John Lennon reminded us of this basic need we share, and the foundation of healthy relationships. Giving and receiving love can be a challenge, as each of us has built up armor to protect us from wounds we have received in life.
We’ll look at the belief of scarcity common in our society, that what we need is in short supply, and so we must strive (compete) to get ours…before it’s gone. Thinking love is scarce blocks us from receiving the love that’s there for us, and even halts giving our love. Yet the reality is:
“Love is the only thing that the more you give away, the more you have.”
~ Jean Shinoda Bolen, PhD, Jungian analyst, founder of The Millionth Circle.
So, in CircleCulture, we always conclude our Circle with sharing Appreciation.
Praise, Recognition, Appreciation, Strokes, Carinas
Express fully and safely the positive and caring feelings you have for another, for yourself or for the group. Expressed recognition, care and love promotes emotional healing and enhances intimacy and closeness. Sharing genuinely-held praise energizes the giver, and supports and energizes the receiver. Held or frozen grief and real needs may be satisfied and released.
No replies are necessary when receiving appreciation. Just listen, hear, and take it in. Breathe and smile. A “thank you” may be expressed, but is not necessary; your speaking can block full receiving.
Stroke Economy Scarcity and Ending Emotional Scarcity
Many folks who join Circles come with a sense of certain emotions that are hard to express. Some of us avoid conflict, and especially ignore or deny our angry feelings. Or we are afraid we’ll blow up. Many women were taught, women are not supposed to be angry or aggressive. Others, especially men, have come to view fear as verboten: I’m no coward; I am a strong, courageous man. Yet, when it comes to giving and receiving praise and acknowledgement, we will often shrug it off with a discount: I already know that or I’m having a bad hair day. Or we may make a comparison: I could have done a lot better or I wish I were as good as Elaine. I invite you to notice you may have more difficulty receiving and giving recognition than telling folks about the negative feelings you have toward their behaviors. Catching people doing things right is not a common habit in our society. We encourage appreciation over criticism.
Do we have a genuine need for praise and positive attention? Or does it just feed our vanity or arrogance? Rene Spitz, a French doctor who was providing medical care for infant orphans, noticed a significant number of the babies died of no apparent medical problem. He determined to observe more closely. Dr. Spitz noticed each child caretaker had a few favorites. She talked to the infant while bathing and dressing, gave extra gentle touch, and took pauses in her day to make a visit and to say good-bye. Those chosen as favorites did not die, but thrived. Those who did not get chosen by anyone would go into marasmus, stop eating, and die. Spitz identified this response as giving up the will to live. In contrast, young humans need physical strokes and positive attention to thrive. This has been found true repeatedly – and yet we have not made a conscious change in how we socialize the young and treat one another, to account for this basic physical, psychological and social need for quality positive attention to grow and thrive.
At a young age, most of us learned covert rules of the scarcity economy, teaching us without words to assume the scarcity of physical strokes and positive, loving attention. We may get this loving attention when we are very, very good or when we’re lucky. But the rules became clearer as we got to elementary school, and became whips by junior high school:
1) Do not give praise, recognition, and strokes.
2) Do not accept praise, recognition, and strokes.
3) Never give yourself praise.
4) Don’t reject a crooked or contaminated compliment.
How is the first rule enjoining us not to give praise reinforced? We have all heard the derogatory phrases: polishing the apple, boot-licking and worse. Praise is burdened with notions of seeking to manipulate someone to get what you want; hence, the appreciation couldn’t be genuine. The Protestant work ethic includes the ideas that rewards will come in heaven (so just wait!) and that – if you are chosen – your rewards will come as things (wealth and status). And since it’s all from above, we don’t have to acknowledge others’ gifts or talents. In CircleCulture, rather than acting as though we take for granted others’ successes, strengths and admirable qualities, we turn this scarcity economy upside down and say out loud what our heart knows.
The second rule makes accepting or receiving praise wrong, or at least awkward. If I received this appreciation, I would be indebted, yes? I would owe you – and who wants to owe in this ownership economy? Owing is associated with neediness, with insufficiency and dependence. “Need” is a negatively-toned word in our society, even though we all have needs. So we have learned to not accept praise in the first place. It only excites self-doubt that we may not have “earned” this praise, or that we may not be able to live up to this standard of our own best. “Trashing” or over-turning the scarcity economy encourages us to develop our own self-knowledge and self-love.
The third rule of the scarcity economy enjoins us not to give self-praise. Giving yourself praise is labeled bragging. Even in our celebrity-studded society, we are not supposed to act proud. This CircleCulture practice–giving yourself praise– teaches you to acknowledge your own strengths, assets and talents, and to value and take joy in the positive steps you take in your life. David Schnarch calls this “self-validated intimacy.” We learn to nurture ourselves and proudly carry our strengths into the world.
The fourth rule, to never reject a contaminated stoke, means you accept whatever others say. For example, if someone tells you, you’re too pretty to spend your time in graduate school… you should accept this compliment even if it makes you cringe at the implication that your brains are worth less than your beauty. By turning this rule on its head, we refuse to accept others’ judgments. When praise is contaminated with another’s judgments, it is impossible to accept one part without the other. We empower ourselves when we say, No thank you, that doesn’t feel good.
What we appreciate, appreciates.
Awareness of the covert rules of the scarcity economy allows us to make a conscious choice: to refuse to accept this scarcity that suggests there’s not enough love and care to go around. Trade the scarcity assumption in for conscious behaviors that are nurturing to self and others, and are rooted in the confidence that loving kindness and joy are self-reproducing.
Most of us need to make self-observations to become aware of our own discomfort with giving and receiving the genuine joy we take in others’ and our own strengths and beauty. We’ve often observed and learned competitiveness and one-up, one-down power plays — the Dominator model of human relations. We are so used to making invidious comparisons – especially those we make between yourself and the stars or perfect models held up to us as “normal” Americans. We don’t notice the negative self-talk which has become a daily or moment-by-moment internalized quality of the Dominator culture.
In our Circle, we practice giving and receiving praise. It’s a safe place to acknowledge and then override the discomforts of telling others what we enjoy in them, and prize how they wake us up and inspire us. It’s a safe place to give voice to our tender and vulnerable self-love. Replacing an old highly-reinforced habit with a new one is not easy; but in practicing together, we have a much greater chance of succeeding. Cooperation is a lifestyle that enables us to thrive.
Many people register surprise when told giving praise and acknowledgement is the most difficult tool to learn and make your own.
Think about this.
Challenge yourself and your Circle members to make a regular practice for each to give self-appreciation or self-praise. At each gathering, give another and yet another appreciation to yourself, and really hear it. Consciously undo the scarcity economy and replace it with a culture of care and love.
Giving praise is difficult. Giving and receiving from others is hard. Giving to yourself is harder still. Hardest of all is asking others for the healing praise you most need.
Ask your Circle to give you the praise and even the physical strokes you need. You are the one who constructed your own armor, to protect you from the wounds you’ve received in life. Armor, or character armor, is a defense mechanism used to protect oneself by blocking one’s experience and expression of life-affirming emotions (love, sadness, joy, anger, grief, and fear). So only you can figure out how to take off that armor, piece by piece.
Here’s what is required. Ask for the recognition and praise you need to heal. Discover how to pull away the armor. I am searching… I’m showing you … here is my wound; here is where I need the medicine of your loving attention, caring touch and words of praise. I need your healing touch for this wound I still carry. Help me heal and shine with all my light.
Abundance overflows when we give and receive appreciation and love freely. Circle is a mirror that magnifies: the more love you give away, the more you have. If we are armed with love instead of fear, we can tell each other what we need to hear.