The Advantages and Disadvantages of Praise

(About a 3 minute read)

Nearly a quarter century ago, I went through an almost traumatizing episode of my life when I was a daily witness to the progressive degradation and abuse of a somewhat younger woman, who I very much loved, at the hands of her new boyfriend.  She was my secretary, and what happened to her over a period of a mere few months shook me as most things simply cannot.

I’ve written about Tara here.  Before she rebounded from a broken relationship into the fists of her abuser, Tara was a remarkably light-hearted woman.  She made the hours we worked together zip by on the rails of our laughter.  It was curious how hard we could work and yet at the same time tell each other jokes almost constantly.

All of that progressively changed once her abuser got his hooks into her. In the end, she wasn’t even keeping up her personal hygiene.

It had a number of profound effects on me.  The one effect I will discuss here might come across to some folks as counter-intuitive and quite strange.  Her abuse was instrumental in changing me from someone who was perhaps overly critical of people into someone who habitually focuses on what is good or best in people.

That’s not to say I ignore the worse things about people these days, it’s just to say I don’t make them front and center in my views of folks.

I try to be as realistic as I can about it, and to avoid anything I consider more than mild exaggeration, but basically, yeah — I’ve been rebelling against the spiritual rape of Tara ever since it happened by trying to assert and affirm what’s good in people.

It’s my way of raging against the dying of the light.

A small part of it all is that I’m unusually free in my praise for people — so free that I know I am often mistaken for offering mere flattery.  But that matters less to me than my felt need to rage.

Yet, it has long concerned me that I could have a negative effect on someone, for I am aware that it is possible to miss-praise someone.  That is, to wrongly assess their strengths and praise the wrong things about them, thus possibly misleading them.

If it sounds to you like I might be over-concerned about that, then please consider that praise is capable of having quite an emotional and motivational effect on people.

However, I’m not too worried about a more commonly recognized ill-effect of praise.  Namely the thought someone might get a swelled up ego from it.  The way I see it, life beats most people down much more often and effectively than my praise is going to build them up.

Besides,  several people over the years have told me I was instrumental in building up their self-esteem to the point they felt able to leave an abusive partner, who had been the one to beat them down in the first place.  The more abusers I can put the shaft to in that way, the happier my life is.

So I can see both some pros and cons to praise. On the one hand it can build up people in a world that so often tears them down, but on the other hand, it can misdirect people, confuse them about themselves, and even hinder their living authentically.  But what do you think about praise?  What are its pros and cons to you?

4 thoughts on “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Praise”

  1. I try not to praise or abuse much. OK, well I actually abuse quite a lot but in an affectionate and facetious way… maybe I should look into that one…
    As for praise, I dole it out infrequently. First of all, if someone has a poor self-image, praise only draws attention to themselves and then they’re uncomfortable. They’re much happier when they’re not thinking or talking about themselves. Then you end up getting into a big argument about whether or not that person has any virtues at all, and since I try to always tell the truth, it usually ends with some flaw that they really do have and me trying to convince them to put a positive spin on it… all that drama and politicking. They would have had a better day if I’d just given them a hug or a cookie. Or if I do actually have some kind of influence on them, and they’re like, “You just changed my world!” then I start to worry about what I may have unleashed.
    Praise has screwed with my head a lot. I was praised so much for my intelligence and writing skills as a kid, I actually put so much weight on my own writing that if it wasn’t top-notch right out of the bag, I never showed anyone. I barely wrote anything for a long time. Sometimes I felt like a genius and but mostly I thought I was a fraud. If I’d have been told I had talent but I needed to work hard, I might have practiced my writing a little more. Why did my parents have to be so goddamned sweet!
    But everyone’s different. I’m sure some people really do thrive on praise. Me, I prefer affection (e.g. hugs and cookies, I’m a big proponent of hugs and cookies).


    1. Sarah, we strongly disagree about somethings here – specifically the value and uses of praise. But I feel we understand each other now, which is all I can ask.

      But here’s the fantastic thing: “I was praised so much for my intelligence and writing skills as a kid, I actually put so much weight on my own writing that if it wasn’t top-notch right out of the bag, I never showed anyone. I barely wrote anything for a long time.”

      The Same Exact Thing Happened To Me — only with painting and drawing, not writing. In fact, I switched to writing in my junior year in high school to get away from the troubles I was having expressing myself through art.



      1. Don’t get me wrong, praise is nice, and sweet, and it makes me feel loved. If I find that someone really needs praise I do praise them. But I also make an active effort to tell the truth if I can help it. Once we start delving into another person’s character… I don’t know, maybe I’m just not comfortable re-shaping minds. Maybe it’s the power of praise (and criticism) that makes me nervous to use it. I’m not qualified!
        Or maybe we’re just shedding light on a new pet crazy I never knew I had.
        That is interesting that the same thing happened to you too!


      2. Despite appearances, I tell the truth too. I just don’t tell all of it, unless I consider it relevant. That’s not because I wish to deceive anyone. It’s because I usually don’t see the negative side of people as important. Once I did, but no longer.

        On the other hand, I have stuck it to a full handful of abusers by alienating their victims from them. You cannot believe how that gratifies me. I’m bent on revenge. Honestly bent on revenge.

        Yes, I do recognize I’m arrogant. I only hope to do good, but I’m willing to risk not doing good to get what I want. There’s a dark side to all of us, I suppose. I don’t make excuses for it. It is what it is.


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