When You Want Connection and Reinforcement from Others
Do you want to be complimented, loved, admired, and respected?
You may be unaware that you are continually preventing the very thing you want.
After several decades of experience in my psychotherapy practice helping people to achieve much more functional lives and satisfying relationships, it is clear to me that virtually everyone wants the same thing.
You may be thinking that everyone wants to be happy and successful, and while that is largely true, most people spend their lives also wanting something perhaps MORE than that. People want to be loved, liked, appreciated, important, complimented, admired, respected and connected.
Overall, it appears that we humans must seek and gain some strong measure of being regularly CONNECTED with others.
Consider the following:
- We require closeness and connection with others. Everyone largely wants connection… to find love, closeness, intimacy, meaning, lasting friendships, close family sanctuary. When we lack any of these, we can become sad, estranged, isolated, depressed, lonely, self-destructive, addicted to substances, and/or medication. When we become emotionally malnourished, we become unhappy!
- We want to be fed regularly! While we certainly want food regularly, we also want to be fed emotionally. We want to know that others like, love, admire, respect us, and we want to remain connected. It’s the ongoing reinforcement of the “glue” that remains so important!
- We often look for relief when we feel disconnected and unimportant. Sometimes we medicate with food, which gives us relief while we eat — followed by weight gain and feeling worse. Imagine treating loneliness with food. Does that seem like common sense? Hardly. Other times we choose medicine. Perhaps the largest categories of medicine in Big Pharma that are the most successful and profitable are anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicines. These medications are designed to help you cope with your emotional problems, and among the most powerful emotional disturbances people experience is LONELINESS! When we feel disconnected, estranged, isolated, alone, unloved, unimportant, and/or unappreciated, we often become depressed and unhappy. These medicines may turn down the volume of your unhappiness for a bit, and yet, you will likely keep your emotional problems without replacing your ongoing behavior with habits that allow you to restore being connected with others.
- We become addicted to other forms of seeking reinforcement and attention. Some of the ongoing addictions that we seek to help us feel better, loved, appreciated, respected, wanted, and desirable are Social Media:
We have become so dependent on getting some kind of reinforcement that we routinely advertise information about ourselves on the internet in the desperate hope that someone will pay attention to us.
In 1938 Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People. He said the most powerful need that people have to be met is to feel important. How true! Therefore, if that need is so powerful, is it really a surprise that people work overtime to get attention today on the internet?
- What happened to marriage? Most of us want to be married and live happily ever after. It sounds good and yet 50%-60% of marriages fail after five to eight years. What is curious is that common sense tells us that it would be unthinkable to try to fly an airplane without thoroughly learning how to fly, and yet most everyone tries to fly a marriage without knowing the first thing about how to keep it up in the air successfully.
When you were courting your partner, you both were on your best behavior… you looked good, smelled great, went the extra mile, routinely fed each other emotionally, and continually found out what each other wanted and then gave it to the other. You married the courtship! What would make you both quit the courtship after the wedding?
The single most common contributor to damaged or failed marriages is that both people are emotionally malnourished. The married partners quit the ongoing reinforcement and maintenance they delivered during the courtship. What often results is criticism, indifference, silence, fighting and contempt.
SO WHAT IS THE DEAL?
Why are we so starved to get reinforcement, love, admiration, and connection? How is it that we are so continually denied the appreciation that we crave?
It appears that most of us will find out how much people loved, admired, appreciated, and respected us during our own eulogy while we are lowered into the ground at our funeral. Imagine having to wait until we are dead to get the reinforcement that we wanted our whole lives! That’s INSANITY!
What’s going on?
Curiously, there are populations where we do routinely offer up ongoing reinforcement, love, affection, compliments, and admiration
- Children (mostly in elementary school)
Part of the reason we willingly give this reinforcement to children and dogs is that the kids and pooches really appreciate it when they get it! On the other hand, how do we frequently respond when we get reinforcement from others? Most of us have trouble accepting compliments. We often discount, side-step, minimize, or invalidate a reinforcing remark whenever we receive one. If someone says to you, “Gee, you handled that really well.” You will likely respond with something like, “I could have done better and with my luck, I don’t think it will turn out so well.”
Notice how routinely these discounts sound like you:
- It really wasn’t that good.
- It still had so many mistakes in it.
- I didn’t prepare enough.
- I need to practice more.
- It’s not at all what I wanted.
- Don’t get excited; I am sure I will mess it up next time.
- But there is so much more that needs to be done.
- There is so much still wrong with it.
- I could have done so much better.
This chronic habit of ours to continually discount and invalidate complements is ROUTINE, COMMONPLACE, STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, INSANE, AND PROFOUNDLY COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE!
So why do we keep invalidating compliments and reinforcement when we receive them?
Somehow, we have been taught and have bought into the insane BELIEF that we must be meek, mild, humble, self-effacing and modest. Certainly, being modest and humble is a socially popular and effective state of mind for many of us.
This need that most of us share to remain modest is so powerful that you believe any self-discount is mandatory to keep them believing that you are humble.
