Living With Disapproval



I hate disapproval. I know we’re not supposed to use the word “hate” but the truth is that “dislike” just isn’t a strong enough word. Maybe “I can’t stand disapproval” is a better alternative.

Regardless of finding the exact right word for it, I know this—I do all kinds of tricks to make people like me, to keep the peace, to be approved of. As an adult child of an alcoholic and always-recovering codependent, I intuitively know how to adjust what I want and need to accommodate others. I know how to stuff down my feelings and give up what I hope for to keep others happy. I know how to play small so I don’t appear too ambitious or strong. I know how to say the right thing to make people like me. I know how to put others needs before my own and call “humility,” while at the same time resenting them.

In other words, I am a master at doing everything I can to avoid disapproval.

However, I keep learning that it’s not only a soul-sucker. It is also a way to play it safe instead of risk really truly showing up and being who I really am as a leader, pastor, wife, mother, friend.

Years ago when I first entered ministry, I brought all my tricks that I had learned in my family and faith with me. I did everything possible to play nice and not rock the boat. I was a good soldier. I rarely pushed back or disagreed.

I was the kind of leader the churches I was part of really liked.

But over time I began to realize that by playing it safe I was not being honest—to myself, to God, to others.  In my efforts to avoid disapproval, I was ignoring the stirring God put inside me to lead, to stir the pot, to use my voice, to say what I really thought, to ask questions, to call the church to more.  

So I started being honest.

I started telling my truth.

I started using my voice.

I started asking hard questions.

I started stepping into more leadership.

I started risking my heart in new ways.

I started living into who I was created to be as a pastor.

I started to lead, like really lead.

And guess what happened? People started to disapprove of me. I began to make the people I worked with at church uncomfortable.

There were questions about biblical interpretation of women in leadership.

There were concerns about what donors would think.

There were meetings I was uninvited to.

There were too many weird and awkward and painful and hurtful moments to count.

Living with all that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a leader.

Being misunderstood.
Being talked about.
Being silenced.
Being labeled as prideful.
Being disapproved of.

It about did me in. However, it also helped me grow in a way I would have never grown if I kept quiet and kept trying to keep the peace and make everyone approve of me. It hit that deep message inside of me that I would be unloved if I was really me and began to heal it. And it strengthened the call inside of me as a leader like never before.

As women, to really lead will mean we will have to live with disapproval. It’s just that simple. There’s no way around it.

We will have to go to bed at night feeling vulnerable.

We will have to live with weird feelings like people don’t like us.

We will have to stand up against resistance that questions our gifts and roles.

We will have to have hard conversations that will drain us.

We will have to have our motives and sometimes our faith be challenged.

We will have to feel awkward using our voice and living with what we say.

We will have to resist our desire to delete that facebook post or edit our blog entry because we are sure that it will make people uncomfortable.

We will have to wrestle with doubts about our abilities.

We will have to stand up and keep walking when we want to sit down or crawl again.

After all these years, it still happens to me. I leave certain situations feeling stupid. I preach a sermon at another church and wonder if they approve of me. I use my voice at a meeting and am sure that people were annoyed.

Yep, I am living with disapproval.

My guess is that a lot of us out here struggle with the same thing.  We hold back as leaders because we are afraid of being misperceived. We push down the call that God has put in us because of the hazards involved.  It makes me think of the scripture in Galatians 1:10 when the apostle Paul asks, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

My hope for me and for all of us here at SheLoves is that we will become more and more able to live with disapproval, whatever that looks like in our different contexts and roles.

It’s what leaders have to learn to do.


Image credit: Gisella Klein

Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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  1. This piece touched my heart so deeply. Thank you so much, Kathy.

  2. Oh, goodness, YES. And it is so dang hard. Thanks for this honest post, Kathy. As usual, spot on.

  3. Sandy Hay says:

    Just recently I posted something on Facebook that I knew wouldn’t get a “like” response. That’s exactly what happened and I was ok with it Huge leap for me but worth it with God.

  4. Bev Murrill says:

    It’s so nice to know that you are just like the rest of us, and that you set such a fantastic example of feeling the fear and doing it anyway! Kudos Kathy… I salute you. I love that you’ve doine it anyway.

    • sometimes i get tired of doing hard things scared & just want comfort and ease but it helps so much to know there are so many of us experiencing the same thing–women and men alike–and there’s no way around the discomfort…pretty sure these crazy ways of Jesus weren’t comfy, ha ha. always good to hear from you.

  5. Donna Abma says:

    BRILLIANT!!! So needed this.
    Thank you thank you thank you….

  6. Karen Aldrich says:

    Thanks, Kathy. I appreciate the reminder that we all struggle with this. I have learned to love being in my own skin but I sometimes get blindsided by the old habit of needing approval. Then I turn into my own worst critic because I know better. God loves what He is making me into and in the end that is what matters.

    • thank my friend, yep, that’s what matters. hope to see you soon. it’s been a wild summer around here with kids in and out and all the regular refuge stuff but a good one filled with a lot of play and fun, too. i’ll message you so we can play soon!

  7. This is the story of my life….I was the eldest daughter of an alcoholic father…my peace keeping skills are excellent. I’m still learning to be true to myself and know when to speak, when it’s worth the disapproval.

