Overcoming the need to prove yourself

Written by Erin Kerry
Published on September 06, 2022

It happened again. The overwhelm hit me. In the midst of school starting, schedules changing, and bedtimes shifting, I became half-paralyzed by stress. I find myself going through the motions, doggy-paddling above water, and feeling like I will barely make it through each day. I’m forgetful, I wake up in the middle of the night in a panic (remembering that thing I forgot during the day), and I catch myself staring off into space when a family member is talking to me.

These are all signs that I am overwhelmed. I know these symptoms; I’ve experienced them my entire life. And I know I have a choice. I can mentally beat myself up for dropping the ball or even feeling overwhelmed in the first place, screaming in my head, “Get it together, dude!”Or, I can take a step back and check-in with myself.

The need to prove myself

See, at the root of my seasonal stress is a need to prove myself. There’s a core belief that says I am helpless, so I must push through and prove myself capable and accomplished. 

This need to prove myself has haunted me my entire adult life. When I was first ushered into adulthood as a single mom, I taught high school. In order to prove myself as a do-it-all working single mom, I did whatever I could not to take sick days, often to the detriment of my own physical and mental health. When I got married and became a working mom and wife, I aimed to prove myself through doing all things well – the teacher things, the mom things, and the wife things. I became angry with myself when I dropped the ball. 

Later, I made the decision to stay at home and homeschool my kids, so you better believe my toddler and newborn were at home with me while I homeschooled my middle schooler. No parents’ day out for my babies. No way. To prove myself as a stay at home mom, I made sure we were all REALLY at home. That was probably the most exhausting season of my life. 

Can you relate to this intense urge to do all things, while never feeling like you do a single thing well? 

While this desire to push through and prove ourselves is culturally acceptable, even in Christian culture, I think the Bible shows us another way.

As a believer, I know deep down inside that I shouldn’t have to prove myself. In fact, my spiritual core belief system tells me that I’m not helpless. My Savior proved HIMself so that I don’t have to prove MYself. I can experience true wholeness in my purpose in him. Galatians 5:1 reminds me, “For freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

That constant pressure to prove myself is not from Christ. He set me free from the weight of needing to achieve for my own glory and fulfillment. That weight is enslaving; it is a trap.

An age-old story

The trap is familiar in the Old Testament as well. In Genesis 29, an overlooked wife sought to prove herself. Leah gave birth to three sons, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, and each time the passage notes her desire to prove herself as a worthy wife to her husband (I think we all know how that was working for her). By verse 35, she becomes pregnant with a fourth child, and she says, “This time I will praise the Lord.” The name of that child is Judah, and from his direct line we get Jesus, who came to take away our enslaving desire to prove ourselves, once and for all.

When I remind myself of my never-shifting foundation in Christ and his work for me, in spite of me, I can take a step away from my current overwhelm and shift things into focus a little bit better. I can see that nothing I accomplish is a solo project; it’s a duet. It is Christ working through my weakness, proving himself to be true to his name – my Savior.

A shift in focus

When I shift my focus on gratitude and praise, it grants me a renewed perspective. I know that this season is temporary. I may not be sleeping my best, checking off all the boxes on my to-do list, or calming the scattered thoughts, but I remember that Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

My rest comes from him. My peace and safety come from him. Even at the end of a long, tiring day when nothing seems to go the way I wanted it to, I can give thanks for the rest I have in him, the peace that surpasses all human understanding, and the reminder that while my outer body is fading, my inner self is being renewed day by day, even when I don’t see it. 

During every difficult season, after I retreat from the uphill battle of “proving myself,” I, like Leah, can confidently declare, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

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Erin Kerry

Erin Kerry is a certified integrative nutrition health coach and mom to three children. She has received training from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and The School of Applied Functional Medicine. As a survivor of mental illness, she is passionate about advocating for mental health. She is the owner of Sparking Wholeness, host of the Sparking Wholeness podcast, and works as the Integrative Health Coach at Living Well Counseling and Wellness Center in Tyler, Texas.

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