Of course, there’s nothing wrong with feeling gratified when someone showers you with praise, and neither is wanting validation from others when you’ve executed a task well. Rather, this is all just part of being human, according to licensed clinical psychologist Aimee Martinez, PsyD. According to the theory of neurosis, developed by psychoanalyst Karen Horney, humans use different strategies to cope with stress and basic symptoms of anxiety—and needing praise and affirmation is one of those coping strategies.
What’s key in exercising this strategy, though, is moderation. “Over-utilizing a coping strategy leads to conflict and confusion internally, which can then create more anxiety, and potentially lead to feelings of depression,” says Dr. Martinez. And in the case of constant praise-seeking, when you don’t receive it, “you might become extremely sensitive to rejection, fear, criticism, and worry that others are angry with you, or you might even become resentful,” she adds. Because, ultimately, it isn’t possible to always get nods of approval from others.
So does it sound like you may perhaps be too dependent on praise? And if so, what can you do about it? Below, experts help to examine what a reliance on praise might look like and how to step away from it.
Could you be dependent on praise?
To put it bluntly: Some people may have trouble believing they are worthy or good if they don’t hear it from others, and that may be rooted in feelings about the self. “They haven’t really fostered an ability to praise themselves, so they become dependent on everyone else telling them that they’re doing a great job, rather than being able to acknowledge their own success and really experience that great feeling of reward from their own doing,” says Kahina Louis, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of the therapy and consultation practice Strengths and Solutions.
Dr. Louis also notes that if someone has a lower self-esteem, recognizing that something might be praise-worthy period can be difficult, let alone being able to affirm this about themselves. Here are two examples of how being dependent on praise can look in real-life situations.
Let’s say the mere thought of someone being displeased with what you’ve done makes you feel uneasy. In this case, you may feel the need to consult with a family member before making decision to check that you’ve made the right choice (by them). At work, this may manifest in you checking with your boss or colleague throughout a project, even though you know what to do. You also may tend to say “yes” when you don’t want to just to avoid disappointing others.
Or, perhaps you intentionally look for what others have to say about what you’ve done. This is when your personal assessment of whether you’ve done something good and valuable has nothing to do with how you actually feel and everything to do with what others say to you about it, says Dr. Louis. When you don’t receive praise from someone, or enough praise (as is often the case of ‘likes’ on a social media post), you may feel less excited about what you’ve done, question whether you did a good enough job, and may even question your worthiness.
How to work toward celebrating your own wins
To start, work toward noticing when you might be in conflict with yourself, says Dr. Martinez. This might look like identifying thoughts that say, “I think I should do this, but I don’t want to.” Do this from a nonjudgemental place, and with the intention of uncovering why you’ve developed this coping mechanism.
Next, work toward being your own cheerleader or praise-deliverer. If you find it tricky to think of positive things to say about your accomplishment, “think about what a loved one would say if you called them, or what you would like to hear from someone else in that moment,” Dr. Louis says. “Then start writing these down and saying them to yourself.”
Or consider using adaptive thoughts, which are similar to positive affirmations. For instance, when tackling that big project at work, Dr. Louis suggests saying something adaptive each time you cross off a task from the to-do list, such as, “I’m so proud of myself for crossing that off of this to-do list. I know I still have a long way to go, but at the same time, I think it’s really great that I was able to get this item done.” “Adaptive thoughts are very realistic and balanced, so you’re able to give yourself praise in a way that you really believe it,” says Dr. Louis.
Finally, rewarding yourself in a tangible way could be helpful, says Dr. Louis. Get yourself those new slippers you’ve been eyeing, take a nap, or take the night off cooking to get some takeout. Anything that feels like a treat counts as a treat.
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