Explores the dangers of praise and blame to the helping professions. Explains the seductiveness of praise, and describes the daily practice taught in twelve step programs used to avoid falling into
addiction to people-pleasing. Includes several slogans useful in avoiding internalizing praise or blame/
Newly ordained Ministers are warned to never listen to the comments at the end of a service. After delivering a sermon, the Minister stands at the door of the sanctuary and says goodbye to the
congregation, and is frequently complimented on the vital, life-changing content of the sermon! Sometimes, they are told what significant points they missed, or how off the mark they were. In either
case, the warning is to recognize that the praise or complaints are NOT directed to them, but to the projection of the Divine the congregant is addressing.
It’s actually easy to shake off complaints. We are taught from an early age that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” And ignoring the obvious untruth of the ditty,
(yes, words can do incredible damage) we are regularly encouraged to let criticism slide off. We at least learn to conceal our pain under a “thick skin” and are taught not to be so sensitive.
Learning to let go of compliments is much harder! We all want to be a force for good, and recognition of our victories is sweet. The only ones taught to reject – or deflect – praise seem to be gospel
singers (finger pointing up, “all praise to God”), black sports stars from majority-black churches (“I thank the Lord who gives me everything”), and some followers of eastern Gurus (accepting an award
with “for God and Guru”)!
The trend to encourage self-respect fuels the addiction to praise, as do our electronic devices! We are taught not to deflect praise (oh, this old thing?) but to accept and welcome compliments with a
sincere “thank you”. While this approach may be good for self-esteem, it draws us deeper into addiction to other’s opinion. In twelve step programs, a powerful slogan is “What you think of me is
none of my business” – meant to break the bonds of people-pleasing that is so much a part of addiction. A recent report says that people even check their cell phones in church to see if there are new “likes” for their page, post, or video.
It is evident why negative feedback or judgements are harmful, and chasing approval leads to loss of self and weakness. But what in the world is wrong with learning to accept compliments? How
can admiration be a bad thing? There is nothing in the universe quite so seductive as adoration! Look at all the fallen idols who succumb to the siren call of admiration – politicians, spiritual leaders,
teachers, -- in fact – the entire gamut of helpers.
The urge to make things better is a doorway to “believing your PR” – where the helper becomes enamored with their own success in making the world a better place. Surrounded by admiration, the
idealist becomes a target for manipulation, a mark for every con-artist appealing to ego! It is just a small step from teacher, to guru, to higher power!
How does one avoid the traps of praise and blame? Once again, twelve step programs offer a path. From the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crops up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code. “- A.A. Big Book, p. 84
The best escape from addiction to approval is daily evaluation and honest review of all our behaviors. For those in a profession that attracts regular praise (or blame), daily inventory and immediate
corrective action is the defense against the seductiveness of admiration. And of course, with gospel singers, give all glory to God!
Tess Pender is an ordained Interfaith Minister, active in 12-step programs for over thirty years. Her spiritual practice began with Native American Sweat Lodges, and continued with a series of Vision
Quests. She led a Teen Spiritual Education Program, and regularly teaches classes on accessing intuition. She practices Earth-Centered Spirituality. She can be reached on Facebook at