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The Praise Addiction

This afternoon as I tried to ratchet down extreme mental duress I had been under having role played as The Green Lantern for nearly ninety straight minutes, I logged into Facebook. There, a fellow mom’s status described how she’d taken her FOUR children to two stores, the beach, and physical therapy, worked out while her triplets ate lunch, built and decorated a cardboard house and gone to the playground. At the time of her status, she was happily preparing dinner having reflected on a day well spent. After giving her the requisite “like” of her ridiculous accomplishments for the day (honestly how could I not?) I felt bad. I felt bad for two reasons: 1) I clearly had provided about a tenth of the equivalent mental stimulation, physical activity and social interaction for my children and 2) because I felt bad about hating her. And I really did. And she’s a super nice mom too. But I wondered how on earth did she accomplish all of that by 5 p.m.? What does she know that I don’t? And why do I suck so much as a Mom? Perhaps most importantly, why am I giving this worthless social media tool so much power that it can set fire to any slow burning insecurity buried deep within my psyche?

It wasn’t too long before I came across this gem of a status: “Impressed w/ myself 2night. Done: brisket turkey kishke matza polenta 2 kugels quinoa gefilteF soup stuffing & 3 chickens #workingmom #pesach.” Ah, excellent. Yet another kind soul applauding herself and gratuitously seeking external gratification of her magnificent multitasking, culinary, religious maternal wonderfulness, all while making me feel like complete crap for serving my children hot dogs— again. And then there was final post from a friend and mother: “Lawn and mulching done,” shared with a picture of a glorious and incredibly perfect-looking house and yard.

Soon after my FB-induced self-loathing aneurysm, I started to wonder what was really at play here. In truth I’ve chosen to link myself to each of these women through this social media site and they honestly are all good, hard-working women balancing careers and families and doing it all exceedingly well. It’s not their issue that perhaps I’m a bit insecure that I’m not doing things in as grand a fashion over here as they are, it’s mine. And I get that. But the thing I thought most about was how truly addicted we’ve all become to external validation. And I mean literally addicted. We crave others “liking” our thoughts, photos, schedules, and accomplishments—anything at all. I know because it happens to me. When you see one, two, twenty people “like” what you wrote, thought or did, there is a legitimate adrenaline rush to your brain that I am almost certain if studied, could be akin to the high of a drug.

I don’t think it’s particularly new to want that kind of recognition, but it is a relatively new phenomenon that many of us primarily get it though these social networking sites in the number of times we are liked or re-tweeted by a series of “friends” and “followers” that could be anyone from close family and friends to people you knew casually, maybe a decade ago. Now, friends of friends feed us the praise we so desperately crave, furthering our addiction through online channels that I suspect often make us feel more loved and connected than we actually are, at least in any substantial way.

It used to be, prior to the dawn of hash tags and apps, that when we did something truly great we turned to our spouse who may have offered up said praise unsolicited because he or she had full knowledge of the accomplishment, appropriate context in which to realize what a feat it was, and because that’s what partners are supposed to do—offer you unconditional love and encouragement and support. Has our addiction to the praise of the masses superseded our commitment to be present and supported in our own real relationships? When these sites inevitably go the way of Friendster and My Space and all the others and many of the faux communities and relationships we’ve created with people go with it, will we be able to muster up a hearty enough pat on the back for ourselves and our partners that will fill our hunger for praise? Can we relearn to love ourselves without the peanut gallery?

I continue to ponder these questions, largely as I sit here and obsessively wait for someone to “like” what I’ve wrote.

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