses performance in order to receive positive input (love) they almost always believe this is the only or main way to get love. They also believe that they are not worthy of love unless they perform adequately. Stated plainly they feel inadequate and unworthy at core level.
Or more accurately we teach performance orientation very well to our children. Many of us can remember a “keep the rules” “or get good grades” type situations in our childhood. These ideas by themselves are not wrong but when they are combined with a loss of relationship they communicate “do what I want you to do or lose my affection.” Many people reading this will be thinking “isn’t that normal.” This is my point exactly, we have learned as a culture and perhaps as a world to perform for love.
We in turn expect others to perform for our love. I teach this stuff and it took me months to learn to express my displeasure to my daughter (who is now 22 months) and stay engaged in the relationship. I would be upset with something she had done, I would express that (sometimes not very well) and then withdraw either because of anger, or shame due to the way I had handled the situation. She learned at least to some degree, “do what daddy wants or experience a withdrawal of relationship.” I’m getting better at expressing negative emotions with less intensity and then staying engaged. With her it’s usually a hug.
People who believe the lie of performance orientation are driven by need to perform they refuse expressions of love from others unless they feel they have “earned” that love.
Performance becomes so deeply believed that they refuse to love themselves unless they perform to some internal standard. This internal standard is inevitably unattainable and therefore they can never love themselves. When we don’t love ourselves we live in a state of self hatred and unhealthy shame.
Performance orientation never leads to a state of restful contentment; these people are driven and unable to rest. They create an environment for the ones the love that is driven and uneasy. They create an environment that helps the development of anxiety, depression, procrastination, non-compliance, personality disorders and many other common emotional and mental disorders.
When this belief system remains unchallenged at heart level it easily transfers into Christian practice. Performance oriented Christians talk about love, grace and mercy. They quote powerful verses, preach profound sermons, sing wonderful hymns and still they go home lonely addicted and shamed. They can’t bring their friends to church because everybody is either to righteous (if they believe the lie) or to hypocritical if they have begun to see through the lie. Deep down they refuse to believe that someone could love them as they are… broken, messy, addicted and profoundly imperfect. They stay alone in their shame and performance and they pull the ones they love the most into and endless performance of good deeds leading to pain and emptiness.
Knowing that one is loved, simply and only because one exists is fundamental to sustained healing, growth and peace. To some extent everyone has been seduced by the lie of performance orientation. It is one of the great lies of Satan and the world system.
The putrid animal pen that the Lost Son (Luke 15:10 – 32) found himself in when he came to his sense reminds me of the condition of my heart when I perform for love. Like him I have decided to go home. Eating (being loved) as lowly servant in my “Father’s” house is better than starving to death in the stench and destruction of my own performance. Like the Lost Son I have come to a point of deep desperation. This sense of desperation prepared the heart of the Lost Son come back to his father. He learned to rely on his father’s love instead of his own flawed performance. Although I still open the door to performance in my life, I to have learned to come back to God over and over and over for love because my performance orientation destroys me and the ones I love.
We must come to a belief that God sees our messiness, our addiction, our fear, our anger, our lusts and cravings. And he loves us anyway he longs to touch us at heart level and say “I know… I love you… rest… I have a big plan for you.
If you would like to talk more about this or another concern of the heart, give my office a call at 587 879 7064.
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Until next time…