Is Your Burnout Compensation for a Parent’s Lack of Love?

Sep 23, 2021Heal from the past

One of my favorite authors is Mark Buchanan. In a recent blog post, he shared about the life of Eustace Conway (a review of the book The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert.) Conway lived an amazing life, and he produced and accomplished much. But this quote stopped me:

“In many ways, he’s accomplished so much because he’s been damaged so deeply. His success – his perfectionism, really – has been a massive gesture of compensation, a thing he’s used to try to fill a void that has no bottom. It’s been his lifelong and mounting effort to hear just one thing: You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”

I gulped. Yep. Check. Me.

I don’t write much about my father publicly. There’s still so much mess and tangles there. He died when I was ten years old, and looking back I’m truly unsure of his love for me. Others tell me that he loved me. But my memories, some very disturbing, mitigate against that. He did pay attention to me, something I truly needed, but I’m not sure his attention was of the healthy, nurturing, fatherly sort.

Growing up, I wonder if I could even articulate this. Probably not because I cannot seem to wrap words around it now. When you have a doubt in your heart about being wanted and loved, this little thought reverberates through you, and it sounds as loud as a symphony: SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU. YOU MUST PERFORM TO EARN SOME LOVE.

So boy howdy did I perform. (And I still do).

I need to be seen, to be known, to be loved. I have spent a large portion of my adult life longing for a father’s love, which was truly impossible when your father is no longer living, and when he lived, he didn’t necessarily cherish you. All of this striving is chasing after ghosts that can never change.

But the thing is, if you hear the voices that yell at you to perform to prove your worth, you end up believing them like gospel, and they dig trenches in your heart so deep you cannot climb out. All you can do is keep doing things, striving for more, more, more. No matter what awesome achievement you gain, you cannot rest in it. You cannot sit and enjoy the accolade or joy of accomplishment. No, you must keep moving, always moving, never stopping.

If you stop, the voices get louder.

If you stop, you prove you’re unworth.

If you stop, you might have to face something very painful: the reality of your past.

I am stopping today. I am listening to the symphony of shame in my head. And I’m here to tell you please don’t obey it. Please let it go. Your worth is not tied to performance. It never was. It’s tied to relationship–with the Father who loves you.

I need to believe this, not just write it, not just say it, but live it by slowing my life down and realizing finally that I am worthwhile simply because I’m a human being who is desperately, beautifully loved by her Creator. He does not set me (or you) on a treadmill of performance, letting us run ragged and insecure. No, He settled it all on the cross.

It is finished.

Your race to strive and prove and perform is finished. It’s already settled, your worth.

You can’t earn a love that’s given freely.

You don’t need to burnout for love’s sake.

I write this with deep affection for you, my reader, who may be struggling as I have. I long to see us all set free from this striving.


  1. Jo Ann Alo

    Just when I think I’m free, something (or someone) happens, and I’m an angry mess again. I’m tired. And I just don’t want to remember it anymore. I’m 58 and still trying to run away from home.

    Your post is helpful. Thanks Mary.❤️‍🔥

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry. It’s a slog.

  2. DragonLady

    This is one of those posts I had to let sit for a few days. It describes me so much. I sat in marriage counseling a few weeks ago, and our counselor kept asking these questions that I didn’t want to answer until I finally answered. I don’t ever feel like I’m good enough because I am always desperately seeking affirmation from my dad that I did a good job. Which if I really get honest, he did give me that a few times even though it was nonverbal through facial expression when he didn’t realize I was watching. But there was so much berating over so many little things that I did wrong that those looks couldn’t come close to compensating. So as our counselor pointed out, I have accomplished a lot – and I really have. And while I can (usually) accept that I’m not going to get that affirmation I seek since my dad died in 2007 (and it’s not like he was able to give it because of his own unaddressed issues), the more insidious thing is that irrational fear that he is going to come back from the dead to berate me for messing up something.

    i’ve come a long way, but it has been a long, hard road. Thankfully, I have a program that (when I work it) keeps me grounded and looking to Jesus. But I have a strong forgetter, so it’s good to have reminders such as these as to where my worth and value come from. 🙂

    • Mary DeMuth

      Oh I hear you. I so hear you. I wish I could give you a hug and say it’s all going to get better. It will, for sure, on the other side. But on this side, we struggle.

      • DragonLady

        Thank you, Mary. And it has gotten better. Talking about it with my close friends and therapists/counselors has lessened the power it had over me when I just kept it all in. Funny how that happens when you shine light into the darkness. 😉

      • Sharman

        Like Lynn who just commented, your message has been timely. I didnt have a relationship with my dad at all (left when I was two) and my mum was not encouraging to say the least. My first husband was very critical and nothing I could do was right. Now I am retired and just turned 69, I find it hard to be okay about resting and not ministering to or helping anyone any more (I was psychologist) I am also struggling to feel God’s presence like I used to. Perhaps the two are connected? Feel God’s presence and approval only when I am doing??? Appreciate your words and wisdom Mary.

        • Mary E. DeMuth

          I am so sorry for what you’ve been through. Being kind to yourself could become your new discipline!

        • Gina Castell

          Not sure if you’ll get this, but I can relate. I’ll be 61 in a couple of weeks and was laid off due to COVID. Sitting still does have a tendency to make you question your worth. My prayer is: God help us to know your love in a deeper way now that we have time to really sit still and listen to your voice. God bless sis! PS- remember the many people that you have helped and thank God that he used you. Trust that he will use you again. He’s not finished with us!

          • Mary DeMuth

            He is certainly not finished with you, Gina. So sorry to hear about your job loss.

  3. Amaris

    Thank you for this article, Mary. This very subject has been on my mind quite a bit lately! It drives me crazy when I know I need to rest, but when I do rest, all kinds of guilty thoughts crowd my mind. But God is greater! He’s helping me learn to rest in His love.

    • Mary DeMuth

      A really good book that helped me was The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan:

      • Amaris

        Thank you Mary! I found his blog because of your post, so I’m excited to check our his book. 🙂

  4. Andrew Gilmore

    I struggle with this every day, and I can say without reservation that both of my parents loved (and still love) me dearly. Yet I still struggle with perfectionism and the need to be better. I often wish I knew why I’m this way. The best thing I can do is trust that God doesn’t make mistakes!

    • Mary DeMuth

      It’s a battle. I think those who are wired to achieve have a harder time with just BEING. (I am certainly wired that way).

  5. Tracy Lee Karner

    Thank you, Mary. This is spot on!

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m glad it blessed, Tracy.

  6. Lea Ann

    I know this deeply, after an entire life of overcompensating for my mother’s inability to love me. That dangerous yet instinctive reaching out to everyone around to fill the void, proclaim my worth, hold me closer.

    Only God can fill that ache inside. Indeed, He already promised to be the one who holds those forsaken by father and mother. Yet I keep trying to find comfort from broken, barren cisterns.

    I try, I pray that the deep hunger for affection will instead drive me to the Heavenly Father. Until one day, even this, too, will be made right in His sight.

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m with you, Lea. I totally get it.

  7. Chrystal

    So very good Mary. Thank you!

    • Mary DeMuth

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      • Lynn Nancarrow

        I so needed this. Resting was frowned upon by my parents. At almost 70, I have a hard time napping, resting from work, always looking for the thing that I missed that”must” be done. Thank you , Mary

        • Mary DeMuth

          I’m right there alongside you, Lynn. You are not alone.