Empty Praise

cropped-annajulie1.jpgWe’ve all heard people say, “I want to give my children all of the things I never had growing up.” While this is a normal feeling, it’s not always the best parenting behavior. My parents raised me with lavish praise at every opportunity. Their intention was noble, and I believe they did this because they felt a lack of praise in their childhood. Therefore, when they had the opportunity to raise a child, most likely they wanted to give me what they felt they did not have growing up.

Unfortunately, their endless praise of me backfired, and I wound up feeling extremely insecure in spite of all the positive strokes. This was always so very confusing to me. How could I feel insecure when my parents were so supportive of me? After many months working with a therapist, and my involvement with other personal growth programs, I became stronger. I learned to value myself for things I can control – like kindness, empathy, listening skills, hard work, etc. Before my recovery work, the insecurity I felt was perplexing. I soon began studying something called “empty praise.”

By praising a child for something they have no control over — such as appearance or natural ability — parents inadvertently create praise “junkies.” These children grow up with very little internal sense of their strength and abilities. Very often, these same children have been protected from failure and have not only been spared the experience of failure, but have also been spared the strength and self-reliance that comes from trying and failing and then trying again. Below is an excerpt from Amy McCready’s article on Huffington Post, “Mistakes Too Many Parents Make When They Praise Their Kids.” McCready eloquently articulates the “empty praise” scenario.

TURNING PRAISE INTO LABELS

Praise, like sugar, can be tricky — and sometimes it shows up even where we don’t intend. For instance, when we label or compare our kids, we’re praising them, or worse, belittling them, often without realizing it. By claiming an “athletic one” or our “funny one” or the “shy one,” we highlight abilities (or inabilities) through comparison, and package all of our children into neat little boxes. Even more subtle is the designation of a go-to kid. We all have one — it’s the child we trust to carry the full salad bowl to the table. He’s the one we “go-to” when we want something done quickly and without a fuss. Relying on the go-to kid is a type of praise that can be just as damaging as its overt counterpart — not only because kids pick up on everything (even the fact that Javier always gets the cool jobs), but also because with it, we unknowingly tell kids that they are their label and can’t control who they are or what they do. Ouch!

The antidote: Even if you know Molly could have a career in modeling, or Charlie would rather mail himself to Siberia than speak in front of an audience, resist the urge to label Molly as “the pretty one” and compare Charlie as “my shy kid.” While you’re handing out family tasks, divvy up age-appropriate jobs equally so everyone gets a chance to drop (or successfully transport) the salad bowl, using plastic if you’re truly concerned. And who knows? Maybe with encouragement Charlie will someday find himself on a stage addressing thousands, without even having to picture them all in their underwear.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-mccready/mistakes-too-many-parents-make-when-they-praise-their-kids_b_7971142.html

Perfection

Perfect celebrities, athletes, and musicians adorning the covers of magazines may cause us to view ourselves in a negative light if we aren’t paying attention. First of all, the perfection in the magazines is flawless, in large part, because of computer software that softens and brightens the images. Thighs are thinned. Complexions are smoothed. Wrinkles erased. We set ourselves up for failure if we make a habit of comparing ourselves to this type of impossible standard. Comparing ourselves to others, in general, is a bad idea.

In my 20s I didn’t even realize it, but later discovered that I was in the habit of minimizing my good qualities and gifts from the Universe, and highlighting the desirable qualities in others. I would focus on the worst in myself and compare it to the best in others.  I wasn’t seeing things accurately. No one is “all good” or “all bad.” Although I wasn’t even aware of what I was doing, I compared the beauty or intelligence or creativity of others against something in myself I didn’t like – focusing on imperfections in myself. I chased perfection and consistently ended up feeling empty and not good enough. I gradually learned how to tweak my self-talk, but in my 20s, my self-talk sounded something like this:

“Mary is so smart and pretty.  I wish I were as good looking as she is. I’m 20 pounds overweight, and my hair looks awful,” or

“I’m no good with money. I will never be able to afford to buy my own home. Why can’t I be good with money like Karen is?”

I gradually learned to incorporate a more balanced conversation in my head. I was discovering the way to become my own loving parent. I was firing the critical parent who lived in my thoughts and brought in a kinder, more supportive parent to replace her. This is not just “positive thinking.” Straight positive thinking always feels like a lie to me and, therefore, does not help me. What helped me the more I practiced was to have a more realistic dialogue in my thoughts. Something like this:

“Yes, I do admire Mary’s beauty and intelligence. Those are wonderful gifts given to her by the Universe. Speaking of gifts, I’m grateful that I have the gift of empathy and the gift of being an excellent listener,” or

“Yes, Mary is truly beautiful. And so am I. I may not have the long, thin legs Mary has, but I have a nice smile that shows my true beauty and I really like my new haircut.”

Of course these are just examples of self-talk, but  you get the idea, don’t you? It takes practice, but it works. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Your “self” needs you to speak kindly and gently on your behalf.