Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Praised for Showing Up

I like praise as much as the next person. In fact, I LOVE praise and attention and feeling special. But there are certain times that I would prefer not to be praised. Times when I've done something that I don't think deserves praise, and the praise comes out as pressure to do it more.

Think of a parent praising their child for dressing themself for the first time. There are two reasons that parents do this. The first is that it truly is an accomplishment the first time you get dressed by yourself, something that kids can feel proud about. But the second reason parents give praise is that they want to teach their kids that getting dressed every morning is a good thing to do. They want that praise to be motivation for their children to dress themself again tomorrow, and the day after that, until it becomes so routine that they do it with no hassle.

When I was in college and went to a few discussion groups, people would often praise us for coming. I didn't like that because attending a talk is not an accomplishment. Well, I shouldn't say that. It can definitely be an accomplishment. You could have depression and dragging yourself to do something like go to a talk is a huge accomplishment. You could have social anxiety that makes events like this very stressful, and it's a major accomplishment to go. But I don't think my classmates were thinking along these lines. I wouldn't have minded if someone had said it in a personal way, like if a friend said, "It means a lot to me that you're here." But the way they praised us for showing up felt very similar to when parents praise a child for dressing themself - they were pushing us to do more. I really felt like they had claimed me as someone who attends talks and now I'd be expected to go to more.

I never liked getting praised for my good grades because I always felt like I had to get good grades. If someone praised me for performing well in the play, I knew that they wouldn't look down on me if I wasn't in the play. But I did feel like people would look down on me if I didn't get good grades or try hard in school, which is why I resented it when I got so much praise for good grades. It's like the getting dressed thing - if after the parents praise their kids for getting dressed the first time, and the kid says, "That was fun, but I really don't like putting clothes on - I don't ever plan to do it again," the parents aren't going to be happy. They aren't going to continue to praise the accomplishment. They're going to start lecturing the kid that they are expected to get dressed every day. That's how I felt when people praised me for going to their events. If I climbed Mt. Everest, that would be a great accomplishment for me, even if I never climbed another mountain again. But attending an event was not an accomplishment for me, and really, the ONLY reason to praise me was to convince me to come back again. The second I said, "I'm really not into discussions, this was just one-time thing," all that praise is gone. Being liked by other people was gone. And I'm not interested in relationships like that. So don't praise me as an underhanded way of convincing me to do something. Praise me because you actually think I've done something cool, regardless of whether I ever do it again.

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