How to ensure that external praise grounds you instead of inflates your ego

I’ve already mentioned on several occasions in this blog that one focus of mine these days is to find strength and love and worthiness inside myself, and not look to others for external validation anymore. For years, I was so fixated on garnering praise from others. I was addicted to it. This is not an exaggeration. Praise triggered a dopamine hit in my brain that I had become overly dependent upon.

In a previous post, I wrote:

“But there was a deep hole inside of me (that is inside most of us, at times), of unworthiness, a lack of self-love, a lack of self-acceptance, that I constantly sought to fill with external validation and approval from others. At all times, I needed others to tell me how amazing I was in order to feel whole, to feel complete. Without others constantly telling me that I was loved, I would feel that I was unlovable and broken. And given that I was a successful professor with a focus on actively mentoring the hundreds of students that entered my life, every day I had plenty of external validation that would temporarily fill that hole.”

Okay, so the good news is, I finally realized that I was relying too heavily on external praise, that I had become truly addicted to it, and I’ve taken many intentional steps in my life to not rely on it anymore. And it is freeing, to finally feel self-acceptance. One of the ways that I was initially able to focus on finding strength within is that, because of covid, one could say that I basically crawled into a hole, stayed inside my home, and rarely engaged with the world, for half of 2020 and most of 2021. I was doing a lot of inner work during that time. And I wasn’t getting too much “external praise and validation” so it was a great time to work on not needing it. I was like an addict making sure that my substance of choice was never around.

However, over the last few months, I have become more active in my work community and I have been putting myself out there again, and I have started “succeeding” quite well in one of my roles at work. As a result of this, I have been getting a LOT of praise from others.

And it feels good. It feels really good. Of COURSE it feels good to have people tell you that you are amazing, right?

But it makes me wary, because it’s like I’m going to a party and my substance of choice is there, people are giving it to me freely. How do I make sure I don’t abuse it again?

I brought this up with one of my therapists, and she gave me a fantastic exercise that I have been using recently and it has been incredibly helpful. And so I want to share it with you.

She suggested that when I get external praise, accolades, and compliments for my work, take some time to do a visualization. Close my eyes, center myself, focus on my breathing. And then, visualize that I take those words and intentionally bring them into my body at the base of my spine, NOT allowing them to go into my head. 

Because it used to be that, without realizing it, I previously would allow those words to percolate into my head, my mind, my ego. And they would inflate my ego. And my ego was very puffed up but also very fragile, because it was dependent upon all this external praise.

And so now, when I receive praise, instead of allowing them to go to my head (I finally understand where that phrase comes from), I focus on moving them into the base of my spine, where I can focus on staying grounded. Feeling appreciative that my work is valued. But praise from others does not change WHO I AM or HOW I SEE MYSELF. The praise is more about THEM, their interest in expressing gratitude for my work, than about ME.

This might sound like a strange exercise, but I swear it works. At least for me. It has completely reshaped how I handle and receive praise, and helps me to prevent external validation from becoming something that I rely on to feel good about myself. I no longer allow the praise to go to my head. Just the active visualization of making this a tangible process of moving the praise into the base of my spine helps my consciousness to accept the praise as grounding and not inflating anymore. It’s been paradigm-shifting, for me. 

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