Speaking Mental Health
Forward Times Mental Health Advisors
During childhood, most of us, if not all of us learned two especially important words: “thank you”. Those two words rival some of the most widely used word pairs ever known to mankind; peanut butter and jelly, fish and chips, shut up, sit down, and even hotdogs and chili do not stand a chance in comparison to the combination of the words “thank” and “you”. Your parents or caregivers made certain you understood the importance of saying thank you each time someone gave something to you or did something nice for you. That question, “What do you say?” that was posed to me so many times by my parents as a child, has been forever etched in my mind. In fact, I found myself posing the very same question to our daughters when they were toddlers and demonstrated the capacity to use words to express themselves; I reinforced in them what was instilled in me. Certainly, people will not always respond with this word phrase to acknowledge appreciation for the efforts of others, but we have been conditioned to expect the “thank you” response and we identify it as the most desired response.
Interestingly, it is not hearing the words “thank you” or even “thanks” in short, that we value the most. However, it is the positive feeling we are left with after hearing those words of gratitude that is so important. For many of us, knowing that others value us for what we do and who we are is so important that unless we continuously hear those words or regularly see some type of expression of validation from others for what we have done, we become unsettled in our minds. Yes, hearing a certain response from others, or not, has the potential to impact us in ways that could ultimately lead to self-destruction. That positive feeling we receive when others acknowledge us is highly desired and is worth replicating. As it is with addictions however, manipulation or mismanagement of that feeling of euphoria can prove debilitating. In the world of psychology, there is an entire group of diagnoses called personality disorders, that hover around this concept.
How we expect to receive appreciation from others is not always consistent with how we demonstrate our gratitude to others; this can be a dangerous paradox. Generally, the level of expressed thankfulness shown is directly proportional to the level of assistance received. In other words, a person’s level of expressed or demonstrated gratitude matches the level of the service or support they have received; little effort warrants minimal expressions of gratitude while grand efforts are highly celebrated. For example, if your service is great at a restaurant, your waiter or waitress is likely to receive a nice tip. The friend that sacrifices his entire Saturday to help you move all of your heavy furniture on short notice will likely receive more gratitude from you while the person who committed to help in advance but showed up when the move was nearly done will get “little-to-no” love or gratitude from you. One might even respond to that person who did not follow through with their commitment, “The job is done, no thanks to you.” Having a set of standards in place for what you expect to receive from others that differ from those you typically demonstrate to others is contradictory, to say the least. As it pertains to mental health, there is a more excellent way.
Rather than relying on feedback from others as the basis of determining your value, I encourage you to commit to the work of developing a healthy self-perception. Those who make it a point to invest in themselves and to understand what self-love and self-appreciation is about are not so disturbed when their efforts are not recognized, received, or revered by others. Their consideration for others does not dominate the positive regard they hold for themselves. In essence, the satisfaction we receive when others thank us does not have to be limited to moments when others thank us, we can have that same sense of worth even when others ignore us if we only learn to adopt a mindset of thankful thinking. Learning to view your life from a place of positivity and value it for who you are during the process of life, rather than allowing moments when others thank you to be so definitive, is a marker of a person with a healthy mentality. When thankful thinking becomes a part of who you are, you lose nothing when others do not demonstrate appreciation for you. If you find yourself in life needing to hear or see expressions of gratitude from others in order to have some measure of self-worth, know that there are many resources available to help you reframe your self-view and improve your self-esteem. In addition to receiving help from a mental health professional, many resources are available to help bolster a healthier self-image, which is most effectively done when starting with the mindset. Guided gratitude journals, for example, are popular, easily accessible, and effective at helping individuals to assess and help themselves. Learn to couple your attitude of gratitude with thoughtful thinking and enjoy the benefits of showing appreciation to yourself for who you are, regardless of whether others ever sincerely show their appreciation for you or not.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC
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