Culture & Society

The Danger Of Too Much Praise

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young man who was pursued by Echo whose love he rejected. That rejection brought upon him the wrath of Nemesis, the Goddess of Revenge. Narcissus was condemned to fall in love with himself. And it happened. Coming to a pool of water, Narcissus saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus bent to kiss the image he gazed upon with so much love, and drowned.

Today, the term narcissism refers to those who are fixated on themselves. In American society this is a growing concern, reflected in a Fox News report which aired on Wednesday, March 11. One of America’s leading psychiatrists, Dr. Ablow Keith addressed the issue. According to Dr. Keith, excessive general praise of children leads to emotional immaturity.

When a child is constantly told, “You are the best”, “You are the greatest”, or similar expressions, psychological harm is done. Praise should take place on the basis of objective reality, and empirical data. When praise is based on a false premise it leads to a false conclusion, and that is unhealthy.

Unwarranted praise creates in a person the need to perpetuate a false narrative. When a person who believes they are “the best”, “the greatest”, or the most intelligent,” is confronted with contrary evidence, or competition, they fall apart emotionally. They feel compelled to dispute the evidence. They are tempted to reinterpret the situation to fit their own personal narrative. Everyone else is wrong, and they are right. Always, and without question.

Praising a child is important. That is without dispute. But the praise should be personal. To say to someone, “You are wonderful. I love you. You are so sweet to paint that picture for me”, is legitimate and healthy. Everyone needs reaffirmation. What children do not need is to be told they are “the greatest”, “the smartest”, “the most clever”, and similar nonsensical expressions.

Parents who contribute to the emotional corruption of their children are really setting their children up for failure in life, because eventually the truth will be realized. Failure will also come in mature years in the form of an inability to enjoy close personal relationships, because no one will ever be able to measure up to the narcissist. The narcissist is the standard of perfection, and since they can do no wrong, others can do no right. A critical spirit accompanies the narcissist. There is fault to be found in everything and in everyone.

There is another problem. The narcissist will remain unloved, and unwanted by others, except perhaps the eternal doting parent. Tolerating no personal criticism, or correction, the narcissist will dispute any expression of disagreement, or divergent opinion. Only the narcissist can be right. Only the opinion of the narcissist can prevail.

The Biblical antidote to narcissism and self-exaltation is meekness, and humility based on an objective reality. The reality is that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The reality is that every soul is in need of a Saviour. The reality is that only by the grace of God we are what we are. Whatever beauty a person may have, whatever talents, natural or acquired a person may possess, whatever intellectual acumen a person enjoys, everything is a gift of God. Therefore, no person should think more highly of himself than they ought to.

Question. “Will I tolerate someone disagreeing with me?”

Question. “Do I think I am the best at what I do, and there is no one in all the world any better?”

Question. “Am I teachable?’ “Am I open to correction?”

Question. “Can I forgive others their weakness and faults?”

Question. “Can I love someone who is on the opposite end of the spectrum from me?

The story is told of two worms sticking up out of the ground. One worm was enamored with the other and displayed that love with looks of warmth and affection. “What are you looking at?”,  came the response. “I am your other end.” As Christians we are to love “the other end”, meaning those that may be on the opposite end of a position. Why? Because the other end is also part of the same body, the body of Christ.

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