Compliments and Confidence
I can live for two months on a good compliment - Mark Twain
Why is it important to give and receive compliments?
As a former teacher, I'm fairly familiar with the debate surrounding the use of liberal praise for children's achievements: Are we encouraging over-confidence? Are we encouraging people-pleasing rather than internal motivation? Will this mean that they won't accomplish anything unless there is a foreseeable reward?
I say, if we are unsure about how to approach the way we interact with children, we should look forward to the adults they will become. How do we create a functional adult? Or, how can we create an adult that is much more than just functional; an adult that is happy, fulfilled, purposeful and contributing? ''Well, I didn't get much praise when I was a kid and I turned out alright'' is not going to cut it for me. The world is full of semi-functional adults who are deeply hurt and damaged by their childhoods; who find it difficult to love, to trust, to empathise, and to experience the worthiness to receive the best that life has to offer. To me, this is not ''turning out alright''.
What are words of affirmation?
If you're not familiar with the book ''The 5 Love Languages'' by Gary Chapman, I would recommend reading it. I read it over 20 years ago but it stayed with me. We all have preferences for the ways in which we would like to give and receive love: through words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts - What are The 5 Love Languages? So, words of affirmation are one of the top ways to ensure others feel loved. We deserve to feel loved and we also need to feel loved. Without the safety of attachment and a sense of belonging, as babies and children, we will not thrive. As adults, the absence of love can result in self-sabotaging behaviours and a lack of direction and purpose. Praise from others helps us to recognise our value to others. We then begin to see ourselves as people of worth in the world, which gives us more confidence to develop our strengths and skills.
Are we suffering from too much confidence?
Whether we accept it or not, we are a social species. We are biologically wired to need acceptance from others, as this is key to our survival. In a complex social world, we are bombarded with behavioural cues and expectations that we are expected to navigate. A lot of confidence needs to be built in order for us to attempt to successfully meet these expectations. I have barely met a person in my life who has not experienced a lack of confidence in one or more areas. We are all vulnerable in some way, and feel inadequate in certain aspects when compared with others. Those who exude confidence are not excepted. Often, this is overcompensation for underlying feelings of inadequacy. We need to develop compassion for these people rather than shaming them. None of us will be spoiled from too much praise. To be truly potent in the world, we could all benefit from strengthening our sense of self-worth. I have pretty much been showered with compliments my entire life, but I still struggled with a lack of self-worth for many years.
How do compliments affect confidence?
Compliments help us to build a sense of identify; they help us to develop a perception of who we are in the world and what we have of value to offer others. From there, we can develop our own sense of self-worth as we build on these valuable strengths and abilities. Often, what we observe in people who are low in confidence, is a hesitation in accepting challenges or setting big goals. Making the decision to go forward and meet challenges is sometimes more difficult even than to persist with those challenges. People with confidence will be more likely to jump into new things without as much fear of failure. And, as we learn in life, the more failures we experience, the more evidence there is of our engagement with life. We are also more likely to succeed, because 'practice makes perfect'.
Should we give ourselves compliments?
Absolutely we should. This is taking the bull by the horns, so to speak. Being proactive in building our own self-worth and confidence is our right and our responsibility. Although it feels wonderful to receive compliments and praise, we cannot rely on others to provide this service for us. The more we can meet our own needs, the better, as this way we will have ready resources available to us at all times. When self-doubt becomes less frequent, life flows more easily. We begin to trust ourselves and our own skills and resilience. There are various ways we can compliment ourselves. Like Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, we can look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ''Hello Gorgeous''. If this is uncomfortable, we can try softer ways. Lately, when working through tasks that I don't really feel like doing, I have taken to talking myself through them: ''You can do this. Keep going. You're nearly there. Just one more for today. You're doing really well.'' It may sound pretty silly, but I'm finding it helpful.
How should we give and receive compliments?
To receive a compliment, simply say ''thank you''. You are worthy of the compliment and the other person has put themselves out to give it to you, so enjoy it. Relish in it. File it away for days when you feel a bit down. Reflect on the compliment and further your efforts to continue to give value to others. To provide this same service for others, give sincere, heartfelt compliments often. Notice and recognise the value that others provide. Think about the different aspects of a person that can be acknowledged and praised. ''You look beautiful today'' is a lovely thing to say to someone, of course, however ensure that you are recognising the whole person with all his or her subtleties and facets. For children and adults, give praise for internal qualities as well as outward ones; for effort, persistence, bravery, compassion and gentleness.
I recently made a Self-Love Card Deck for Children, which is available from my Etsy store to print and laminate. This is designed to help children recognise all the aspects of their identity - all the ways that they can describe themselves and their gifts and qualities. This enables them to see themselves as multifaceted individuals with lots to offer the world, rather than feeling that they fall short in comparison to others. If interested, you can purchase it here: Self-love Card Deck for Children: I Am Enough | Etsy Australia
We are enough. We are more than enough. We will never have every quality that exists or be capable of every skill at a high level. It is important that we are realistic about how much can be done in this lifetime, and that we accept our flaws and insufficiencies as they exist in any given moment. Some, we will continue to work on, and others are perhaps not particularly important. The diversity in all of us makes the world so special. We all have different roles and we don't have to buy into the idea that perfect is possible, or advisable. If we can see and accept others and ourselves as we truly are, but choose to place our focus on our best aspects, we will grow in love and compassion for ourselves and others. In this space of love - the heart space - we will see all people as worthy, and the world as safe, welcoming and beautiful.
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