Examination of how our inherent need for appreciation and acceptance can be sabotaged by incrimination and criticism.
Personally and professionally fascinated by relational judgments for over three decades, British psychologist Apter (Difficult Mothers: Understanding and Overcoming Their Power, 2012, etc.) explores the nature of praise and blame and how our predisposition to be judgmental of ourselves and others stems from the evolution of the human brain and the progression of interactive social discourse. The author writes that our sensitivities to praise and blame begin as infants able to “mindsight” and detect purpose and feelings in facial signals. She analyzes the importance of praise in reinforcing confidence in early child development and how it can aid in building brain circuits via the natural highs induced by oxytocin and endorphins. Apter dutifully acknowledges that teenagers can be the toughest to praise, as motivations and perceived patronization come into play, and she provides evidence with her observational research case findings. Conversely, the side effects of blame are painful and emotionally and physically burdensome for individuals of any age as well as for family members. The simple pursuit of praise and the careful avoidance of blame can be emblematic of larger social issues, Apter notes, especially in the context of social media engagement and the competitiveness between siblings or co-workers. In more thoroughly described studies, the author discusses the dynamics of friendships differentiated by gender, or how rejection, a lack of positive reinforcement, and mismanaged blame can foster infidelity in romantic couples. “The demand to be the best ushers in a cascade of anxieties,” she writes, offering an interesting assessment of the various judgment systems active in many contemporary families. In noting that “we live, day by day, in the constant company of our judgments,” Apter counsels that mindfulness and inward reflection can lessen the encumbrances of judgment.
Thoughtful discourse on the workings of praise and blame that will be particularly helpful to readers sensitive to scrutiny.