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“People will work for money, but they will die for recognition,” is the way one business coach described the dynamic. Sometimes we seem to want or need recognition that bad. I was talking with a woman about this issue recently. She remembers being six years old, and deciding she wanted to be an actress. Her logic was that if she was on television she would be “seen.” What is it in us that seeks to be “seen” or “recognized this way?
What is in us that seeks recognition?
Usually the recognition we seek is from other people. Usually we don’t get it. Instead we end up with feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, emptiness, and disappointment at not getting it. From that result we work even harder at things still hoping for recognition get rid of those people and try the same thing with a different group. There is a different path to fulfillment of recognition.
First, let me break down this issue of not being recognized into some common false beliefs, some truths, and what can be done about it so you can be on your way to a happier life.
It Begins With a Truth
Let’s begin with a Truth. There is something in you to be valued. Let’s call that essential essence your Integrity. It is valued and feels valued when you or others put your attention on it with appreciation and respect. It is when other people put attention on that essential authentic part of you that it is seen and feels recognized. In that moment, you feel seen, and you experience your own value as a feeling. That feeling displaces those negative voices in your head. Essentially, you feel self-acceptance and it is good being you. You receive love in the form of appreciation, respect. This is a matter of attention to feeling your own Authentic Presence. It is often not something that we are in the habit of doing ourselves, and this is the fundamental problem we will get to later.
We All Have Real Value
We all have real value. Something inside of us recognizes that. I call that part of ourselves that senses this Truth our Integrity. Others might call it their Authentic Self. This isn’t from a belief system. It’s a Truth, and not just a construct of ideas of self-worth or self-esteem. Self-worth and self-esteem are often conceptual self-images our mind makes up based on our essential value. The presence of your Integrity was there and is there simply because you are a living being.
Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” It was more than a declaration that people didn’t want to be ruled by a King. It was a declaration that all men, and women have value that is equal to the King. We want to rule ourselves.
We don’t need to go that far to find value in each person. We instinctively see it when we hold an infant child. Each child radiates a presence that we value. We instinctively recognize the precious nature of human life, in an infant, and at other times, in anyone, or everyone. It is our false beliefs and critical judgments that blind us from seeing this valued presence all the time.
We Cover Up Our Value with False Beliefs
This awareness of presence of value in each person is lost behind layers of negative beliefs as we grow older. We add expectations, which lead to unmet expectations and then disappointments and judgments. By the time we are adults we have been devalued by other people’s judgments and criticisms and lost touch with our own Integrity. We have also learned to tell ourselves the same kind of self-judgmental narratives and devalue ourselves with our own negative thoughts. The judge devalues other people with criticisms and so all of this seems normal. This is the long slow process of building belief systems that erodes our awareness of value in ourselves and in others.
The repetitive negative thoughts in our head create a feeling that we don’t’ have much value. This covers up the authentic sense of value underneath, and even makes it seem false, or distorts it to seem like it wouldn’t be true. The lies in our head about our lack of self-worth drown out our feeling of real worth.
We Learn to Mask Our Value From Others
You can put your attention on your own feeling of worth and honor it. This accomplishes the same generation of feeling worthy within yourself. You feel the truth of your own value. You could call it a lot of things. It might just be a feeling of calm presence with yourself, love, self-respect, or you might interpret it as self-acceptance.
One of the early false beliefs we learn interferes with being in touch with our own value. We were likely shamed or scolded if we spoke about this. It might be called tooting our own horn, bragging, or put ourselves above others. Adults would use comments like, “You are too big for your britches,” “Who do you think you are?” “Off your high horse before I knock you off,” “Nobody likes a bragger.” These comments hit us emotionally with guilt and shame.
At the time we were probably innocently noting how good we felt about ourselves, or something we did. We mentioned it to others and it became distorted into something else at a young age. We have poor and inarticulate ways of seeking to be valued at a young age and we get criticized for it. We learn quickly not to talk about ourselves positively, boast, or do any extroverted things to get praise or recognition. Instead we are more likely to work hard, keep quiet, and hope others notice, and comment.
