We all need feedback


Feedback is important. The one giving the feedback becomes very powerful in the life of the one receiving it if the recipient is wounded or vulnerable. As have many others, I have received so much negative feedback in the past (because I attract critical people) that I tend to put up walls fairly quickly when someone opens his or her mouth to offer a personal opinion on anything I do. In spite of my sensitivity to criticism, I want feedback, negative or positive, as opposed none at all, though. Yes, I do. The reasons are very complicated. I will attempt to explain in a sideways kind of way.
jellyman good and bad_m
From the time we are born we seek attention. Little children typically receive attention automatically by being tiny and cute (that cute factor plays a big part in this), hopefully from loving parents, extended family and caregivers. Many children, however, do not receive this attention. They may be fed and changed (though some do not even receive this basic care) but the emotional and relational aspects of the parent-child relationship may be missing. This can be due to the parent’s stress levels, physical and mental condition and even economic conditions. If a child is born who was not planned, additional stress and possibly even resentment can arise. In the worst extreme, there is the hated child. Sadly, this is often the situation in news stories where a child was found chained up in the basement or left outside to freeze to death.

Deliberately withholding praise can be emotional abuse . . . it is rooted in criticism.

So far we have discussed the delighted, well-received child and the hated child, two extremes. Then there is the middle child. Oh, this birth order position can be just awful! We aren’t the miraculous firstborn (did you catch the pronoun change there from “they” to “we”), lovingly showered with attention and praise at every turn, and we aren’t the cute, beloved baby of the family, the final chance for parents to get it right. We are stuck right there in the middle, often born too close to the firstborn to be considered a gift. Middle children are often just there, more work, a noisy demand on an already-stressed parent. Can you tell I’m a middle child?

Something happens with middle children: they learn not to demand attention because more often than not that attention is negative in nature, not positive. We come to realize that we aren’t going to get that gushing, loving attention that our older and younger siblings receive. It just ain’t going to happen. So we become quiet and unassuming. We learn to be more self-reliant and not make demands. Yet, no matter how much we learn to not demand that attention we still crave it. That lack of attention and feedback creates a vacuum of sorts. Why that vacuum sucks in critical people, I will never know. But this vacuum creates a deep need for feedback of the positive kind (not flattery or empty praise, but true positive feedback).

no matter how much we learn to not demand that attention we still crave it

I will be the first to admit that more often than not I spend mental energy attempting to figure out what others want without actually interacting with them out of habit. I know to do what is required of me in most situations, but the close, nuanced interaction with constant feedback is usually missing. Or it was. I have changed. I say what I think. I say what I think others are thinking hoping for feedback and interaction. In my own family, this change has not been well-received. I have broken the middle child code or something. I have broken out of the mold made for me in my little nuclear family of five. I have always fought the impression that I was the hated child in the family and resigned myself to being just the ignored child in the family. After spending the last few years speaking out, being myself, using my voice and making my own choices without asking permission of my family, I am now the hated child, no doubt about it. I’m not chained up in any basement, though. Nope.

It took me a few years to deal with this new designation. I hid away from my family while adjusting (I think I chained myself up here), changing and growing. I was transforming into my own person with my own voice and I knew instinctively that my family, if I allowed them, would attempt to sabotage me at every turn. When I let them back in that is exactly what they attempted to do. The wonderful thing about the new me is that I am now strong enough to face this feedback, so to speak (but it ain’t always pretty). I know where I stand. I can now move on, moving forward. I play by my rules now, not those created for me by family members. I broke free. What a crazy-long introduction to what my main point is in this post. You are all so kind to actually read my posts because I know the journey through them can be twisted and convoluted, back-tracking and sometimes just plain confusing.

The much happier conclusion is right here:

Last semester, my Literature and Composition class was my favorite because it was full of wonderful literature readings and I got to write, a lot — oh, and my professor is amazing! The only thing I struggled with was the length of time it took to get not just a grade, but feedback on my writing. I wanted to learn to write better. I wanted to know what I was doing wrong so I could correct it, and I wanted to know what I was doing right so I could continue to practice that skill. But I often had to wait weeks to get feedback on my writing assignments. Oh, the torture. When I filled out the course evaluation I made sure to mention that as the only negative, that quicker grading of assignments would have been more helpful to me. Yesterday, a full week before classes begin for me my Advanced Composition professor posted the first two weeks’ assignments (this is an online class). I was thrilled. My practice is to always stay in front of all assignments because it takes me longer than the average person to assimilate information and to write. I am slow now. I jumped right in and posted my first assignment online.

This morning, after completing my one hour of Algebra and reading an hour from the second week’s readings for this class, I checked online to see if there was any feedback or posts from other students (I love reading others’ writings). There was this little red “1” in the right-hand corner of the online environment indicating something new. I clicked on it and there, to my amazement, was notification that my assignment had been graded. Less than 24 hours after submitting it, that assignment was graded with personal feedback from my professor on what he wanted to see in the future (more of my voice and less researched writing, but that he liked when my voice came through — so opposite of my real life relationships, huh).

Head’s up: Single parents typically lack positive feedback. They certainly won’t get it from their kids or their ex-spouses. If you know one, send him or her some kind words every now and then.

For the first time in my life, I am receiving both positive and negative feedback in good proportions. I don’t cringe nearly as much when I see the negative feedback (as I kind of did a year ago) and I absorb the positive feedback like little power potions (if you are a gamer this will have some significance). So much of my life is a daily struggle physically, emotionally, even legally (being separated without legal protection is scary). Having a big part of my life (college) provide healthy feedback and positive impact is therapeutic for me. I need feedback, and I want it. I am at a place where I can handle negative feedback nearly as well as the positive (did I mention how I didn’t receive positive feedback well, but usually dismissed it as delusion or flattery?). I love making progress, and this one is not small. Celebrating!

My son when he started playing the trombone two years ago.  I always smiled even through the sour notes and squawks . . . music is one of the few positives he has in his life.

My son when he started playing the trombone. I always smiled through the sour notes and squawks . . . music is one of the few positives he has in his life. Side note: this kid lost 30 pounds just by switching to a GMO-free, organic diet.


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