Cutting the Puppet Strings of Praise and Blame

What can we do to cut our puppet strings?

Posted Mar 04, 2016

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We’re all familiar with puppets with strings attached to their arms and legs. When someone pulls the strings, the puppets move in different directions. The puppets do the bidding of the one pulling the strings.

Unfortunately, we’re not very different from these puppets. Let me explain. We may walk into a restaurant, and the waitress may comment on how we look, perhaps saying how nice our outfit looks, and this may make us feel like a million dollars. We may feel as if everything is going well and we are on top of the world. Our self-esteem puppet string has been pulled up by the waitress’s comment. However, later that same day, we may run into an old friend, and he or she may comment on how tired and exhausted we look. Our self-esteem puppet string may be pulled down by our friend’s comment, and we may feel ashamed, upset, and sad about our life. It’s amazing how other people, by what they say about us, pull our puppet strings and cause our emotions to go up or down. Clearly, we are often greatly affected by what people say to us and what they think about us.

Let me give you a few examples of this kind of behavior. When I was in high school, our teacher in a speech class asked us, “Why do students work so hard to get letters on their jackets?” He was referring to varsity letter patches, earned from excelling in sports, band, academics, or some other such activity, which were sewed on a jacket or sweater. Everyone in the class gave the teacher different answers as to why students worked so hard to “letter.” But the bottom line was that people did it so others would think highly of them. It was a way of saying, “I’ve made it! I’m successful! You should think highly of me. I do, don’t you?”

We can all laugh at that now that we’re adults and say, “Well, that’s silly.” But think about it . . . does it change that much in our life as we grow up?

When I was working on my PhD, I was talking to other PhD students who said, once they received their doctorate, the main thing they were looking forward to was being called Doctor So-and-So. Again, we may laugh at that, but give it some thought. Why do we care so much about what people think about us? We do a lot to make sure others think highly of us. We buy certain cars, live in certain neighborhoods, wear certain clothes, hang out with certain people,  name drop, and on and on it can go.

The reverse is true, too. We are affected negatively by what people think about us. We may fall into a pit of dire desperation because people think we’ve failed. Maybe we’ve lost our home, we’re in bankruptcy, or we may even think of suicide because others seem to think of us as failures. It’s amazing how those childhood puppet strings never get cut at any age and how strong they can be.

However, if we want to be happy, we have to cut those puppet strings. We have to stop caring about whether people approve or disapprove of us. It’s not that we’re going to become callous and uncaring. It’s just that, in order to be happy, we have to let go of the strings that hold us up to praise or blame. We have to let them both go. It’s easy to let go of blame when people are attacking, when they’re saying something mean. It’s easy to say, “I’m going to ignore that.” But we also have to ignore and not hold onto the praise that can come our way. That can be hard to do. There can be a subtlety at work here, because we often are guilty of looking for or soliciting other people’s praise. I’m not suggesting we should reject praise or ignore criticism. It’s just that we can’t let our lives be controlled by it. We need to let them go. We need to see we have a choice—we can have others’ praise and blame, or we can be happy. If we want happiness, then we release being controlled by what others think of us.

We’re doing what we want to do because we want to do it. We wear what we wear because we want to wear it. We’re driving what we drive because we want to drive it. All the things we do, we do because we want to do them and not because people will be impressed by us or not think lowly of us. We’re just doing it to do it.

Many people fall into this trap with their profession, choosing it or staying in it because of the prestige, rather than working in a less desirable job that more closely matches their interest and passion. It doesn’t matter what we do. But we will be happier doing things because we want to do them and not because of what other people will think of us. If we do things because of what other people will think of us, then we’re puppets, and that makes life hard. It makes happiness for us more elusive, more unobtainable, and puts it in the hands of others.

If we want to be happy, we have to cut those puppet strings. Those puppet strings are going to be there if we listen to and are affected by what others think about us. It’s not that we’re trying to be rude. It’s just that to be happy, we must be child-like and who we are because of the way we are.

Anyone can do this, even those who seem most attached to following what others think. For example, I heard a story about a man who was a suit-and-tie type of businessman and very successful. But he harbored a criticism in his mind about other people and the way they dressed, particularly if men didn’t wear a business suit as he did. However, because he was a wise person, he realized he needed to change this thought process. So for one month, he dressed very flamboyantly. But at the end of that month, he found he liked his new style so much that he continued to dress that way for the rest of his life.

What can we do to cut our puppet strings? First, we have to be aware of what the puppet strings are, who is holding them, and what’s affecting us. With that awareness, the second step is to begin to stop buying into them; stop listening to those holding the strings. The best way to do this is not to solicit comments from other people, and when comments come anyway, just discount them, essentially ignore them. It’s nice to get praise, and it can be hurtful to get blame. But, if we don’t give so much credence to the criticisms and praises of others, and instead, just flow with life and live in the present moment doing what we feel like doing right now, we can cut the puppet strings. As long as what we do doesn’t hurt another person, then life is going to go pretty well. It’s a matter of getting out of our heads, living in the present moment, and enjoying the journey of life by doing what seems good right now. We just ignore the criticism, accept praise without letting it affect us, and realize neither does us much good. They can even be harmful; even praise can be harmful.

So by not paying attention to praise or criticism and, instead, living in the present moment and choosing exactly what we want to do simply because it sounds like fun and something we want to do right now, we will make our life more free. Our life will no longer be controlled by the puppet strings, and we will have a beautiful life, an adventuresome life, and a happy life. 

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