January 21, 2011

I'm A Junkie and I Can't Stop

I'm a junkie. I need at least one fix a day to stay happy. If I don't get what I need from you I might turn to someone else. I've had this need forever and I can't lose it. Frankly, I don't want to lose it.

I've just described me, probably you, and virtually everyone you have ever met. We are all junkies for affirmation. We can't get enough of being told good things about ourself. We need the strokes. We need to be told someone else cares. What we do must be noticed or we'll sulk and pout. I'll freely admit that nice comments left on my blog make my day. The affirmation feels good. It makes me believe the time I put into writing is worth it.

Affirmation means to state that something is true. In this context it means to praise someone for his personality or talent. It means to tell her she is doing a good job, or is important in your life. Affirmation fulfills our basic need to feel relevant, useful, and needed. So, if this is a deep seated need we all have then why is it rare in most of our lives, most of the time? Good question. I've given this topic some extra thought since my small group from our church recently had a lively discussion on the subject. All of us admitted we are quick to receive complements, but much slower to hand them out.

About a year ago I was prompted by something I read somewhere that made a real impact. Frankly, I can't remember what I read or even what it said specifically. All I remember is something struck a chord. The gist of the piece was that during a normal day we all deal with dozens of people who come quickly in and out of our lives. The article was not referring to coworkers or family members, church friends or regular contacts. It was taking about the "invisible people" we interact with every day. In this case "invisible" isn't a value judgment. Rather, it is how we typically see (or don't see) these folks.

The clerk who rings you up at the fast food restaurant or drops off a FedEx package is nameless and faceless to us. The waitress at dinner tells us her name but we forget it before she's even taken our order. The fellow who hands you a prescription at Walgreens doesn't really register (pardon the pun).

See where I'm heading? Every single day we have the opportunity to affirm something about these people and their existence yet we don't, even though each one of them is just as much an affirmation junkie as you or I.

I started a very small social experiment. I tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these invisible folks. The result was stunning. Suddenly an unhappy person smiled. A clerk laughed while handing me a package. A delivery person thanked me for my business. The invisible person in front me became instantly real. He had been affirmed. And, he or she started affirming me back. We interacted like two human beings who were willing to give a tiny piece of themselves to someone else.

Personally, I am very sorry I didn't learn this lesson while I was working. I know I treated the invisible people like interruptions or not worthy of my giving them what they craved. I hope it wasn't because I was purposely hurtful, I was just selfish and oblivious. I'm still that way more often than I'd wish, especially with faceless people on the phone.

Retirement has allowed me to find new sides of myself. A satisfying retirement requires learning and growing (maybe growing up). It is a process that won't stop until I take my final breath, hopefully many years from now. There is a lot of affirming I must catch up on. 


  1. Good thoughts,Bob. Since I've worked in both medical jobs and retail, I learned the art of chit chat with people I don't know and I always try to talk to people I interact with in these positions because I know how it helps pass the time. It makes my day more pleasant too! These days when everybody has their nose or ear stuck to their cell phone or are playing games on their iPhone, I think we are losing the art of interpersonal relationships. We could easily walk around in a fog and never notice anybody. This is especially easy for those living in larger cities. I grew up in a small town too where I developed almost personal relationships with the people at the grocery store, the library and the post office. I miss that living in a larger city.
    By Joan on I'm A Junkie and I Can't Stop at 7:16 AM

  2. Morning, Joan.

    The tendency of people to interact more with their cell phones than the people around them is a very accurate observation, and quite true.

    A large city doesn't have to be impersonal, if we'd just focus on the people we deal with on a daily basis. After all, a big city is just a collection of individuals.

  3. Very true! It's amazing how a simple compliment or small gesture can brighten somebody's day. If you will allow me some alliteration, he power of positive reinforcement is pretty potent.

  4. I am a sucker for good alliteration, Darren, especially when it is true.

    Thanks for sharing, nephew.

  5. I agree with Darren - just a little extra effort and you can make someone feel good. Something as little as asking how someone's day is going when they are going door to door and are at your step. No one likes selling door to door and ANY sign of humanity can go a long way!

  6. I'm a children's dentist and I make a positive comment about every child who sits in my chair ( I like your shoes...or nice hair, or you look happy today) I do the same for each parent that I review the child's visit with. It's the only way to live.


