Heart Conditions: Distinguishing between acceptance and approval

I am still a relatively new dad. I have one child and he is only about 11 months old.  Most of my parenting philosophy is still only theoretical.  Try as I might, 11 month olds don’t respond to instruction very well.  I’m looking forward to gaining some first-hand knowledge on the nuts and bolts of parenting.

One concept that I anticipate having to apply is the contrast between acceptance and approval – one of the major misunderstandings that causes a great deal of emotional pain is our failure to understand the difference between the two.

When it comes to my son, he has my complete and total acceptance.  It doesn’t matter what path he takes in life, I will always accept him as my son.  There is nothing that he can do to increase or decrease his identity as my son.  It’s already firmly established, because of his relationship to me.  It will never change.

Acceptance, however, differs from approval.  If my son should choose a life of crime he will still have my acceptance, but he will not have my approval.  I think most parents understand what I am talking about.  We may not always approve of our child’s behavior, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still our child.

Acceptance has to do with relationship, while approval has to do with behavior.The reason that confusing the two causes emotional pain is that we sometimes think that disapproval of behavior equates to rejection (unacceptance) in relationships.

When we equate the two, we make it nearly impossible for anyone to ever disagree with us without putting our relationship with them on the line.  We basically require that someone agree with all of our behavior in order to be in right-relationship with us.

For example, if a parent thinks that approval is synonymous with acceptance, they could possibly reject their child if the parent disapproves of the child’s behavior.  Sadly, this is why some parents disown their own children.  If we can distinguish between acceptance and approval and understand them as they truly are, we can be free to disapprove of negative behavior without rejecting/disowning a loved one.

On the flip-side, if we are the one who’s behavior is disapproved of, we may feel like we are being rejected – “If you really loved me, you would let me do this.”  We must allow others to disapprove of our behavior without accusing them of rejecting us as a person.  If we are unable to understand this distinction, we have the potential of perceiving rejection when it really isn’t there.

The phrase “What is wrong with you?” is potentially the most damaging question we can ask regarding this issue.  We really should be questioning the legitimacy of the behavior, not the legitimacy of the person.  If we can grasp the distinction between the two, and use the correct vocabulary, we will be able to communicate our feelings to our loved ones in such a way that allows for disagreement without abreach in relationship.

We will demonstrate to people that they don’t have to be perfect in order to beloved and that our love for them transcends their behavior.

Rev. Jim Rudd is the Lead Pastor of True Vine Church Community in Wissinoming.  You can visit the church website or friend-request Jim on Facebook. His column, Heart Conditions, appears on NEast Philly the third Thursday of every month.


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