We are shamed and criticized for communicating our value to others. This becomes the programmed false belief. From our Integrity we still seek to value our Authentic selves, but we refrain from presenting it to others for fear of criticism.
It can be difficult to learn good self-acceptance practices in childhood because of this. It is too easy for self-acceptance to be lumped into the category of bragging and boasting so we avoid the self-acceptance completely. They are not the same thing, and it is nuanced to do one and not the other.
We Repress Our Own Desire to Be Recognized
In adulthood we no longer need others to repress our actions or requests for recognition. We take the pattern of criticism and shaming we learned from others and we repress it ourselves. Sharon put a lot of effort into getting the business conference together. As people arrived things got busy and she was rushing around finishing things as people showed up. Everyone was happy to see each other, and events got started. Inside Sharon felt the impulse to bring attention to the work she had done. A voice in her mind wanted to hint to others with a comment like, “I put a lot of work into getting this to work out for everyone’s benefit.” Her mind searched for a way to make it less obvious.
Sharon had enough awareness to observe these thoughts of seeking recognition. As she saw them, another part of her mind judged and condemned her for it. The Judge voice said things like, “You are being such a pathetic needy person,” “What are you a narcists, needing all the attention on you?” “Grow up girl. You agreed to do this conference on your own. You don’t need praise from these people.”
And with that kind of internal rebuttal, that part of her that wanted to be valued, was declared a needy, pathetic, narcissists, and shunned. The, “who do you think you are”, response she learned from others, was repeated in her belief system to herself, just as she had learned to do years earlier from others.
Since we learn not to bring other’s attention to us, or to bring our own attention to our value, we learn an alternative solution. We work for others, or try to please others wants until our efforts are recognized. This leads to disappointment and frustration I will get to later.
There is probably a way to ask for recognition, or to be valued in our society that isn’t lame and pathetic, but it isn’t obvious and can easily be misunderstood. Our culture isn’t big on it. I did hear of an icebreaker exercise for a group of people meeting for the first time. As each person introduced themselves, each person was to include something that they had done that they were proud of, that other people in the room likely didn’t know about. It was different for each person. For some it might be that they had signed up to run a 10K. Someone else was volunteering at a food bank. It was a way to say to others this is something that I do that is worthwhile and valuable to me. For a moment it was okay to acknowledge that we value ourselves and have others join in with appreciation and respect. Everyone felt good in the group. Partly because it wasn’t just one person doing it. Everyone was allowed and encouraged. We don’t do this well in our culture. Our culture is more inclined to complain, than raise people up, but that is a topic for another day
The point here is that we suppress asking for what we need and want, and that is a problem. We repress it by first taking a real value of our integrity and distort it into something egotistical, needy, pathetic, etc. Then we suppress that need for feeling our value with a condemning judgment. Instead of valuing ourselves, we shame and guilt ourselves for being egotistical, weak, or needy.
We don’t have to. We can create different experiences like the ice-breaker exercise. It’ starts with awareness of our choices and actions.
The Adult Environment Does Not Support Recognition We Grew Up With
As children, hopefully we get lots of recognition, praise, and support, assuming we have decent attentive parents. Not everyone does, but most do. Either way, as we grow into adult years, we get less and less, and maybe no valuing recognition depending on how supportive our relationships are. In college grades come out less often than in grade school Once we are working, maybe we get a performance review once per year. Very often it is focused on areas we can improve, and not to celebrate our accomplishments and achievements.
As adults we follow the conditioning of seeking recognition of our value through other’s opinions. With so few opportunities to receive, and so much pressure to perform, the result is that we may overwork ourselves, or try overly hard to please others with the unconscious motivation to get recognition or praise. An annual review leaves you a lot of time to feel like you are starving in between. We might want to be “seen” or recognized by others as much as when we were six years old, but in the adult world, we are not in an environment where that is going to happen.
To free your self from this trap of seeking your value through other’s opinions, check out the free sessions of the Self Mastery Course.4