Over the years, I’ve noticed that people often want approval and affirmation. They want it, yet rarely receive it or can’t believe it when it finally arrives. Jim would be an example of that.
Jim was the first-born son in a family of five children. Jim’s father wasn’t physically abusive, but he was critical and judgmental. He continually complained about Jim’s behavior and found fault with his every move. When Jim played basketball, he would only hear of the missed shot, or blundered pass or lack of hustle. If Jim cleaned the garage, his father would point out the poorly aligned garden tools piled in the corner. The focus was always on Jim’s shortcomings.
Just Try Harder
Despite his fine performances on the basketball court, in his marriage, or on the job, Jim always felt inadequate. He thought, “I could’ve done better” and “I should have done more.” Feeling like a failure, he longed for attention and the support of others, but there was never enough approval to overcome the message he had heard again and again as he was growing up. When praise came, Jim had trouble receiving it because he didn’t believe it. His battered self-image led to self-disdain and periodic depression. Jim’s concept of himself was distorted because of painful external circumstances and how he was spoken to by others. The real tragedy, however, is that Jim began to repeat the negative statements to himself about himself.
The Deficit System
Like many people, Jim grew up in a deficit system. His father pointed out all his mistakes, confident that would make Jim into a better person. Jim hated it. Certainly, there is a time for correcting mistakes, acknowledging problems, and adjusting future attempts. However, consistent fault–finding does more harm than good. A better strategy is to point out what is going right, focusing on positive efforts, and acknowledging improvement. Tell me what I’m doing right, and I’ll do more of it. Telling me what I’m doing wrong (especially if the criticism is harsh) shuts me down, makes me oppositional, defiant, and resistant.
You Usually Find What You Look For
When Jim changed his viewpoint, the whole picture changed. Because you usually find what you’re looking for, it matters where you look. Jim quit rummaging through a miniscule, almost forgotten scrap-pile of old faults, defects, and past mistakes. Instead, he began to look through a monumental stockpile of successes, talents, skills, and abilities. When he looked there, he found what he was looking for: encouragement, support, affirmation, and approval. Get around someone who can admire your character, encourage your performance, acknowledge your progress. And when they are not available, supply this service for yourself.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!