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Why People Don't Acknowledge You

How important is it that you get recognition from others?

Key points

  • For many people, being acknowledged by others helps them feel more accepted and secure.
  • If someone was “recognition-deprived” growing up, praising another might feel uneasy or unsettling.
  • After executing something well, it's crucial for one to learn to congratulate oneself instead of depending on others' reactions.

More often than not, people don’t—or won’t—acknowledge you for your contributions and accomplishments. Which may seem a little strange because almost all of us harbor hopes for such recognition—one reason, perhaps, that the expression “fishing for compliments” is so well-known. Though it might seem intuitive that people would be more than willing to give what they’d greatly appreciate getting themselves, this typically isn’t the case.

Assuming that you’re like the majority of us, wishing to be explicitly recognized for what you do relates to the fact that validation from others just feels good. Reaching all the way back to childhood and your need for your parents’ reassurance and approval, being acknowledged by others helps you feel more accepted and secure. Consequently, more comfortable inside yourself. More important still, such recognition assists you in perceiving yourself as desirable, valuable, and esteemable. In a word, special.

In one way or another, virtually everybody dreams of standing out, being admired, or being acclaimed. To be viewed, and to view ourselves, as merely “average” or “adequate” really doesn’t do very much for our ego. This may be all the more so because we live in a meritorious, American-Idol-type society that refuses to celebrate or lavish praise on individuals unless they’re judged exceptional. This circumstance explains why we may experience certain envy when we hear drums banging for someone else. Secretly, we long to hear a drum roll beating for us.

Granted, there may be an element inherent in our nature—grandiosity, no doubt—that makes us wish to be thought highly of. When complimented, we’re likely to glow internally. Approbation from others whose authority we respect serves to verify our sense of inner worth. Such external approval is especially important for those still plagued by self-doubt. Unfortunately, master manipulators can take advantage of this almost universal susceptibility to compliments by guilefully employing them to seduce us into emptying out our wallets. As long as we’re tricked into trusting their ingratiating kudos, we’re liable to be taken in by them. To feel favorably recognized wonderfully addresses one of our heart’s deepest desires.

Much more often than not, the recognition that we hope for simply isn’t going to happen. So when someone fails to acknowledge you when you think what you’ve done deserves acknowledgment, it’s wise not to take this to heart. For various reasons, it’s crucial that when you’ve executed something well, demonstrated skill or talent, behaved generously or selflessly, you learn how to congratulate yourself. That way you can avoid the let-down, the frustration, discouragement, or disgruntlement—and maybe even the anger and indignation—that otherwise will likely accompany your disappointment.

It always makes sense not to have to depend on others’ reactions to regard yourself positively. Ideally, your goal should be to feel unconditionally good about who you are independent of any external “favorability meter”—and also free of whether you’re presently embarked on some course of self-improvement.

What I’d like to suggest here is that by better grasping the underlying causes of why so many people might resist offering you the acknowledgment you wish for, their denial should be a lot easier to take. So consider the descriptions below that explain why many people (including—just possibly—yourself) can be so stingy with compliments:

  • If they were “recognition-deprived” in growing up praising another might feel uneasy or unsettling. Bestowing on someone else the acknowledgment they never received themselves might open the lid on long-suppressed psychic pain, making them experience afresh never-healed emotional wounds.
  • If they’re competitive—because they need constantly to prove themselves—then explicitly paying tribute to another’s achievements might make them feel as though they’re admitting inferiority, ineptitude, or defeat—a confession of failure their fragile ego might lack the strength to tolerate. Even beyond that, some individuals can only feel good about themselves by putting others down, in which case the only compliments they're capable of are backhanded ones.
  • If they think that another’s accomplishments and contributions are no more than what ought to be expected from them, they may not regard such acts as even worthy of acknowledgment.
  • If they believe that lauding another for their achievements might go to the recipient’s head—that is, lead them to become conceited, cocky, or egotistical—then they may intentionally withhold recognition.
  • If they’re in denial about their own unmet need for acknowledgment, it might not even occur to them that positively recognizing another—and for that person’s efforts, as well as accomplishments—might be in order. For example, commending a friend, when appropriate, is a responsibility in a close relationship; yet they’re unable to do so.
  • If they have a strong sense of entitlement, then whatever recognition they receive from others will be expected, or taken for granted. Any sense of obligation to respond in kind won’t be part of their behavioral repertoire. They actually won’t even consider expressing appreciation or gratitude when someone acts generously or kindly toward them.

All of which is to say that your not being acknowledged likely says much more about the other person than it does about you—or your worthiness. In such situations, you’ll be far better off once you learn to be content simply through becoming more adept at self-acknowledgment.

© 2013 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.

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