People talk about how some people need more positive affirmation than others.

In my experience, this sort of statement serves as an excuse to neglect people.

On the one hand, you have people who are perceived to need more positive affirmation than others. The way that this statement is often used, however, is that the “others” who don’t need as much, would be preferable or are more complete in and of themselves. This assessment is not necessarily fair to those who are perceived as needing more positive affirmation, because everyone is on different stages of their journeys of self-esteem, not to mention the fact that everyone has different days and situations in which their self-esteem falters. Some people are better able to put themselves in a position where they are confident in their abilities to carry out the task; some people need to put themselves in a position that goes against what their natural (or nurtural) inclination would be. There’s such a variety of reasons that someone might need more positive affirmation than other people. Merely stating that some people need more than others is a way of dismissing it. If others are able to get what they need, so should these people be able to pick themselves up and get what they need as well. Bullshit.

On to the next hand. So on the other hand, you have people who are not perceived to need as much positive affirmation. The key is perception. And sometimes that perception is correct and they don’t need positive affirmation. Sometimes they do need it, but they know better than to be perceived as needy, because look where it got those other folks. But who does positive affirmation of something well-done hurt?

I’ll tell you what does hurt, though: false positive affirmations. No matter where you fall on the level of internal to external sourcing of affirmation, false praise is harmful.

If someone realizes the praise is false, you have set them up to believe that praise is false. Now, even justified praise will be met with increased skepticism. That increased skepticism blocks the benefit of the praise; the person will gain less from the affirmation. In other words, they will be left needing more in cases where that simple affirmation was all they should have needed. The suspicion further harms by way of the added negativity of the thought, “Are they lying to me?” and not just that but, “Do they perceive me as weak, less than, or worthless?” And what’s worse, this skepticism, suspicion, and negativity can become associated with receiving praise or positive affirmation from anyone, even people formerly trusted. And the more praise received, the more times that negative message of, “They are saying this because they see you as weak and needing this affirmation,” can get repeated. It doesn’t always. But it sometimes does.

It is better not to praise than to praise falsely. It is better not to lie. By falsely praising someone or something, we create the “problem” we were trying to sweep under the rug.

If someone is stressed about a mistake, don’t lie and say that everything is fine. But do tell the truth and say, “Mistakes happen. This happened. We will deal with it; you can deal with it,” etc. (if it is true, which it likely is, except in extreme circumstances).

If someone says that people need more positive affirmations nowadays than they used to, I try to shrug it off. Everyone can benefit from being acknowledged with genuine appreciation. It’s when people start rattling off positive nonsense that praise becomes toxic.

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