However, the insanity begins when you believe that discounting a compliment will result in others thinking you are modest and humble.
There is a HUGE difference between what you think you are doing and what is actually happening every time you discount or invalidate a compliment.
REMEMBER, PEOPLE WILL TREAT YOU THE WAY YOU TEACH THEM TO TREAT YOU!
How much do you like it when you give someone a compliment and in return, they discount and invalidate your nice remark? Do you really think the person is HUMBLE? Hardly. You might even feel bad that it appears your compliment is being invalidated.
Remember the following:
- Every time you discount a compliment given to you, you are actually telling the other person they are wrong and are disallowed to be impressed with you.
- Each of your self-discounts tells the sender that they have bad judgment. They will then feel put down and unhappy being told they are wrong to have an inaccurate opinion about you.unt or invalidate any compliment given to you, you are actually telling the other person they are wrong and they are disallowed to be impressed with you. Then, they will feel put down and unhappy being told they have bad judgment.
- Over time, they will quit giving you compliments or reinforcing remarks.
- You will ask yourself, “Does anybody like me or think I am any good?”
- Now think to yourself, “Ah ha, I may have to conclude that I AM ROUTINELY PREVENTING THE VERY THING I WANT! I am teaching people around me to feel bad and wrong about their being impressed with me. Therefore, they will STOP SAYING ANYTHING NICE TO ME and I HAVE PROVEN MY WORST FEAR!”
- You are insuring that you will be denied any compliments and reinforcement. You will remain emotionally malnourished and, you did it to yourself! You unknowingly confirmed your worst fear that you are inadequate. You brilliantly and unconsciously achieved that famous self-fulfilling prophecy! You have been so afraid of being insufficient and inadequate, you prevented anyone from thinking you are acceptable.
SO, WHAT DO YOU DO?
Here are a couple of options on how you can receive compliments:
- DISCOUNT / INVALIDATE THE COMPLIMENTS.
You already know how to do this. You may have been doing this most of your life because you believed that garbage you were taught in elementary school, the ridiculous nonsense that said you were always supposed to be humble, meek, mild, self-effacing, and modest. If you for a moment were to feel good about yourself then you certainly were going to be considered:
- Full of yourself
- And, worst of all PROUD OF YOURSELF!
You became so concerned about the above that you erroneously concluded that if you accepted a compliment that you were now falling into the canyon of conceit! How insane is that?
Over the years you likely started operating more from weakness and fear, which then made you hostage as to how others thought about you. Their opinion/care/regard/approval became so important that you lived in ongoing fear that they would disapprove and you would be forever inadequate. So you proved your fear. You disallowed them to feel good about you. You habitually discounted and invalidated their compliments and reinforcement and they quit telling you anything nice about you!
So, if you like, you can keep discounting compliments and stay right where you are in weakness, emotionally mal-nourished, dependent, and proving your fear.
- ACCEPT THE COMPLIMENTS AND REINFORCEMENT.
So, here is a little spoonful of common sense. LET PEOPLE BE IMPRESSED WITH YOU. Decide to give them permission to think the way they think about you.
(If you want, you can still be unimpressed with yourself. You can still delude yourself in to thinking that if you have impossible expectations and to fail to measure up, then you are giving yourself fuel to achieve more. You can still be disappointed that you failed to do better. You can certainly maintain the belief that at the end of the day, you will remain profoundly sub-standard and defective.)
On the other hand, simply let them be enamored with you with whatever you did or said. Decide to be gracious and mannerly. Simply say, “thank you.” You might get out of control at this point and add, “I appreciate that.” When you do this, you are simply intimating the following to the sender, thank you for thinking the way you think.
At first you may feel awkward by simply accepting the compliment and saying “thank you.” Decide to do it anyway and keep saying it. Over time, you will notice it gets easier and people will be encouraged to give you more compliments and offer more reinforcement. You have now given them permission to feel good about complimenting you and you will to learn how to ACCEPT THE REINFORCEMENT.
It is recommended that you begin to practice the ACCEPT method first. It is important to get comfortable with this habit since you have likely been discounting the compliments for many years.
If you want to learn how to be emotionally squared away, to be entirely mentally healthy and emotionally intelligent, then it is very important for you to learn how to enable others to feed you the way you want to be fed!
If you want to be appreciated, admired, loved, liked and respected for whatever you have become in life, then you must start accepting compliments when you receive them.
You must begin to let others feel impressed with you and good about what you have brought to the table.
If you still believe that you must remain modest, self-effacing, and humble AND you also believe that the best way to accomplish that is to discount and invalidate compliments when you receive them, then you are destined to learn how loved, respected and valued you were during your eulogy at your funeral!
On the other hand, if you would like to be fed emotionally and told routinely that you are appreciated, liked, and respected, then you must accept the reinforcement from others with the confidence that you want them to feel good about their opinions about you. Over time you will begin to believe that you are good and you can feel good about that!
LET OTHERS FEEL IMPRESSED WITH YOU! APPRECIATE AND THANK THEM FOR THEIR REINFORCMENT AND COMPLIMENTS OF YOU.