I have a weakness.
In truth, I most certainly have more than one shortcoming. Nevertheless, for the sake of brevity—and to spare my self-esteem—I shall concentrate on only one at this juncture, words of praise. Allow me to back up a bit and set the background if I may.
Twenty-five years ago, during my premarital counseling sessions, I became acquainted with the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
Nowadays, there is a speedy online test to ferret your love laguage. Twenty-five years ago, there was no internet, no quick test. Believe it or not, you determined your love language by reading the book.
While I cannot recall the order of my love languages, I most certainly remember the first and the last. Incidentally, when I retook the test two months ago, they remained unchanged: words of affirmation ranked first and gifts last.
For giggles—and the sake of this post—I retook the test once more. Allow me to share my final result:
A Side Note
The book states that we usually show love in the manner we like to receive love, a premise which seems perfectly logical. But, for me, all logic goes out the window in one instance. You see, I am mystified by one of my peculiarities. My two common ways to show affection are by giving words of affirmation or gratefulness (no surprise here), and with gifts!
Remember, gifts systematically garner zero points on my list. Nevertheless, I absolutely love giving gifts. I get such a thrill out of making or picking offerings for others. I don't quite comprehend this dichotomy. Why the difference between gift giving vs. receiving?
Although interesting, no matter how puzzling this fact, it is not pertinent to this post. I shall move on.
Words of Praise
I do love words of praise although they were in short supply during my growing up years.
I used to believe that enjoying words of affirmation was a weakness, a character flaw, or worse, that my desire to hear words of affirmation came from my insecurities. This was a fact I was not necessarily proud of as this made me feel small, vulnerable, and defective.
Over time, I have come to appreciate that rather than being a weakness, gold stars are words of love to me. It is a language I understand and receive as an act of love although. Sadly, so few speak this love language today.
When I was a small child, words of affirmation were not customarily dispensed freely to children. The belief was that praises would give kids "a big head" and in turn, they would become prideful. Pridefulness was the mother of brattiness, and no one wanted bratty kids.
As a result, seldom did I hear these words of love despite my yearning for them.
Furthermore, teachers also routinely focused on the negative. As a result, my satisfactory report cards read thus: "Despite being highly intelligent, doesn't try hard enough, and talks too much" or "cares more about talking than working, immature."
Subsequently, I believed I was an immature and lazy blabbermouth.
From Famine to Feasting
After the years of famine from my childhood, college ushered the feasting years. I was granted a scholarship the second semester into my freshman year—no small accomplishment in the middle of the year as a non-fluent international student. I retained this scholarship until graduation which enabled me to stay in school. I graduated in 3.5 years with honors.
I still have every letter of recommendation written by my professors recommending me for said scholarship. Their thoughtful, honest words about me as a person as well as my abilities and accomplishments were nourishing and refreshing to my parched soul.
I felt like the ugly duckling who finally realized he was, in fact, a swan.
I am no dummy, and I learned my lessons well. To me, words of praise and gratefulness are indistinguishable. I distribute both with abandon to family, friends and even unsuspecting strangers. No one is immune from my profuse words of appreciation. Yes, I am that lady who will blurt "I love your dress" at the register or who will stop you in the aisle and say "your hair is lovely." If I think of a gold star, I will share it.
I am never disingenuous with my praises. Do not ask me if I like your dress if an answer other than the affirmative will hurt your feelings. Words of affirmation are only meaningful if they are truthful.
I am of the belief we live in a culture in which we are far too quick at expressing our discontentment and to make our disgruntled voices heard far and wide. I choose to not follow the norm (huge surprise) and instead to be slow to be negative and fast with the positive. However, I am always baffled when I realize I am a strange bird and others are not like me. Allow me two cases in point:
My words of praise gush from the wellspring of my heart. For this reason, I am always miffed when others remain silent. I take their silence as displeasure or lack of care.
Despite, the now well-established fact that words of affirmation matter significantly to me, I have decided to stop fishing for them. No more "How was dinner? or "did you like it?"
When I have to fish for them, my gold stars aren't as meaningful anyway. Instead of shining brightly, they appear tarnished.
My fishing expeditions could be construed as looking for undeserved praise, exhibiting selfishness, insecurity, or self-absorption all of which are very possible. I want to be able to be pleased with myself whether someone else acknowledges my accomplishments or not.
The expectation of receiving words of praise, which more often than not to do come, does nothing to add to my happiness. It is quite the opposite. I need to understand not everyone is wired as I am and lack of praise or gratitude does not necessarily mean discontentment or rudeness.
I, on the other hand, will continue to be true to myself and gush although I now intend to include myself on the praise list. Self-praise may sound nutty at best and self-centered at worst. I believe instead self-praise falls under "self-affirmation" which incidentally has been shown to be an efficient way to increase happiness as well as resilience.
Florence, I am proud of you for your willingness to stretch and try new things as well as for being willing to express your needs.
As to you, the reader, I am grateful for you and the time you took to read this post. Thank you.