  7. That's great. One of the most common complaints about being treated like an invisible person or just a number happens when dealing with health professionals. It isn't really their fault, the system demands rapid turnover.

    But, as you say, it just takes a moment to make your patient feel as though you notice them as a person.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. @Lovebeingretired,
    Morning, Dave. I'm afraid you've identified one of my weaknesses in this area: people coming to my door. Usually it is a charity, or someone representing themselves as part of a charity. I'm afraid I'm way too dismissive much too quickly. I probably won't give them anything or buy what they are selling, but I can treat them as someone doing a job.

    Thanks for the slap upside the head.

  9. A good topic well stated. Enjoy the weekend.

  10. I'd like to echo Dave's comment- but about "missionaries". I always smile and say hello when they come to the door. Then I thank them for worrying about my salvation, but that I feel the path I am on is the right one. Smiling again, I slowly close the door.
    I came to this because my husband's side of the family is in a missionary religion. They send their kids out at 19 door to door- two by two. They always tell about the people who were polite and are really hurt by the people who are mean. They are only people- trying to "do a job".
    I agree, otherwise, about affirmation. One smile, one quip, one word- sometimes changes a person's perception about their day. Do it. It is worth it.

  11. Thanks, J.

    I plan on having a very nice weekend.

  12. Janette,

    Thanks for your comment about missionaries coming to your door. As your husband has pointed out, they have a tough job and are sincere in what they are doing. It doesn't cost us anything to be polite for a brief moment even if we aren't in need of what they are promoting.

    Simple affirmation would go a long way toward making our world a much more pleasant place.

  13. Your article rang a bell with me because I too read another article last year about this same subject and I think it was on Christian Personal Finance that I read it. It was a good article and made me think as does yours. I know I have changed a lot over the years and gotten nicer to everyone. It is a good reminder because when I am not feeling it I will subconsciously remember this and the other article and keep up being nicer.

  14. Thanks for dropping in, Sue,

    There is a stereotyped belief that as people get older they become crabby and ruder. While that certainly happens, I think even more often as we age we mellow. We get nicer to others and more tolerant, just like you have.

    I must constantly remind myself that a few extra seconds invested in making someone else smile is time well spent.

  15. I love your social experiment, Bob! The amazing thing is that being affirmative "pays." More often than not, people are kinder in return, they help you more, and the whole atmosphere lights up. It's just better all around for everyone. So why do we neglect affirmation so drastically? If we want to be happy, it makes sense to affirm others even from a purely "selfish" perspective. The Dalai Lama calls it being "wisely selfish."

    I'm glad you are spreading the word!

  16. Hi Sandra,

    I feel honored to be even remotely connected to the Dalai Lama. He is correct: when we are selfish in a way that helps others everyone benefits.

    I think we neglect affirmation because we are constantly focused on ourselves. The good news is it just takes an awareness to refocus outward.

  17. Bob,
    I don't affirm people enough and as you suggest, there is a big benefit (selfish) to doing it because you get the affirmation right back with a smile of appreciation.
    I've got one other thought which is that we don't accept compliments and affirmation gracefully. We are taught that it is unseemly to accept them and we deny and push them away. It is really ok to accept affirmations because that is how you can affirm the people that give them.

  18. Ralph,

    You are absolutely right about accepting compliments. Most of us aren't comfortable being thanked or praised and usually downplay whatever we did to earn the appreciation. But, that takes away from the joy of the person offering it. A simple "Thank you" would be better for both of the parties involved.

    Thank you (!) for raising this important point.

  19. I saw a short film on youtube recently about validation - don't have a link at the monent but will post later when I have a bit of time and can find it again (I do remember it stared an actor from Bones, the one who's a bug expert - just in case anyone wants to search :) ). I thought it was worth watching.

    Thanks for posting a link to my blog.

  20. Thanks for stopping bye. You're welcome for the link in today's new post. I enjoy your site.

    Yes, if you find the info from YouTube please return and post it. I think you are referring to TJ Thyne, the actor from Bones who knows all about bugs.

  21. Found it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao

    And yes, it's TJ Thyne. :)

  22. Thanks for digging that up. Validation, affirmation....we all need it.


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