For much of our lives we associate our value to what others think of us. It’s really not surprising, if you consider that since childhood we learn that to be accepted we must meet certain standards, listen to certain people and adapt to certain situations. Like it or not, our points of view and tastes had little weight in the equation.
So on we formed the image we have of ourselves, an image that is largely dependent on the others. For this reason praises make us feel so good and criticism makes us feel bad. In fact, behind those feelings lies a deep conviction that has been planted during our childhood: our value depends on others, the others are who decide.
Obviously, it is a mistake that Thomas a Kempis had already discovered in the fifteenth century, when he said that 'you are not better because you’re praised or worse because you’re criticized'. We are complete persons, the opinions of the others are just that, opinions, don’t determine our value.
We are addicted to praise and bothered by criticism
In a sense, the need for approval has its basis in the desire to be praised, a desire that, according to a study at University College London and the University of Aarhus, is written in our brain.
These psychologists have noticed that when people are praised for their decisions, it is activated the ventral striatum, an area linked to reward. And the more praise they received from the others, the greater the activation.
In other words, praise make us feel good and trigger an effect similar to that produced by addicctions. In fact, these psychologists have found that when we receive social approval is activated a neural network almost identical to that located at the base of addiction. Therefore, it is as if we were “programmed” by nature to seek acceptance.
Of course, there are persons in which this connection is not so intense. Probably in their childhood they were not “forced” to seek constantly the approval of others or have done a great job of personal growth in adulthood that allowed them break free from the need of acceptance. In such cases, the connection is very weak and, therefore, the sense of well-being when they receive praise.
Obviously the fact that we are “programmed” to seek the approval of the group also implies that criticisms hurt us because, in a sense, are a sign of rejection. And social rejection activates the same brain areas activated by physical pain, so it is normal that we want to avoid it.
But we must keep in mind that both, praise as criticism, are just opinions, not a measure of our worth as people.
We can pretend not to listen?
We are social beings and we can do nothing to change it. In fact, we should not even try because the relationships with the others nourish us and allow us to grow. The key is to understand that the others’ opinions about us represent only a limited view and express their idea of how we should behave or what decisions take.
So far, we are not required to follow this pattern, especially if those opinions subtract us value. We are able to listen, reflect and discard an opinion if this hurts us or exalts us artificially.
In fact, in many cases it can be more harmful an exaggerated praise than a criticism. Excessive praise and without any substance, can produce a wrong image of our ability, can lead us to make some very hasty decisions of which we could repent.
Therefore, it is important to protect our value. Remember that the most unhappy people are those who worry too much about what others think. Imagine you are a painter and closet o you there’re people who praise or criticize your work. You can listen to their opinions and take them into account, but finally, the most important thing is that you have enjoyed painting and you’re satisfied with the result. And you only get it if you look inside yourself and know what you want.
No doubt, it requires a lot of strength, but remember that your value depends only on you. Only you know your dreams, you know what is truly important for you and appreciate the effort that you have done on your path. Do not let the opinions of others distort your essence or separate you from the path you want to walk.
Campbell, d. K. et. Al. (2010) How the Opinion of Others Affects Our Valuation of Objects. Current Biology; 20(13): 1165–1170.
You are not better because you’re praised or worse because you’re criticizedJennifer Delgado