Motivation Check

Reading Level: Gratifying

Checking the often un-noticed motivations for one’s decisions and actions can reveal the source of either success or failure.

I recently re-read an example on the source of motivations from Cloud and Townsend’s “Boundaries.” It refers to a man who was burned out physically and emotionally and came to see them for help. The man’s explanation for the source of his problem was “loving people too much.” The authors’ response to him was that it could not be love, as love would not cause him to end up in the negative situation he was in. It was discovered that the source of the problem was his un-noticed motivations.

Here is a list from “Boundaries” of types of unhealthy personal motivations for decisions and actions of which we are often unaware. I’ll provide a definition of each motivation.

Fear of a Loss of Love: If, during childhood, a person frequently experienced a withdrawal of love by a parent whenever that parent was displeased with him or her, it creates an emotional pattern or habit in adulthood to base decisions and actions of the fear of a losing people’s love. One acts or decides out of compulsion, not because it is an action or decision that is in his own best interest; he is compelled to do whatever the other person wants due to fear that, if the person is displeased or disappointed, they will no longer love him.

Fear of Others’ Anger: Because of past boundary violations which caused emotional hurts (people mistreating a person as a way to manipulate his or her behavior), a person can feel instant fear when another person shows anger, or when he is in a situation which he believes will cause the other person’s anger; as a result, he immediately decides a course of action to appease the person and avoid their anger, rather than doing what is best for him personally.

Fear of Loneliness: This is similar to a loss of love. A person with this motivation will give in to other people’s unreasonable or unhealthy demands because he is trying to win the other person’s approval; he fears that the other person will end the relationship and he will be alone if he does not continually give in to win their approval.

Guilt: A person’s decisions and actions can be motivated by guilt from the past. Rather than confessing the past to God and being free of the guilt, and admitting to himself that God will no longer hold the past against him, he makes decisions to compensate for past failures; instead, his past needs to be submitted to God for forgiveness and then left in the past. God counsels us in Phil.3:13 to “Forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.”

On the other hand, a person with an unhealthy guilt motivation can–instead of acting on past guilt–be easily manipulated into choices by other people who purposely attempt to make him feel guilty. The other person expresses their extreme displeasure at the possibility of him refusing their demand and adds to their complaint an explanation of how his refusing their demand will “harm” them. In reality, refusing to give in to the other person will not harm them, but the controller is skilled enough in their conversation to convince this person that it will do so and makes him give in because he is overcome by feelings of guilt that the choice he truly desires would “harm” them.

Fear of Losing the “Good Me”: God is love; being created in the image of God and being a reflection of the divine nature, each person has the need to exist in loving relationships. Sometimes a person is motivated by a misunderstanding that to be loving means he must always say, Yes” to others. This perspective causes his emotions to “lie” to him and believe that he is unloving when he says, “No.” He feels emotional pain as if he were not being the loving person he was created to be, losing the “Good Me.” Instead of being motivated by fear, to make healthy, wise decisions, a person must feel free to express and act on the concept that “I love you, but I do not want to do that.”

Payback: This person has people in his life who manipulate him into decisions by insisting that he has it better in life than they do and implying that he does not deserve to have a better life than them. Or, it could be a parent who insists that all they have done for him, the time and money invested into him, is a reason for him to give in to their demands. They insist that he “owes it to them” to give in to their demands, as opposed to the past help being given out of love with no strings attached. The person with this unhealthy motivation feels sorry for the other person, usually unworthy of any good in his life, and makes decisions based on such motivation.

Approval: A person who, during his childhood, had a parent (or other authority figure) whom often expressed displeasure at his behavior, withdrew their love during disagreements, or complained about the child being born, will continue to be motivated in adulthood, not only to please that parent, but any authority figure. Rather than basing decisions on his destiny, goals, and what is best for his present life and future, his decisions are based on the unhealthy motivation of winning other people’s approval at his own expense.

Overidentification with Others’ Loss: This motivation begins as a result of a person not dealing with the emotional hurts of his own disappointments and losses. As a result, he has an excessively emotional response to any other person’s loss. He will frequently act with unreasonable responses in an effort to “rescue” or fix the other person’s problem or loss. Additional harm comes to his life, however, by those who realize that they can manipulate his over-emotional response, and thus his decisions, by their expressions of disappointment, hurt, or loss. In reality, the other person’s hurt or loss may not even be as extensive or may be issues of their own choosing, but this person’s overidentification will invariable evoke such an overwhelmingly emotional reaction that his decisions are based more on emotion than what is best for him or the other person.

Rather than being motivated by unhealthy fears which lead to decisions of failure, a person needs to live by truly loving motivations which bring a state of freedom and positive results.

If your motivations are based on unhealthy fears, the results will be negative in your life-failures, exhaustion, unhappiness, etc. Remember the example of the man at the beginning of this post? Decisions and behavior based on love would not have brought the destructive results he was experiencing. Decisions based on love instead of fear bring results of healthy relationships and fulfillment of personal, God-given destiny. Cloud and Townsend have an incredible quote that sums up this entire concept of healthy motivations:

Freedom first, service second. If you serve to get free of your fear, you are doomed to failure. Let God work on the fears, resolve them, and create some healthy boundaries to guard the freedom you were called to.

List of unhealthy types of motivations and quote from pp. 91-92 of ” Boundaries: When to Say, ‘Yes,’ When to Say, ‘No,’ to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. ISBN # is 0-310-24745-4.

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