  8. The most profound post I’ve read so far this week. Thank you.

  9. Needed this. Such an important post. Thank you, Kathy.

  10. I Love How You LEAD with Courage, Strength and a Genuine Humility and Love like Jesus for Others. I never sense an attitude of Arrogance or Condemnation from you or about you. This Speaks Volumes to us out hear listenin in. People may disapprove of things you say or do or believe or just because your WOMAN Hear Me Roar, but they have to RESPECT the fact that you Know who you are and Whose you are. I know I do! Keep Preachin’ Sister. We’re All Listenin out here in the Wild Blue Yonder and we’re takin it to Heart! Would Love to visit The Refuge some day.

    • thanks so much for the encouragement; it always helps to feel less alone and know that somehow from across the miles and circumstances and situations we are all in this together. come visit us someday!

  11. I’ve long struggled with disapproval. I’ve written about it in various ways. Right now, it’s struggling to write in a novel what I’m afraid many Christians will judge me for. I’ve even set the story aside recently convincing myself it’s not good enough. Is that the case? It might not be good enough, but the reason is that I’m afraid of disapproval. And must wrestle through this. Thanks so much.

    Much Love,


  12. Julie-Anne Mauno says:

    Wow. This post! I need to keep a copy and come back to it again and again. I’ve been running from disapproval my whole life, at the expense of my true self. I finally burned out from trying to please everyone else and be something I’m not. These days I’m learning how to take care of myself, value myself, be myself. I want so much more than just a life run ragged by trying to meet others’ expectations. I want to thrive in my gifts and be at peace with who I am, knowing my opinions and desires really do matter. Thank you so much for this post, but also, thank you for living out authenticity in your own life. We can learn so much from it!

    • thanks for taking time to share. yeah, making friends with disapproval is so hard. i was saying today that i wouldn’t exactly call it “friendship” but we’re moving in the right direction…peace to you as you keep letting go…

  13. Kathy, I can’t begin to tell you how much this resonated with me. I’d love to talk about THIS with you in a coffee shop and all the livelong day. What I heard was: “me, too” and not just “you should . . . ” or “you shouldn’t . . . ” Feeling scared and overwhelmed and awkward is a part of the process; it just is. I forget this. I let myself think “you shouldn’t feel this way” and instead I forget that it’s how it is.

    I have to admit that for the first time ever, I finally see how someone’s “weakness” (imperfection) is really what someone else sees as that person’s strength (perfect imperfection). To be specific, I started reading your post and thinking that I wish I was like you. I wish I was more thoughtful first. I wish I really was a master at doing everything I can to avoid disapproval, but really I’ve tried so much and what I’ve tried hasn’t worked. I wish I could adjust what I want to accommodate others. I wish I could press pause on my feelings and wants. I wish I knew how not to appear so strong or ambitious. I wish I could say the right things. But I am really messy. Most of the time there’s always a better way to say something or do something than the way I’ve chosen and I get so sweeped up in what I could’ve or should’ve done and then I am frantic and paralyzed to even live because I don’t know the right way. But, when I’m uninhibited and I just LIVE as me — messy as all get out — then I can really experience peace. Choosing rest and trusting that I am purposed and good enough as I am is really what sustains me.

    I love what you said about how we need to live with disapproval. We will always have it. I want to grow in accepting it. I so much appreciate your vulnerability and truth-telling here. So, so, so very much. This is #RealWorship

    • thanks amy. i am so glad we got to hang out that afternoon in arvada. since then, i’ve been to that coffee shop many times 🙂 the comparison trap is so strong and there are just so many pulls against freedom, but it’s worth it to keep pushing through together toward new life. love from colorado.

      • Thanks, Kathy. I keep being challenged to focus on Who God is, and to choose who I will serve: my fear of others, how people perceive me . . . ultimately, my comfort . . . or Him, period — in the midst of the discomfort.

  14. Claudia Dahinden says:

    Your first sentences nearly made me cry. I sooo know these feelings! And I’m happy I’ve learned to push through and live with disapproval if necessary! Still working on it, but to see that I made many steps and am able to lead a group, making decisions and presenting a vision, being sure of the direction God wants me to go, and being ready to endure if someone isn’t all happy about everything – it’s freeing like nothing else. Great post!

    • thanks for taking time to share. my guess is that we’ll always be working on it, that it won’t be something that’s ever mastered but hoping it will continue to loosen its grip so we can be more free to be who we were meant to be. i so appreciate your words.

  15. What a strong start to lead: learning to live with disapproval. The hard truth, but, truth. Thank you Kathy for taking the lead to say what is needed when it isn’t pretty because leading isn’t always pretty either.

  16. Thank you for these words, I so needed to hear this today. Was wrestling with just this fear of disapproval last night. Coming back from a meeting feeling I should have kept quiet, said less, not rocked the boat. Thank you for the encouragement to keep going, stay faithful, expect rejection and rest on the approval of God.

    • oh, i know that feeling, when you get in the car after a meeting and the thoughts start to roll in.. you are not alone and yes, keep going, stay faithful, expect rejection and rest on the approval of God….

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